Auckland coach Wayne Pivac has named Piri Weepu in his side to face North Harbour in their ITM Cup opener at Eden Park on Sunday.
Auckland head coach Wayne Pivac has named scrum-half Piri Weepu in his side to face North Harbour in their ITM Cup opener at Eden Park on Sunday.
The 71 Test veteran will provide vast experience at half-back in a starting line-up that features ten players who have played Super Rugby.
Promising lock Patrick Tuipulotu and dynamic winger Tenina Saulileoge will make their provincial debuts, while Vince Aso and Saleaula Silipa are also poised to play their first games after being named among the replacements.
After returning from a season in South Africa with Super Rugby franchise the Southern Kings, centre Hadleigh Parkes will captain the team.
Pivac said he couldn't wait to kick-start his side's campaign after watching a thrilling opening ITM Cup match in Pukekohe on Thursday.
“It's exciting,” Pivac said.
“It got underway last night with a cracker of a game by Wellington and they've set the pace ealy on so if we can have a good start to our campaign we'll be very happy.”
With Gareth Anscombe undergoing surgery on both shoulders which has ruled him out of the ITM Cup for Auckland this year, New Zealand U20 playmaker Simon Hickey will start at fly-half, and Pivac believes the talented youngster will take it all in his stride.
“He's a confident young man but not overconfident. He believes in his ability and he has a lot of ability so that's a huge plus for us,” he added.
“I'm looking forward to seeing how Simon goes because he certainly played very well in his time during the pre-season game against Hawke's Bay so he's a player I think will stand out this year.”
Meanwhile, North Harbour will hope the likes of Blues hooker James Parsons and Sevens star David Raikuna shine while centre Pita Ahki is alongside Tua Saseva in midfield.
Auckland: 15 Lolagi Visinia, 14 George Moala, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Tenina Sauileoge, 10 Simon Hickey, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Luke Braid, 6 Joe Edwards, 5 Patrick Tuipulotu, 4 Liaki Moli, 3 Angus Taavao-Matau, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Sam Prattley.
Replacements: 16 Nathan Vella, 17 Pauliasi Manu, 18 Sean Brookman, 19 Sean Polwart, 20 Wayne Ngaluafe, 21 Vince Aso, 22 Silipa Saleaula.
North Harbour: 15 Cody Rei, 14 Jona Tuitoga, 13 Pita Ahki, 12 Tua Saseve, 11 David Raikuna, 10 Jon Elrick, 9 Brenton Helleur, 8 Viliami Fihaki, 7 Zac Judge, 6 Jordan Manihera, 5 Josh Olsen, 4 Chris Smith, 3 Ropate Rinakama, 2 James Parsons, 1 Greg Pleasants.
Replacements: 16 Ray Niuia, 17 Alex Woonton, 18 Brandon Nansen, 19 Scott Uren, 20 Bryn Hall, 21 Nafi Tuitavake, 22 James Semple.
Date: Sunday, August 18
Kick-off: 14:35 local (03:35 BST, 02:35 GMT)
Venue: Eden Park
Referee: Sheldon Eden-Whaitiri