Rugby: Weepu headlines Auckland team

Having been left out of the All Blacks' Bledisloe Cup squad, Piri Weepu will have to content himself with an appearance in the ITM Cup on Sunday afternoon. Photo / Getty Images.
Having been left out of the All Blacks' Bledisloe Cup squad, Piri Weepu will have to content himself with an appearance in the ITM Cup on Sunday afternoon. Photo / Getty Images.

Having been left out of the All Blacks' Bledisloe Cup squad, Piri Weepu will have to content himself with an appearance in the ITM Cup on Sunday afternoon.

The 71-test veteran will provide vast experience at halfback in Wayne Pivac's Auckland team, who take on local rivals North Harbour at Eden Park to begin both sides' ITM Cup campaigns.

Auckland's starting XV features 10 players who have played Super Rugby, including second five-eighths Hadleigh Parkes who will captain the team after returning from a season in South Africa with the Southern Kings.

Promising lock Patrick Tuipulotu and dynamic winger Tenina Saulileoge will make their provincial debuts, while Vince Aso and Saleaula Silipa are also poised to play their first games after being named on the bench.

Pivac said he couldn't wait to kickstart his side's campaign after a thrilling opening ITM Cup match between Wellington and Counties Manukau in Pukekohe last night.

"It's exciting,'' Pivac said. "It got underway last night with a cracker of a game by Wellington and they've set the pace early on, so if we can have a good start to our campaign we'll be very happy.''

With Gareth Anscombe undergoing surgery on both shoulders, which has ruled him out of the competition, New Zealand under-20 playmaker Simon Hickey will start at first five-eighths and Pivac believes the talented youngster will take it all in his stride.

"He's a confident young man but not over-confident. He believes in his ability and he has a lot of ability so that's a huge plus for us. I'm looking forward to seeing how Simon goes because he certainly played very well in his time during the pre-season game against Hawkes Bay.''

Despite North Harbour's poor showing in the ITM Cup last year, Pivac said he was expecting a lot more from them this season as the two rivals go head-to-head on Sunday.

"The hardest time to have a Battle of the Bridge is round one. The squads are pretty much intact, everyone's level pegging on the scoreboard, so there's no pressure there. I'm expecting them to be a lot better than last year.''

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Auckland team to face North Harbour at Eden Park on Sunday afternoon:

Lolagi Visinia, George Moala, Malakai Fekitoa, Hadleigh Parkes (c), Tenina Sauileoge, Simon Hickey, Piri Weepu, Peter Saili, Luke Braid, Joe Edwards, Patrick Tuipulotu, Liaki Moli, Angus Ta'avao, Tom McCartney, Sam Prattley. Reserves: Nathan Vella, Pauliasi Manu, Sean Brookman, Sean Polwart, Wayne Ngaluafe, Vince Aso, Saleaula Silipa.

- APNZ

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