Dan Kirkpatrick will wear the Wellington No.10 jersey for the first time since 2009 in one of six changes to the Lions team named to play Waikato in Hamilton on Saturday.
After playing deputy to Jackson Garden-Bachop through five of the first six rounds of the Mitre 10 Cup, Kirkpatrick will start at first five in a new starting halves pairing with Sheridan Rangihuna.
It will be Kirkpatrick’s sixth appearance this season, but 30th overall after making his Wellington debut as an 18-year-old in 2007.
Now 28, he left Wellington in 2009 before returning this year following a successful stint in France.
The remainder of the Wellington backline remains the same as the one which put Canterbury to the sword at Westpac Stadium last Sunday, with wing Julian Savea to again lead the side from the right wing, but there are four changes to the pack.
With James Blackwell ruled out of contention due to a shoulder injury Mateaki Kafatolu switches from the openside to blindside with Du’Plessis Kirifi coming into the No.7 jersey for his fifth start of the campaign.
Will Mangos starts at lock for the second time this season with Isaia Walker-Leawere ruled out after undergoing scheduled shoulder surgery, which will cut short his Mitre 10 Cup season.
In the front row, Jeff To’omaga-Allen’s return to the All Blacks camp sees Alex Fidow come back into the starting side at tighthead, while Sitiveni Paongo earns a start on the loose head side, pushing Tolu Fahamokioa to the reserves for the first time this season.
Wellington head coach Chris Gibbes said the changes continued to reflect the squad’s desire to build depth and provide opportunity.
“There are a couple of injuries there, but it’s mostly about opportunity and building depth. The guys who have come in have the chance to put their hands up and state their case and I’m sure they’ll do that against Waikato.”
There are two further personnel changes in the reserves where Marist St Pats midfielder Billy Proctor and Northern Untied lock Chris Middleton are both in line to make their Wellington Lions debuts.
Gibbes said he expected a huge challenge from his former province Waikato.
“They’re a very proud union and they are always a tough opponent regardless of form or opponent.”
Waikato are currently in fifth place in the Mitre 10 Cup Premiership with two wins and four losses, but still well in contention for the semi-finals.
Wellington is leading the Mitre 10 Cup Championship with a record of five wins and one loss.
Little has separated Wellington and Waikato over their 39 national provincial championship matches with the Lions holding a 22-17 win-loss advantage.
Waikato holds a slim advantage in Hamilton where they have won 12 of the 22 matches against Wellington including a 28-24 win last time the two sides met in 2016.
The Wellington Lions team to play Waikato at FMG Waikato Stadium in Hamilton on Saturday, September 23 is:
15 Ben Lam (Tawa)
14 Julian Savea (Oriental-Rongotai) (c)
13 Thomas Umaga-Jensen (Wainuiomata)
12 Regan Verney (Old Boys University)
11 Malo Tuitama (Oriental Rongotai)
10 Dan Kirkpatrick (Petone)
9 Sheridan Rangihuna (Hutt Old Boys Marist)
8 Teariki Ben-Nicholas (Old Boys University)
7 Du’Plessis Kirifi (Loan Player)
6 Mateaki Kafatolu (Petone)
5 Will Mangos (Old Boys University)
4 Sam Lousi (Marist St Pats)
3 Alex Fidow (Oriental-Rongotai)
2 Asafo Aumua (Avalon)
1 Sitiveni Paongo (Tawa)
Reserves: Leni Apisai (Northern United), Tolu Fahamokioa (Tawa), Joe Apikotoa (Hutt Old Boys Marist), Chris Middleton (Northern United), Galu Taufale (Poneke), Kemara Hauiti-Parapara (Tawa), Jackson Garden-Bachop (Northern United), Billy Proctor (Marist St Pats).