Wellington will be looking to reclaim top spot in the ITM Cup Premiership standings when they host winless North Harbour on Saturday.
Wellington will be looking to reclaim top spot in the ITM Cup Premiership standings when they host winless North Harbour at Westpac Stadium on Saturday.
Auckland leapfrogged the Lions into first place following their win over Counties Manukau on Friday. However a victory for Wellington will see them return to the summit on level points (28), while a bonus-point win will give Chris Boyd's troops a one-point lead.
Their rivals, rock-bottom of the Championship with just two points to their name, shouldn't give the hosts too much trouble.
Indeed, it's been a forgetful season thus far for North Harbour who were thumped by Waikato, Canterbury and Otago, have had less heavy defeats to Counties-Manukau and Southland and narrowly lost to Northland (one point) and Manawatu (three points).
They have also struggled with goal kicking and have used five different players so far with little success.
Wellington, meanwhile, have registered five wins from seven outings and have a chance of bagging maximum points which will go a long way in securing a semi-finals spot.
Wellington: 15 Charlie Ngatai, 14 Alapati Leiua, 13 Tim Bateman, 12 Ope Peleseuma, 11 Jason Woodward, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Frae Wilson, 8 Genesis Mamea, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Mark Reddish, 5 Ross Filipo, 4 Jeremy Thrush (c), 3 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 2 Motu Matu'u, 1 Solomona Sakalia.
Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Whetu Henry, 18 Kaipati Gaualofa, 19 Pau Halafihi, 20 Kayne Hammington, 21 Shaun Treeby, 22 Matt Proctor.
North Harbour: 15 Luke Devcich.14 Nafi Tuitavake, 13 Cory Aporo, 12 Francis Saili, 11 Rudi Wulf, 10 Codey Rei, 9 Bryn Hall,8 Jim Tuivaiti, 7 Sam Hayes-Stevenson, 6 Irwin Finau, 5 Filo Paulo, 4 Chris Smith, 3 Ben Afeaki (c), 2 James Parsons, 1 Alex Woonton.
Replacements: 16 Manu Leiataua, 17 Salesi Manu, 18 Api Ratuniyarawa, 19 Malakai Ravulo, 20 Brenton Helleur, 21 Pita Ahki, 22 David Raikuna.
Referee: Jonathon White
Hawkes Bay v Otago
Hawke's Bay and Otago meet in Napier on Saturday in this crossover clash, with the hosts once again playing for survival in the Premiership.
The Magpies' relieving win over Bay of Plenty was just their second of the season, but kept them within touching distance of the sixth-placed Steamers.
Back-to-back victories for the hosts will lift them off the bottom of the Premiership table, and will be hoping Northland can do them a favour by knocking over Bay of Plenty on Sunday in order for the Magpies to stay there.
Whilst Hawke's Bay have only won two, Otago – second on the Championship table (19 points) – have only lost two and will be looking to bank four or five more points to close the gap between themselves and leaders Counties Manukau (27).
Hawkes Bay:15 Andrew Horrell. 14 Gillies Kaka, 13 Nemani, 12 Marvin Karawana, 11 Penikolo Latu, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Chris Eaton, 8 Karl Lowe, 7 Tevita Fomai,6 Mike Coman (c),5 Johan Schoonbee, 4 Ross Kennedy, 3 Peter Borlase, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Adrian Barone.
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Brendon Edmonds, 18 Tom Parsons, 19 Bradey, 20 Isaac Paewai, 21 Timu, 22 Nick McLennan.
Otago: 15 Tony Ensor, 14 Marshall Suckling, 13 Jayden Spence, 12 Glenn Dickson, 11 Buxton Popoali'i, 10 Hayden Parker, 9 Fumiaki Tanaka, 8 Paul Grant (c), 7 Lee Allen, 6 Gareth Evans, 5 Rob Verbakel, 4 Tom Franklin,3 Liam Coltman, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Tama Tuirirangi.
