Experienced loose forward Galu Taufale will captain the Wellington Lions for the first time against Southland in Invercargill on Saturday.
Taufale will start at blindside in one of eight changes to the side that started against Otago in Wellington’s hard fought 27-24 win at Westpac Stadium.
The 30-year-old Samoan test player will become the fourth player to captain the Lions in 2017 after Brad Shields, James Blackwell and Julian Savea.
Shields and Blackwell are both injured, while Savea, who has captained the Lions to three consecutive wins, will skip the trip to Invercargill after starting seven of Wellington’s eight matches this season.
Taufale said it was an honour to be asked by head coach Chris Gibbes to lead the team.
“It’s a proud moment every time you get the chance to pull on the Lions jersey, so to be asked to lead the side is very special,” he said. “It means a lot to myself, my family and my club Poneke to be given the opportunity to captain this province.”
With a home semi-final berth secured Gibbes said it gave him the ability to rotate his squad.
“The work the boys have put in to secure home advantage has given us the ability to rotate the squad. That gives others the opportunity to step up and contribute and we expect a high standard of performance against what will be a tricky assignment against Southland on Saturday night.”
In the backs, Malo Tuitama replaces Savea on the right wing, while Losi Filipo will make his second start of 2017 in place of Lam on the left wing.
Young Marist St Pats midfielder Billy Proctor makes his first start for the Lions at centre with Thomas Umaga-Jensen shifting in a spot to second five, while halfback Sheridan Rangihuna rotates back into the No.9 jersey for Kemara Hauiti-Parapara.
There are also four changes to the pack where Asafo Aumua returns at hooker for Leni Apisai, who was not considered after suffering a shoulder injury early in the win against Otago.
Prop Joe Apikotoa and openside James Tuiatua both make their first starts of 2017 in place of Alex Fidow and Du’Plessis Kirifi respectively, while Teariki Ben-Nicholas makes his fifth start at No.8 with Taufale shifting to the blindside.
In the reserves, centre Wes Goosen returns to the squad after missing the last three matches with a rib injury, while prop Vince Sakaria also comes back into the mix after a four-week absence.
Wellington goes into the match as the clear leader of the Mitre 10 Cup Championship points table with seven wins from eight matches, while Southland is winless at the bottom of the ladder.
Last time the two teams played, Wellington won 60-21 at Westpac Stadium. Last time they played each other in Invercargill was in 2015 with the Lions winning 53-3 on that occasion.
Southland’s last victory over Wellington came in 2002 when they tipped the Lions over 22-20 in Invercargill.
The Wellington Lions team to play Southland at Rugby Park in Invercargill on Saturday, October 7 is:
15 Trent Renata (Oriental-Rongotai)
14 Malo Tuitama (Oriental-Rongotai)
13 Billy Proctor (Marist St Pats)
12 Thomas Umaga-Jensen (Wainuiomata)
11 Losi Filipo (Petone)
10 Jackson Garden-Bachop (Northern United)
9 Sheridan Rangihuna (Hutt Old Boys Marist)
8 Teariki Ben-Nicholas (Old Boys University)
7 James Tuiatua (Marist St Pats)
6 Galu Taufale (Poneke) (c)
5 Will Mangos (Old Boys University)
4 Chris Middleton (Northern United)
3 Joe Apikotoa (Hutt Old Boys Marist)
2 Asafo Aumua (Avalon)
1 Tolu Fahamokioa (Tawa)
Reserves: Sitiveni Paongo (Tawa), Vince Sakaria (Marist St Pats), Alex Fidow (Oriental-Rongotai), Alex Dalzell (Wellington), Du’Plessis Kirifi (Loan Player), Kemara Hauiti-Parapara (Tawa), Wes Goosen (Old Boys University), Regan Verney (Old Boys University).