The return of captain Brad Shields is one of seven changes to the Wellington Lions starting fifteen for their Mitre 10 Cup match against Tasman in Blenheim on Sunday.
Wellington head coach Chris Gibbes continues to manage his full squad in a match that will be the team’s third in 11-days after wins over Bay of Plenty and Hawke’s Bay.
After being rested against Hawke’s Bay, Shields reclaims the captaincy from lock James Blackwell, and takes over at No.8 from Teariki Ben-Nicholas in one of four changes to the Lions pack.
Lock Sam Lousi eases back into the team after a week off, Will Mangos gets his first start of the year at blindside in place of the injured Galu Taufale, while fit-again Hurricanes hooker Leni Apisai will wear the No.2 jersey.
Regular hooker Asafo Aumua, who was a late scratching from the Hawke’s Bay match due to an infected foot, has been named in the reserves.
There are three personnel changes to the backline where Ben Lam moves back to fullback in place of Andrew Wells, allowing Losi Filipo to come onto the left wing for his first start.
Regular second-five Regan Verney returns in the No.12 jersey in place of Thomas-Umaga-Jensen, while Kemara Hauiti-Parapara takes over at halfback for Sheridan Rangihuna.
There are also fresh legs in the reserves where Poneke midfielder Levi Harmon and Petone openside Mateaki Kafatolu are set for their Mitre 10 Cup debuts.
Kafatolu and Marist St Pats prop Ha’amea Ahio have been called up from outside the initial Lions squad.
“Playing three matches in such a short space of time isn’t easy and it means utilising your full squad,” Gibbes said. “We’ve brought in some fresh legs for what we think will be a very tough, physical match against Tasman.”
Premiership finalists last year, Tasman have had the better of Wellington in recent times with a 36-27 win at Westpac Stadium in 2015 and a big win at the same venue in 2014.
Tasman lost their opening two matches of their 2017 Mitre 10 Cup Premiership campaign, to Canterbury and Manawatu, but bounced back with a 31-29 win over Waikato in their last match.
Wellington has won the opening four matches in the Mitre 10 Championship including a cross-over match against Premiership team Taranaki.
The Wellington Lions team to play Tasman in Blenheim on Sunday, September 10 is:
15 Ben Lam (Tawa)
14 Julian Savea (Oriental-Rongotai)
13 Wes Goosen (Old Boys University)
12 Regan Verney (Old Boys University)
11 Losi Filipo (Petone)
10 Jackson Garden-Bachop (Northern United)
9 Kemara Hauiti-Parapara (Tawa)
8 Brad Shields (Petone) (c)
7 Du’Plessis Kirifi (Loan Player)
6 Will Mangos (Old Boys University)
5 James Blackwell (Petone) (c)
4 Sam Lousi (Marist St Pats)
3 Alex Fidow (Oriental-Rongotai)
2 Leni Apisai (Northern United)
1 Tolu Fahamokioa (Tawa)
Reserves: Asafo Aumua (Avalon), Sitiveni Paongo (Tawa), Ha’amea Ahio (Marist St Pats), Isaia Walker-Leawere (Poneke), Mateaki Kafatolu (Petone), Sheridan Rangihuna (Hutt Old Boys Marist), Dan Kirkpatrick (Petone), Levi Harmon (Poneke).