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Asafo Aumua could help Lions hand Canterbury their worst start to a season in over 25 years

By Tom Vinicombe

Unwanted by the All Blacks but sure to be a major pain in the backside for Mitre 10 Cup teams across the country: Asafo Aumua is set for a big season with Wellington.

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Aumua will line up tonight at hooker for the Lions as they host New Zealand’s most successful province, Canterbury.

He’ll be joined by Vaea Fifita – who is likely to be named in the All Blacks World Cup squad on Wednesday but could still miss out. Braydon Ennor will also run out for Canturbury after being released by the All Blacks to accrue some game time. Like Fifita, Ennor will be hoping to have his name read out when the national squad is announced next week.

Canterbury have already had their worst start to a provincial season since 1996 courtesy of losses to Waikato and Tasman. If last year’s finalists lose to Wellington tonight then it will be their worst start since 1992. In over four decades of competition, Canterbury have never started the season with four losses on the trot – and it would take an incredibly brave man (read: stupid) to bet on that happening in 2019, with their next opponents being Southland, who haven’t won a match since 2016.

Wellington haven’t exactly been firing this year either. Tasman tore them apart in the first round of the competition, whilst they let a big lead slip last week and ended up with a draw against Hawke’s Bay. Wellington will be be gunning to stop the rot or else their season will be over before it ever really gets going.

Elsewhere, pace-setters Tasman will have access to All Blacks prop Atu Moli for when they host Manawatu on Saturday. Moli will have to settle for a reserve spot, however, with Tyrel Lomax maintaining his spot in the starting lineup.

Later that evening, top-ranked Bay of Plenty will travel north to take on last year’s champions, Auckland. The Steamers won’t have any current All Blacks to call upon for this match (although Nathan Harris may still fancy his chances and getting the national call-up this season) but they’ve looked like a well-oiled machine in their matches to date.

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Auckland will be trying to get as much ball as possible to their left wing, where All Blacks tyro Rieko Ioane will be trying to find some spark to light his World Cup campaign. The speedster has been out of form for New Zealand so far and is under plenty of pressure from the likes of Sevu Reece and George Bridge.

Saturday’s final match sees Counties Manukau take on Waikato. Counties have been a mixed bag to date, losing to Taranaki when they probably could have won and beating North Harbour when they probably should have lost. Waikato will be buoyed by the return of Luke Jacobson, who hasn’t taken the field since he debuted for the All Blacks against Argentina. Jacobson last made an appearance for the Mooloos in 2017, spending all of 2018 on the sidelines due to concussion issues.

Sunday’s fixtures see Taranaki host Northland and North Harbour head down to Southland. Taranaki will be hopeful that Waisake Naholo will be available after sitting out last week’s fixture against Manawatu.

Hawke’s Bay and Otago kicked off the round last night, with Hawke’s Bay prevailing 29-21.

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