Grown-up team ready for Auckland

By Wynne Gray

After Canterbury's crushing victory in the 2004 NPC final, Reuben Thorne offered some advice to the vanquished Wellington team.

The grim assessment was delivered without any malice. Thorne suggested Wellington's time would come but they needed a harder approach and more experience before they could claim the title.

It was a legitimate observation, assistant coach Chris Boyd said this week as his side prepared for Friday's semifinal against Auckland.

"Reuben said it would be our turn when we grew up and he was on the money there, meaning we were young in terms of game time," Boyd said. "Now a lot of our guys have built up to the 35 to 50 caps mark."

That knowledge helped Wellington deal to Canterbury in the quarter-final of the Air New Zealand Cup, as the men from the capital blitzed some of the rising Canterbury talent.

"Coping with Auckland on an individual basis will be much more physical at the breakdown, at the collision area, than we got from a younger Canterbury side," Boyd said.

Wellington had taken it to the southerners, a fact underlined by the sort of statistics which had Jerry Collins making six tackles in the quarter-final while his blindside flanker rival Kieran Read had to make 32.

Canterbury were methodical, with a high workrate and accurate systems and organisation. Auckland were a different proposition.

"They still have their patterns but it is less clearcut," said Boyd. "If they dominate the collisions they have a range of individuals who present all sorts of dangers. They have so many linebreakers in their side, although I guess in that respect they are not that different from us."

Wellington were getting full value from their workaholic locks Luke Andrews and Ross Filipo, players who topped the ruck and tackle counts in last year's NPC and were repeating those tallies this season.

"They are the glue, the guys who work for the team all the time, they allow the others to do their thing."

Boyd suspected Ali Williams might be cleared to play after injuring his neck last week against Bay of Plenty but even if he did not recover, Keven Mealamu would add extra impetus to the tight five.

"He is an inspiration really. Keven changes the dynamics of that group, he really adds to their firepower," Boyd said.

Auckland and Wellington will announce their sides today.

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