Preview: North Harbour v Wellington

Date published: August 25 2011

Wellington will be banking on some magic from discarded All Blacks wing Hosea Gear to save them from relegation.

Wellington will be banking on some magic from discarded All Blacks wing Hosea Gear to save them from relegation when they face North Harbour in Albany on Friday.

The Lions are one point above last-placed Southland on the Premiership standings, and know another defeat could see them drop to the Championship division next year.

A win though will ensure last year's semi-finalists stay in the top six of the Premiership and save some blushes.

If Southland claim a bonus-point win against Bay of Plenty in Invercargill on Sunday, that would leave them tied on competition points with Wellington. However, the Stags would still go down because they lost their match against the Lions earlier this month.

The omens would appear to be good for Wellington too as the last time they faced North Harbour, they beat them convincingly 52-23 at the same venue in 2010.

A further boost to the Lions' cause is the return of Gear, who is back to bolster the side after missing out on World Cup selection. Gear is one of three changes to Wellington's starting XV that lost to Waikato. Hooker Dane Coles and centre Charlie Ngatai also return from injury.

Meanwhile, All Blacks' World Cup squad member Anthony Boric will have his first game for nine weeks when he takes the field for North Harbour. Boric will join fellow Blues lock Filo Paulo in the Harbour engine room, with James King moving to the bench.

Scott Uren will again start at openside flanker after his storming display against Northland last start and joins Solly King and Mat Luamanu in the loose forward trio.

James Afoa will start at loosehead prop in place of Alex Woonton, who shifts to the bench. Harbour's backline is unchanged from the impressive win over Northland on Sunday.

The teams:

Wellington: 15 Apoua Stewart, 14 Julian Savea, 13 Alapati Leiua, 12 Charlie Ngatai, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Brad Shields, 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Faifili Levave, 5 Mark Reddish, 4 Jeremy Thrush (c), 3 Neemia Tialata, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Reggie Goodes.
Replacements: 16 Motu Matu'u, 17 Jacob Ellison, 18 Joe Latta, 19 Dean Brunsdon, 20 Frae Wilson, 21 Michael Lealava'a, 22 Steve Honey, 23 Arden David-Perrot.

North Harbour: 15 Willie Walker, 14 Nafi Tuitavaki, 13 Rudi Wulf, 12 Brendon Watt, 11 David Raikuna, 10 Ben Botica, 9 Chris Smylie (c), 8 Mat Luamanu, 7 Scott Uren, 6 Solomon King, 5 Filo Paulo, 4 Anthony Boric, 3 Ben Afeaki, 2 James Parsons, 1 James Afoa.
Replacements: 16 Manu Leiataua, 17 Alex Woonton, 18 James King, 19 Brent Wilson, 20 Luke Hamilton, 21 Pita Ahki, 22 Codey Rei, 23 Taione Vea.