The return of key backs Matt Proctor and Jason Woodward has restored the Wellington Lions to full strength for their Mitre 10 Cup Championship semifinal against North Harbour at Westpac Stadium on Saturday.
Proctor has passed his concussion protocols after missing the past two matches and will take his place at centre, while Woodward is over the ankle injury that kept him out of the close loss to Waikato and will start at fullback.
The pair’s return means Wes Goosen pushes out to the left wing in place of Salesi Rayasi, and Peter Umaga-Jensen moves to the reserves at the expense of utility Pakai Turia.
The remainder of the starting team is unchanged from the fifteen who took the field in the final match of the round robin against Waikato with the only other change to the match day 23 being lock/loose forward James Blackwell, who comes into the reserves for Galu Taufale.
“Having Matty and Woody back in the team provides some stability and leadership and it’s a credit to our medical team and trainers that we’ve got a fully fit squad to choose from at the business end of the season,” Va’a said.
“It goes without saying how important this match is for the team and I’m confident my players are ready to put a performance on the park they can be proud of.”
Va’a said the Lions were preparing for a tough battle against North Harbour.
“They’ve been there or thereabouts all season and last time we played each other it was a very physical battle right to the finish. We’ll be expecting more of the same.”
Wellington won their regular season match against North Harbour 21-17 at Westpac Stadium with first five Jackson Garden-Bachop kicking all of the Lions points with a Wellington record seven penalties on the night.
Saturday’s match will be the first time Wellington and North Harbour have played each other in a provincial playoff match.
It will be Wellington’s twelfth appearance in the finals since the top four format was introduced in 1992, while North Harbour have been in seven semifinals.