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Lions looking for Steely performance in silverware defence on Saturday night

The Wellington Lions after their win over the Counties Manukau Steelers in 2019, with the Jonah Lomu Memorial Trophy. PHOTO: Mike Lewis Pictures.

The Wellington Lions have shown both their defensive mettle and attacking prowess in their recent two National Provincial Championship matches that rounded off their Storm Week.

After beating Tasman 7-0 in a grim struggle in front of the yellow seats armada at Wellington Stadium last Wednesday, an understrength Lions showed flashes of brilliance in their 36-31 Harry Saundercock Memorial Trophy triumph over the best that Canterbury could offer in their home town.

On Saturday, the Lions return to their Wellington lair to host the Counties Manukau Steelers in their fifth round fixture – with two trophies on the line.

The first is the Ranfurly Shield, where they will be defending the Ranfurly Shield in their sixth defence of their current tenure.

It will also be their 46th defence overall and their 106th match played with this on the line.

It will, however, be their first defence against Counties Manukau.

The visitors will thus be eager to rock Courtenay Place afterwards with the log ‘o wood in their possession.

The Lions will also be defending the Jonah Lomu Memorial Trophy.

This will be the sixth match honouring the life of Lomu, who was a proud Counties and Wellington player and a leading attacking weapon and crowd favourite for both provincial unions. He played 29 games for Counties Manukau between 1994-1999 and 21 games for Wellington between 2000-2003.

Wellington has won all five Lomu Trophy matches thus far: 28-27 in 2016, 53-12 in 2018, 29-22 in 2019, 53-20 in 2020 and 64-31 last year.

Replacement hooker Asafo Aumua scored four tries against Counties Manukau in 2022.

Whilst Wellington has also won all five of their NPC matches to date this season, to sit as joint leaders alongside Taranaki, the Steelers have won one and lost three to be positioned in the bottom half of the table. They are coming off a 37-15 defeat to Waikato this past Sunday, but led the Mooloo 8-6 at halftime so will prove tough opposition for the Lions.

The two provinces met for the first time in any representative match at Athletic Park in the inaugural National Provincial Championship competition in 1976. Wellington won 15-4 that day, but it was not a result that was going to be replicated too often over the next decade of matches between the two sides. In fact, Counties proved a nemesis for Wellington sides up until the mid-1980s, winning six and drawing one out of their next eight matches until Wellington broke the shackles and defeated them 43-19 in 1985.

Wellington has generally had the better of clashes since – with the exception of the late 1990s when Lomu was part of a blockbusting Steelers side.

Lomu scored a memorable try against Wellington on a wet day at the old Athletic Park in the mid-1990s when he received the ball his own 10-metre line in front of the Main Stand and, from a standing start, beat five Wellington defenders including Tana Umaga on his way to the tryline.

Lomu transferred south to Wellington and the Hurricanes at the start of 2000 to join the Hurricanes and the Lions. He famously scored two tries for the Hurricanes against the Sharks in the first 15s match played at the newly opened Wellington Stadium, while later helping Wellington to win the NPC title by scoring two long-range tries in the final.

Overall, the two teams have met 36 times, with Wellington winning 21, Counties Manukau 13 and there have been two draws.

Kick-off for Saturday night’s game at Wellington Stadium is 7.05pm.

The two teams are expected to be announced on Friday.

Wellington v Counties Manukau 2001 lineups. Jonah Lomu scored two tries for Wellington that day in a surprise 47-0 win.


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