Rugby: James Parsons returns for North Harbour

North Harbour welcome All Blacks hooker James Parsons back for tomorrow's Championship clash with Wellington. Photo / Thinkstock.
North Harbour welcome All Blacks hooker James Parsons back for tomorrow's Championship clash with Wellington. Photo / Thinkstock.

North Harbour welcome All Blacks hooker James Parsons back for tomorrow's Championship clash with Wellington in a line-up that sees some tweaks to the team that strongly challenged Waikato last week.

"The boys were a bit quiet for a day or so after that defeat last week as they knew we gave ourselves a real chance after a disappointing start," says coach Steve Jackson.

"That was shaken off by Monday and we are now up for the challenge of Wellington."

Takapuna loose forward Josh Tyrell is promoted into the starting line-up for what will be his first cap. This means Chris Vui moves into the locking position with Connor Collett, on the back of some strong performances in pre-season and last week, being promoted off the bench into the No 7 jersey.

In the other change to the starting line-up, Matt McGahan comes into first five position.

On the bench, Jackson has bought in North Shore centre Daniel Hilton-Jones as back cover for his debut. The match also marks the return of Hapakuki Moala-Liava'a and the introduction of prop Hani Fatai.

"It is stating the obvious, but we need to get off to a better start," says Jackson.

"Wellington have a big physical pack loaded with Super players, and we cannot let them get on top early. We have picked a team that will do that job and with the likes of Kuki on the bench, we have players behind them that will add real impact when they are called upon."

Wellington started their campaign with a win over Hawke's Bay but then faced a rampant Otago, whom they let get away early. That would have given the Harbour coaches some insight into how to take on Wellington.

"Like us last week, Wellington have started slowly in their games. It almost cost them in their opening match, and it did in their second. It is important that we get out of the blocks quickly," adds Jackson.

The Lions have also made two changes and a positional swap for their first home game of the Mitre 10 Cup.

Wellington head coach Earl Va'a has stuck largely to the team that lost a high-scoring match against Otago in Dunedin last week.

Halfback Tomasi Palu returns after missing the last match due to a family bereavement, while young NZ Under 20s lock Isaia Walker-Leawere has been promoted from the reserves to the starting side in a straight swap with Sam Lousi.

Va'a has also re-shuffled his loose trio, with Vaea Fifita reverting from No 8 to his more familiar role at blindside and Lions captain Brad Shields likewise moving from No 6 to the back of the scrum.

Palu's return means Sheridan Rangihuna moves back to the reserves bench at the expense of Pakai Turia, while loose forward Galu Taufale's recovery from a calf strain means loose forward Isaac O'Connor drops out of the match-day 23.

After opening the season with a big win over Premiership rivals Hawke's Bay, Wellington lost 44-21 to an Otago side that built a big first half lead then withstood a spirited Lions comeback.

"We didn't get things quite right against Otago last week, but there were also a lot of positives, so there was no need to panic," Va'a said.

"We've made a few adjustments around the new breakdown rules during the week and I'm confident we will be better prepared against North Harbour. We'll need to be because they've shown in the opening two rounds they are a force to be reckoned with."
Wellington humiliated North Harbour 43-0 last year in Albany and indeed it is a decade since North Harbour last defeated the Lions.

Wellington: Peter Umaga-Jensen, Joe Hill, Matt Proctor, Shaun Treeby, Wes Goosen, Jackson Garden-Bachop, Tomasi Palu, Brad Shields (c), Greg Foe, Vaea Fifita, Isaia Walker-Leawere, Hoani Matenga, Chris Baumann, Leni Apisai, Vince Sakaria; Reserves: Asafo Aumua, Alex Fidow, Joe Apikotoa, Sam Lousi, Galu Taufale, Sheridan Rangihuna, TJ Va'a, Mike Lealava'a

North Harbour: Matt Duffie, Afa Fa'atau, Matt Vaega, Michael Little, Tevita Li, Matt McGahan, Bryn Hall, Murphy Taramai, Connor Collett, Josh Tyrell, Chris Vui, Brandon Nansen, Sione Mafileo, James Parsons (c), Nic Mayhew; Reserves: Vyron Smith, Hani Fatai, Karl Tuinukuafe, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Hapakuki Moala-Liava'a, Chris Smylie, Bryn Gatland, Daniel Hilton-Jones

Mitre 10 Cup Championship
Wellington v North Harbour
Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Saturday, 5.35pm

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