Three All Blacks have been named in the Wellington Lions squad set to face Waikato at FMG Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Asafo Aumua, TJ Perenara and Ardie Savea are all included in the starting XV hoping to kick off this year’s Mitre 10 Cup campaign with a win.
The Lions have only spent two weeks together as a team, but head coach Leo Crowley has been inspired by what he’s seen at training.
“We think we’ve used our time as best we could. Obviously, the standard of the competition has gone up with the All Blacks involved.”
Outside of All Blacks representation, the Lions boast the experience of 11 Super Rugby players including Alex Fidow, Naitoa Ah Kuoi, Jackson Garden-Bachop and Peter Umaga-Jensen.
“The whole squad is excited about the campaign. Unfortunately, they can’t all play every week so there was definitely some disappointment on Tuesday when the team was announced. The disappointment will bode well for us in the coming weeks as different players are given opportunities, Crowley says."
With that in mind, four debutants, Tyrone Thompson, Josiah Tavita-Metcalfe, Taine Plumtree and Aidan Morgan will get a chance to make their mark this week.
“Taine and Tyronne have had two years in the Wellington academy and have impressed in their determination to get better, so Saturday is the next step for them.
“Aidan on the other hand is a first-year academy player who’s been a consistent performer through his first year of senior rugby and we’re excited to watch his development as a Lion moving forward. Josiah has come to us via club rugby and has a skill set that has impressed our coaching group and will only get better with the more rugby he plays,” Crowley says.
The Lions last played Waikato in October last year and won 39 – 21.
The Lions team to play Waikato at FMG stadium is:
1 Kaliopasi Uluilakepa
2 Asafo Aumua
3 Alex Fidow
4 James Blackwell
5 Naitoa Ah Kuoi
6 Vaea Fifita
7 Du’Plessis Kirifi [C]
8 Ardie Savea
9 TJ Perenara
10 Jackson Garden-Bachop
11 Julian Savea
12 Vince Aso
13 Billy Proctor
14 Connor Garden-Bachop
15 Trent Renata
16 Tyrone Thompson Debut
17 Morgan Poi
18 Josiah Tavita-Metcalfe Debut
19 Taine Plumtree Debut
20 Teariki Ben-Nicholas
21 Kemara Hauiti-Parapara
22 Aidan Morgan Marist St Pats Debut
23 Peter Umaga-Jensen