Daniel Richardson is a Wellington-based sports journalist for NZME. News Service.

Rugby: Smaller crowds not bothering Wellington Lions

Ross Filipo will start in the No 5 jersey alongside Wellington captain Jeremy Thrush in the second row tomorrow night. File photo / NZPA
Ross Filipo will start in the No 5 jersey alongside Wellington captain Jeremy Thrush in the second row tomorrow night. File photo / NZPA

Attendances in the ITM Cup might be dwindling but Wellington Lions coach Chris Boyd says his players haven't voiced any concerns about the issue to him.

As the public appear to be turned off the competition due to its condensed format and sub-par quality of rugby, fans have voted with their feet and simply not turned up to games.

Boyd's men meet Bay of Plenty in Mt Manganui tomorrow night as the Lions look to stay in contention for the semifinals in the Premiership.

The Lions will want to bounce back quickly after being beaten 43-30 by Auckland in the City of Sails on Saturday night but Boyd stressed the crowd issues hadn't taken a toll on his side.

"I don't think there's been any discussion or negativity,'' Boyd said on a conference call today.

"If I went and selected and asked five or six players about the crowd issue probably five of the six would say `what crowd issue?'. They just play.

"You wouldn't want to get to a point where you're playing in empty stadiums but at the end of the day the contest for them is more important than the crowd.''

The four-win two-loss Lions face a busy week as they also host the winless North Harbour outfit in the capital on Saturday evening.

Wellington captain Jeremy Thrush said playing three games within eight days had its challenges and a few of his players were on the sore side already.

"Bumps and bruises and a couple of niggles kind of creep in a little bit, but I guess once you get back out there they kind of go away pretty quickly and you are focused on what you've got to do,'' Thrush said.

Boyd has juggled his backline stocks for tomorrow night's game. Pivot Lima Sopoaga will make his first start of the year after he played off the bench in the loss to Auckland as he works his way back from a shoulder injury.

Halfback Frae Wilson has been dropped to the bench with Kayne Hammington to get his shot in the No 9 jumper, while Tim Bateman has pushed out to centre following Sopoaga's elevation and Charlie Ngatai moves out to fullback shunting Jason Woodward to the pine.

Solomona Sakalia has come in to the front row after Eric Sione suffered a concussion against Auckland, while Bay of Plenty also have a new backline general with Chris Noakes promoted to start for the Steamers.

Bay of Plenty are coming off a heart-breaking loss to Hawkes Bay when they were pipped by one point in the dying stages by the Magpies in Napier on Friday night.

Thrush said his side wanted to atone for their poor performance against Auckland and they had talked about making better use of the ball and retaining it.

"The boys have had a good look at what happened in the Auckland game and there's a little bit of frustration there so we will take that out on Bay of Plenty tomorrow night.''

Wellington: Charlie Ngatai, Alapati Leiua, Tim Bateman, Shaun Treeby, Matt Proctor, Lima Sopoaga, Kayne Hammington, Ardie Savea, Scott Fuglistaller, Lua Lokotui, Ross Filipo, Jeremy Thrush (captain), Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Dane Coles, Solomona Sakalia. Reserves: Motu Matu'u, Whetu Henry, Mark Reddish, Genesis Mamea, Frae Wilson, Ope Peleseuma, Jason Woodward.

Bay of Plenty: Lance McDonald, Lelia Masaga, Kenny Lynn, Phil Burleigh, Mafi Kefu, Chris Noakes, Lewis Hancock, Luke Braid, Tanerau Latimer (captain), Dan Goodwin, Leon Power, Culum Retallick, Josh Hohneck, John Pareanga, Tristan Moran. Reserves: Nathan Harris, Greg Pleasants-Tate, Carl Axtens, Jesse Acton, Nick McCashin, Simon Rolleston, Jack Wilson/Maru Henry.


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