Replacements: 16 Sam Anderson-Heather, 17 Aki Seuili, 18 Justin Ives, 19 TJ Ioane, 20 Brad Weber, 21 Peter Breen, 22 Adam Hill.
Taranaki v Manawatu
Taranaki have been boosted by the return of Andre Taylor for their Ranfurly Shield clash with Manawatu at Yarrow Stadium in New Plymouth on Saturday.
Taylor, who ended the Hurricanes season as top try-scorer, returns after a month out with a broken finger. However he doesn't get to start in his favoured position of full-back with Kurt Baker keeping the number fifteen jersey.
In all, Taranaki coach Colin Cooper has made seven changes – two injury-forced – from the side which snuck past Northland last weekend.
In-form flanker Scott Waldrom broke his arm and scrum-half Chris Smylie suffered a strained medial ligament against the Taniwah and have been replaced by Chris Walker and Jamison Gibson-Park respectively.
Also gone from the playing squad is hooker Timo Tutavaha and number eight Jarrad Hoeata, while prop Carl Carmichael, lock James Broadhurst and wing Jackson Ormond drop to the bench.
Manawatu coach Jason O'Halloran has has made seven changes from the side which narrowly lost to Counties Manukau.
Many of them are positional, however, with Lewis Marshall coming in to start at full-back and Nehe Milner-Skudder moving from number fifteen to the wing.
Number eight Hamish Gosling returns from injury, Fraser Stone is back at lock and in come props Ma'afu Fia and Grant Polson with Chiefs wing Asaeli Tikoirotuma in the reserves.
Taranaki: 15 Kurt Baker, 14 Andre Taylor, 13 Willie Rickards, 12 Jayden Hayward, 11 Frazier Climo, 10 James Marshall, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Blade Thomson, 7 Chris Walker, 6 Kane Barrett, 5 Jason Eaton, 4 Craig Clarke (c), 3 Michael Bent, 2 Laurence Corlett, 1 Chris King.
Replacements: 16 Sione Lea, 17 Carl Carmichael, 18 James Broadhurst, 19 Berny Hall, 20 Brett Goodin, 21 Isaia Tuifua, 22 Jackson Ormond.
Manawatu: 15 Lewis Marshall, 14 Craig Clare, 13 Jason Emery, 12 Matenga Baker, 11 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 10 Tomasi Cama, 9 Papa Wharewera, 8 Hamish Gosling, 7 Callum Gibbins, 6 Nick Crosswell (c), 5 Michael FitzGerald, 4 Fraser Stone, 3 Ma'afu Fia, 2 Rob Foreman, 1 Grant Polson.
Replacements: 16 Bryn Templeman, 17 David Te Moana, 18 Reece Robinson, 19 Antonio Kiri Kiri, 20 Karl Bryson, 21 Nathan George, 22 Asaeli Tikoirotuma.
Referee: Mike Fraser
Bay Of Plenty v Northland
An the injury-ravaged Bay of Plenty outfit can't afford another loss when they host Northland on Sunday, but have not beaten the Taniwha since 2009.
If the hosts lose and Hawke's Bay beat Otago, the Steamers fall one place to the bottom of the Premiership standings and face a serious threat of relegation.
Bay of Plenty have just two wins from seven matches this season, with games against Tasman and Canterbury to come.
Both sides are facing a hat-trick of defeats, with Northland going down narrowly to Taranaki and Southland while BoP are still recovering from their loss to Hawke's Bay in injury time.
Bay Of Plenty: 15 Lance MacDonald, 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Kenny Lynn, 12 Phil Burleigh, 11 Jack Wilson, 10 Chris Noakes, 9 Lewis Hancock, 8 Carl Axtens, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Luke Braid, 5 Leon Power, 4 Dan Goodwin, 3 Tristan Moran, 2 John Pareanga, 1 Greg Pleasants-Tate.
Replacements: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Mike Kainga