Waikato hope to end a 14-year drought when they face Wellington in the NZ Cup final in Hamilton.
The Mooloos won their only NPC title in 1992, when former All Black coach John Mitchell lifted the trophy, and are desperate to repeat the feat on Saturday morning (SA time, 8.15am live on SuperSport 5).
Waikato thrashed Wellington 37-21 when the teams met in the Top Six stage of the competition and therefore appear to have the edge. However, previous results have favoured Wellington, who won last year’s NPC clash 41-17. The Hurricanes won this year’s Super 14 match against the Chiefs 35-10, and the Super 12 match 28-16 the year before. Wellington also wacked Waikato 45-24 in this year’s pre-season match in Hamilton.
Waikato’s rare win in the Top Six stage was based on a powerful performance up front, and it’s here where they aim to dominate again.
“That last game against Wellington was a real confidence boost for us as a team particularly up front because I think in the past the players have felt they have probably struggled up front against either Wellington or the Hurricanes,” Waikato coach Warren Gatland told XtraMSN Rugby.
Gatland admitted that win came against a Wellington side without the influential Rodney So’oialo. The other Test players had also only just resumed training. “I’m just interested to see if we can go to another level as well because they have lifted and picked it up since the last time we played them,” he added.
Meanwhile, Wellington captain Tana Umaga believes his side will have to beat Waikato at the breakdown and combat their rush defence if the trophy is to return to the capital city.
“You can’t ignore it because it’s been so effective for them, we’re trying to find ways around it,” Umaga said. “It’s being cool under pressure because that’s what they try and do, is put you under pressure to make bad decisions.
“We have to make sure we handle that and get our guys going forward. When you’ve got a team going backwards then they’ve got to get back and come forward.”
Waikato â€“ 15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Sosene Anesi, 13 Richard Kahui, 12 David Hill, 11 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 10 Stephen Donald, 9 Byron Kelleher; 8 Sione Laukai, 7 Marty Holah, 6 Steven Bates (c), 5 Keith Robinson, 4, Jono Gibbes, 3 Nathan White, 2 Tom Willis, 1 Craig West. Reserves: 16 Scott Linklater, 17 Aled de Malmanche, 18 Toby Lynn, 19 Liam Messam, 20 Brendon Leonard, 21 Dwayne Sweeney, 22 Roy Kiniknilau.
Wellington â€“ 15 Shannon Paku, 14 Ma’a Nonu, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Tana Umaga (c), 11 Cory Jane, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Piri Weepu; 8 Rodney So’oialo, 7 Ben Herring, 6 Jerry Collins, 5 Luke Andrews, 4 Ross Filipo, 3 Neemia Tialata/John Schwalger, 2 Mahonri Schwalger, 1 Joe McDonnell. Reserves: 16 Luke Mahoney, 17 John Schwalger/Anthony Perenise, 18 Jeremy Thrush, 19 Chris Masoe, 20 Alby Mathewson, 21 Miah Nikora, 22 Lome Fa’atau.