24 Oct

ANZC Final Preview
by Tracey Nelson
24 Oct 2008

As predicted, the final has become a showdown of Wellington against Canterbury. Easily the two best sides in the competition this year, both have only dropped one game on their road to the final.

Canterbury lost their only game in the very first round, unexpectedly falling to minnow-team Manawatu. Wellington, by contrast, fell in the last round losing to Otago at Carisbrook have survived their first and only Shield Defence of the year the week before.

The final sees the best attacking side (Wellington) up against the best defensive side. However, to back their defence up Canterbury have been the second best attacking side behind Wellington. The same can’t be said for Wellington, who in recent weeks have looked brittle on defence at times.

With this in mind, Wellington coach Jamie Joseph has chosen to shift All Black 2nd 5, Ma’a Nonu, out to the wing and play a midfield combination of Tamati Ellison and Conrad Smith. Serge Lilo makes a welcome return at openside, having been out with injury for the last month. Injury concerns over prop Neemia Tialata and lock Jeremy Thrush, who has had a massive season for the capital side, have receded and both will start this Saturday night.

Canterbury have bigger injury woes, having lost speedy winger James Paterson to a serious knee injury early in their semi final game against Hawkes Bay, while half back Andy Ellis has been ruled out with a medial ligament strain. With All Black captain Richie McCaw at openside and Kieran Read captaining the side at No 8, Canterbury will be looking to get the edge at the breakdown with the assistance of their mobile locking pairing of Michael Paterson and Isaac Ross, along with seasoned campaigners Corey Flynn, Greg Somerville and Wyatt Crockett in the front row.

This game promises to be a real battle right across the field, with the Wellington speedsters of Hosea Gear and Corey Jane up against the solid Scott Hamilton and Paul Williams. Midfield has Ellison/Smith versus Tim Bateman and Casey Laulala. First five has the unlikely match-up of All Black halfback Piri Weepu against in-form rookie Colin Slade, yet another 1st 5 off the HSOB/Canterbury production line. Both forward packs are strong and mobile, so expect no mercy to be taken by either side.

Wellington have home advantage and a sting in their attack, while Canterbury have a pretty handy attack themselves and a proven defensive record this season. Finals rugby often comes down to which side has the best defence, but this may not be the case on Saturday night. Either way though, it promises to be a great game of rugby.

Predicition: depends what mood referee Bryce Lawrence is in. Too hard to call this one.

WELLINGTON: 15 Cory Jane, 14 Ma’a Nonu, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Tamati Ellison, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Piri Weepu (captain), 9 Alby Matthewson, 8 Rodney So’oialo, 7 Serge Lilo, 6 Chris Masoe, 5 Jeremy Thrush, 4 Ross Filipo, 3 John Schwalger, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Neemia Tialata. Reserves: 16 Ged Robinson, 17 Jacob Ellison, 18 Tim Fairbrother, 19 Thomas Waldrom, 20 Api Naikatini, 21 Daniel Kirkpatrick, 22 Tane Tu’ipulotu.

CANTERBURY: 15 Scott Hamilton, 14 Paul Williams, 13.Casey Laulala, 12 Tim Bateman, 11 Sean Maitland, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Tyson Keats, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Richie McCaw, 6 Hayden Hopgood, 5 Isaac Ross, 4 Michael Paterson, 3 Greg Somerville, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett, Reserves: 16 Steve Fualau, 17 Owen Franks, 18 Nasi Manu, 19 George Whitelock, 20 Steve Alfeld, 21 Hamish Gard, 22 Adam Whitelock.

Referee: Bryce Lawrence (Bay of Plenty).

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