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Shock and Orr as Lions 40-man NPC squad named

For the first time since 1982, the Wellington Lions will head into the new season as defending National Provincial Championship winners and Ranfurly Shield winners.

Today a 40-strong squad has been selected with that task, starting with this coming weekend’s opening NPC and Coronation Cup clash against Manawatū (non-Ranfurly Shield match).

The Lions have named a mostly settled and predictable squad and one that should give the twin tasks of retaining their silverware a good shake.

It features several Super Rugby players and up and comers who are well known to the local audience and appears particularly strong in the loose forward and midfield back departments.

It is also expected that it won’t be set in stone, and other players not named in this list will also be involved in the campaign and potentially play some games as injuries and attrition bite over the next several weeks.

Nevertheless, two talking points of the squad are props and halfbacks.

As such, the Lions have recruited Australian prop Cameron Orr.

Orr is listed as a 29-year-old 120kg prop hailing from Sydney, who played 16 matches for the Western Force in 2018 and 2019 and is a current Rebels player having played in 39 Super Rugby encounters for them over the past four seasons 2020-23.

Orr is a former Australian U20s player (2014-15) and also played a season in the English Premiership in 2016-17 for Gloucester.

He made his debut in Taranaki this past weekend, a 49-22 loss in Manaia.

Orr will join the group that appears to be headed by Hurricanes and Oriental-Rongotai loosehead prop Xavier Numia and Highlanders and Tawa tighthead prop PJ Sheck, with up-and-coming New Zealand U20s props, Tawa’s Siale Lauaki and Northern United’s Bradley Crichton, in the mix as well. Johnsonville’s Ha’amea Ahio and Northern United’s Josiah Tavita-Metcalfe are also props in the group.

At halfback, Tawa’s Kemara Hauiti-Parapara gets the nod, alongside Poneke and Hurricanes U20s halfback Sam Howling.

Old Boys University’s Kyle Preston (27 tries in his past 29 OBU games) makes the squad, but Petone’s and the Hurricanes’ Logan Henry (10 matches for Manawatū in 2022) misses out. TJ Perenara (80 tests) has been selected too, but it is our understanding that he had a recent set-back with his long-term injury and is now targeting the start of the next year for his on-field return.

As noted above, the loose forwards are seemingly fair stacked.

No captain named, but Northern United’s Du Plessis Kirifi could return in that role and thus presumably be the first choice openside flanker. But Taita College Alumni and English international Brad Shields is in the mix, along with Petone and New Zealand U20s dynamo Peter Lakai, Ories openside Sione Halalilo, MSP No. 8 Keelan Whitman,  Jubilee Cup final MVP for Ories, Dominic Ropeti and Tawa’s Akira Ieremia, the son of the Alama who won the NPC with Wellington in 2000. Ieremia could be seen as a lock, but he has played 32 of his 48 matches at club level for Tawa at start

Ardie Savea (73 tests) has also been selected but appears to be in name only as he will be in the All Blacks. Another player not in this group and not in the squads that contested the first two Ranfurly Shield defences is Upper Hutt captain Toby Crosby who’s scored 26 tries in 26 games for the Rams.  Surely a big future awaits him somewhere?

OBU’s Caleb Delany can play lock and loose forward, while one-match Hurricane and Tawa lock Hugo Plummer and the Upper Hutt Rams’ Dominic Bird are other locks.  Johnsonville’s Anthony Pettett is perhaps an unlucky player not to be named in this initial squad at lock.

Avalon’s Asafo Aumua appears set for a full season at hooker and he is a proven NPC dominator. HOBM’s James O’Reilly makes his return from a long-term injury layoff. O’Reilly had surgery on his troubled neck/shoulder/nerves last October, so will be lightly raced. Dane Coles is with the All Blacks, so perhaps a fourth hooker will be seen at least in the early rounds.

Marist St Pat’s player Aidan Morgan will presumably be the first-choice first five, while another former King’s College, Auckland student, Chicago Doyle makes the squad.

In a similar vein to Ruben Love, Doyle can play first five but fullback appears to be his position. Like Love, Doyle is quick on his feet and possesses more pace than most. He is not the biggest of players and has been in and out of the medical room in his first two seasons of rugby in Wellington for Marist St Pat’s and age-group representative teams.

Paremata-Plimmerton’s Sam Clarke is also a first-five, and is joined in the squad by his brother and Petone fullback TJ Clarke

MSP’s Billy Proctor, who recently scored four tries for the All Blacks XV against Japan A, and in-form Wainuiomata player Peter Umaga-Jensen appear to have the inside running in the midfield. Petone’s Riley Higgins is back-up and he is coming back from injury.

Versatility in the midfield and outside backs.

Paremata-Plimmerton excitment machines Ethan Webster-Nonu and Joe Faleafaga are both in the squad and each can play two or three different positions from 12 to wing. Crusaders and Tawa outside back Pepesana Patafilo can also easily play centre as well as wing, as can Petone’s Losi Filipo who is also in this squad.

Highlanders and Norths outside back Connor Garden-Bachop returns, despite not having made an appearance on Wellington soil thus far this season, while strapping Tawa wing Isi Saumaki has been named. He scored four tries in the two recent Ranfurly Shield defences. Julian Savea has also been named. Savea has had a wonderful career and is a local legend, but perhaps his selection is a campaign too far?

The Wellington Lions squad named this week is:

Ha’amea Ahio – Johnsonville
Asafo Aumua – Avalon
Dominic Bird – Upper Hutt Rams
Sam Clarke – Paremata-Plimmerton
Tjay Clarke – Petone
Dane Coles – Pōneke
Bradley Crichton – Northern United
Caleb Delany – Old Boys University
Chicago Doyle – Marist St Pats
Joe Faleafaga – Paremata-Plimmerton
Losi Filipo – Petone
Connor Garden-Bachop – Northern United
Sione Halalilo – Oriental-Rongotai
Kemara Hauiti-Parapara – Tawa
Riley Higgins – Petone
Sam Howling – Pōneke
Akira Ieremia – Tawa
Du’Plessis Kirifi – Northern United
Peter Lakai – Petone
Siale Lauaki – Tawa
Ruben Love – Wainuiomata
Aidan Morgan – Marist St Pats
Xavier Numia – Oriental-Rongotai
James O’Reilly – Hutt Old Boys Marist
Cameron Orr – Western Suburbs
Pepesana Patafilo – Tawa
TJ Perenara- Northern United
Hugo Plummer – Tawa
Kyle Preston – Old Boys University
Billy Proctor – Marist St Pats
Dominic Ropeti – Oriental-Rongotai
Isi Saumaki – Tawa
Ardie Savea – Oriental-Rongotai
Julian Savea – Oriental-Rongotai
PJ Sheck – Tawa
Brad Shields – Petone
Josiah Tavita-Metcalfe – Northern United
Peter Umaga-Jensen – Wainuiomata
Ethan Webster-Nonu – Paremata-Plimmerton
Keelan Whitman – Marist St Pats

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