Experienced hooker Leni Apisai has made a timely return from injury to take his place in the Wellington Lions starting side for Friday’s Mitre 10 Cup Championship final against Bay of Plenty.
Apisai takes over from regular Lions rake Asafo Aumua who is unavailable for the match after earning selection in the All Blacks end of year tour squad.
The 21-year-old will start his 30th match for Wellington in the only personnel change to the squad that beat Northland in the semi-final.
There is one other change to the starting team with lock Will Mangos promoted to the starting side in place of No.8 Galu Taufale who takes his place in the reserves.
Mangos’ elevation sees James Blackwell shift from lock to blindside and captain Brad Shields shift back to No.8.
Wellington Lions head coach Chris Gibbes said Apisai had been training fully with the squad for the past two weeks and was fully recovered from the shoulder injury he picked up against Otago four weeks ago.
“Leni has been training for a couple of weeks now and he’s ready to go. His return to fitness has coincided with Asafo’s selection in the All Blacks and he is itching to play, which is great.”
Wellington advanced to the final via a 49-21 semi-final win over Northland at Westpac Stadium, while Bay of Plenty beat Otago 48-32 in Tauranga.
Last time the two sides met was in round three of the 2017 regular season in Rotorua where Wellington won the match 31-10, the last of five successive wins over the Steamers dating back to 2012.
Wellington last played in the Championship final in 2015 when they lost by a single point, 26-25, to Hawke’s Bay in Napier.
Bay of Plenty’s last appearance in a provincial final was in 2000 when they beat Nelson Bays to win the old National Provincial Championship second division and earn promotion to the top division.
Coincidentally, 2000 was also the year Wellington beat Canterbury to win the National Provincial Championship first division title.
The Wellington Lions team to play Bay of Plenty in the Mitre 10 Cup Championship final at Westpac Stadium in Wellington on Friday, October 27 is:
15 Trent Renata (Oriental-Rongotai)
14 Julian Savea (Oriental-Rongotai)
13 Wes Goosen (Old Boys University)
12 Thomas Umaga-Jensen (Wainuiomata)
11 Ben Lam (Tawa)
10 Jackson Garden-Bachop (Northern United)
9 Sheridan Rangihuna (Hutt Old Boys Marist)
8 Brad Shields (Petone) (c)
7 Mateaki Kafatolu (Petone)
6 James Blackwell (Petone)
5 Will Mangos (Old Boys University)
4 Sam Lousi (Marist St Pats)
3 Alex Fidow (Oriental-Rongotai)
2 Leni Apisai (Northern United)
1 Tolu Fahamokioa (Tawa)
Reserves: Sitiveni Paongo (Tawa), Vince Sakaria (Marist St Pats), Joe Apikotoa (Hutt Old Boys Marist), Galu Taufale (Poneke), Du’Plessis Kirifi (Loan), Kemara Hauiti-Parapara (Tawa), Regan Verney (Old Boys University), Malo Tuitama (Oriental-Rongotai).