Former All Black halfback Brad Weber will play his 100th first class game and captain the Hawke's Bay Magpies when they take on the Wellington Lions in the capital tonight.
"Absolutely it's the home province," Weber replied when asked if Hawke's Bay would be his first choice of the three unions - Otago and Waikato are the others - he has represented if he had the choice to bring up his ton.
"I didn't know it was my 100th until Terry [Magpies manager Gittings] told me so it's pretty cool. As for the captaincy ... the boys are dropping like flies and it's a case of the last one standing getting the gig. Hopefully I do a good enough job," Weber, 26, said before the Magpies flew south to prepare for their fourth round Mitre 10 Cup clash yesterday.
It will be his first starting XV appearance after fracturing his femur when playing for the Chiefs in the final of the Brisbane Global Tens in February. The 2015 All Black played the final 20 minutes of last Friday night's loss to Canterbury in Napier.
"I'm happy as with how the body came through. I was a little bit nervous after being out for so long. But once I made a few tackles and got tackled a couple of times, I felt good," Weber, a third generation Magpie explained.
"Fitness and lungs-wise, I'm fine. But you can't replicate games and once I get match fitness, I'll be fine."
Weber agreed there is no better team than unbeaten Championship leaders Wellington to play in the Magpies quest to get their season back on track, after two consecutive losses.
"Historically Wellington look down on Hawke's Bay. It's pretty easy to get up for this one. We want to prove we are better than they think we are and I'm looking forward to it."
Weber believed an improved attitude will see the Magpies return to the winning path.
"We've got a good enough skillset and individually our players are pretty special. We just need to work hard for 80 minutes. Canterbury showed us how to do that last week ... it's an easy fix."
While he was gutted to miss the opportunity to emulate his father and former Magpies halfback Neil Weber's feat of playing against the British and Irish Lions earlier this year, Weber knows if he can keep playing there could be an end-of-year tour on his schedule.
"Both the All Blacks and Maori All Blacks have end-of-year tours. It would be good to squeeze into one of those."
Weber's replacing of centurion Chris Eaton is one of numerous changes Magpies head coach Craig Philpott has made to his starting XV. Regular captain and Maori All Black hooker Ash Dixon is unavailable with his hip injury and is replaced by Jacob Devery who will make his first starting XV appearance.
Mark Braidwood and Jarvy Aoake replace the respective loosehead and tighthead props, Jason Long and Pouri Rakete-Stones, from last week. Chiefs lock Michael Allardice is unavailable with a rib injury and has been replaced by new Waratah Nick Palmer.
Former Hurricane Tony Lamborn returns from injury to replace the injured Marino Mikaele-Tu'u at No 8, Hurricane Hugh Renton switches from blindside to openside flanker as a replacement for Samoan international Fa'alemiga Selesele and Saracen Lucas Goodin replaces Renton in the No 6 jersey. Other changes to the backline see Tiaan Falcon switch from fullback to replace the injured Ihaia West at first five-eighth, Highlander Richard Buckman move from second five-eighth to fullback, Cardiff Vaega move from centre to second five-eighth and Hayden Hann replace Vaega at centre.
Should the Saracens pair of promising loosie Ricky Hayes and experienced first five-eighth Dan Snee get game time off the subs bench, they will make their first class debuts for the Magpies. Philpott has opted for a 6/2 forwards-backs split on the pine.
"Yes it's a reflection of the physical approach we expect from Wellington but we also need to have fit bodies as we play Otago back home here on Sunday," Philpott said.
Philpott pointed out none of the 13 players on his injury list have season-ending injuries.
"That is a positive and the guys who are filling their jerseys know they can create selection issues. Those who wore them previously don't just get them back automatically."
Hawke's Bay: Richard Buckman, Jonah Lowe, Hayden Hann, Cardiff Vaega, Sam McNicol, Tiaan Falcon, Brad Weber (captain), Tony Lamborn, Hugh Renton, Lucas Goodin, Geoff Cridge, Nick Palmer, Jarvy Aoake, Jacob Devery, Mark Braidwood. Substitutes forwards: Jorian Tangaere, Jason Long (vice captain), Pouri Rakete-Stones, Josh Eden-Whaitiri, Fa'alemiga Selesele, Ricky Hayes. Backs: Chris Eaton, Dan Snee.
Wellington: Andrew Wells, Julian Savea, Wes Goosen, Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Ben Lam, Jackson Garden-Bachop, Sheridan Rangihuna, Teariki Ben-Nicholas, Du'Plessis Kirifi, Galu Taufale, James Blackwell (captain), Isaia Walker-Leawere, Alex Fidow, Asafo Aumua, Tolu Fahamokioa. Substitutes forwards: Sitiveni Paongo, Vince Sakaria, Joe Apikotoa, Will Mangos, James Tuiatua. Backs: Kemara Hauiti-Parapara, Dan Kirkpatrick, Malo Tuitama.