Lions squad named to face Bay of Plenty at Sky Stadium

Coach Leo Crowley has named a mix of youth and experience to take on the Bay of Plenty Steamers in the Lion’s first round of the Bunnings Warehouse NPC 2022 competition on Sunday.

The front row sees the return of hooker James O’Reilly who lines up alongside props Xavier Numia and PJ Sheck. Off the bench, they are supported by All Blacks hooker Asafo Aumua and debuting props Bradley Crichton of Northern United and Siale Lauaki of Tawa.

Powerhouse locks James Blackwell and Dominic Bird were named to the racing squad, supported by Hurricanes teammate Caleb Delany.

Flanker Du’Plessis Kirifi will captain Wellington for his fourth season as skipper, alongside loose forward Taine Plumtree and newcomer, Wellington Rugby Academy graduate Peter Lakai.

Lakai (Petone), 19, will make his first appearance for the Lions in Bunnings NPC, having joined the Lions squad in 2021 as injury cover before making his debut against Southland in an exhibition game.

Halfback TJ Perenara will line up alongside top five Aidan Morgan, Richard Judd and Jackson Garden-Bacho looking to make an impact off the bench.

Petone’s Riley Higgins is set to make his Lions debut in midfield alongside the electric Billy Proctor, while Ruben Love starts at the back and will again seek support in the form of finishers Pepesana Patafilo and Julian Savea.

With three players set to make their Lions debuts, Crowley said it was a special moment for the players and Wellington Rugby Academy.

“It’s really exciting for Wellington rugby to have three boys who, alongside Lakai, have been together at the academy for the past few years, and for them to be able to run onto their pitch and make their debuts together is enough. These boys are all very talented in their own way so we can’t wait to see how they contribute in the paddock,” Crowley said.

The Lions will take on the Bay of Plenty Steamers in the first leg at Sky Stadium in Wellington on Sunday August 7 at 4.35pm. Tickets start at $20 for an adult and are available here.

The Wellington Lions will face Bay of Plenty:

1. Xavier Numia, Oriental-Rongotai
2. James O’Reilly, Hutt Old Boys Marist
3. PJ Sheck, Tawa
4. James Blackwell, Petone
5. Dominic Bird, Upper Hutt Rams
6. Taine Plumtree, Old Boys University
7. Du’Plessis Kirifi, North United (c)
8. Peter Lakai, Petone
9. TJ Perenara, Northern United States
10. Aidan Morgan, St Pats Marist
11. Pepesana Patafilo, Tawa
12. Riley Higgins, Petone*
13. Billy Proctor, Marist St Pats
14. Julian Savea, Oriental-Rongotai
15. Ruben Love, Wainuiomata

16. Asafo Aumua, Avalon
17. Bradley Crichton, North United*
18. Siale Lauaki, Tawa *
19. Caleb Delany, Old Boys University
20. Keelan Whitman, Marist St Pats
21. Richard Judd, Paremata-Plimmerton
22. Jackson Garden-Bacho, North United
23. Connor Garden-Bacho, Northern United

Not available for selection: Vince Sakaria, Tietie Tuimauga, Connor Collins, Peter Umaga-Jensen, Losi Filipo, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Solomona Sakalia, Iona Apineru.

Charles P. Patton