Vaea Fifita back for Wellington

Vaea Fifita leads the return of Wellington's big guns for their final Mitre 10 Cup regular season match against Northland on Thursday.

The All Blacks blindside flanker, who played against Argentina but was rested for the South Africa trip, has been given the all-clear to rejoin the Lions at Westpac Stadium.

He joins Brad Shields and fellow Hurricane Wes Goosen in returning to a powerful starting lineup.

Shields reclaims the captaincy after missing the past four weeks due to a knee ligament tweak suffered during Wellington's sole loss of the season against Tasman in Blenheim on September 10.

He will start at No 8 against Northland alongside Fifita, who will make his second appearance for the Lions this season.

He replaces Galu Taufale, who captained Wellington to a 61-12 win over Southland in Invercargill on Saturday, but is unavailable this week due to a bruised knee.

Wellington coach Chris Gibbes continues to manage his full squad against Northland and has made 11 changes to the team that started against Southland.

Seven of those changes are in the pack where Shields, Fifita and openside Mateaki Kafatolu form an all-new loose trio.

Similarly there is a refreshed second row where James Blackwell and Sam Lousi replace Will Mangos and Chris Middleton. Blackwell is back after four weeks on the sideline due to a shoulder injury suffered against Canterbury.

In the front row Alex Fidow returns at tighthead prop for Joe Apikotoa, while Sitiveni Paongo starts at hooker, switching roles with Asafo Aumua, who will come off the bench.

The return of wings Julian Savea and Ben Lam from a rest week, and Goosen's first start since injuring a rib against Tasman, are the features of a revamped backline.

Savea and Lam come back in for Malo Tuitama and Losi Filipo respectively, Goosen replaces Billy Proctor at centre, and Kemara Hauiti-Parapara comes in at halfback for Sheridan Rangihuna.

Wellington have an unbeatable lead on the championship ladder and will host a semifinal, while Northland are in second place and one of four teams still in the hunt for the remaining three places in the playoffs.

"We expect a highly motivated Northland team and a tough match," Gibbes said. "We aren't even thinking about the semifinals, that's for next week. This is a home match and it's important that we go out and put in a performance we can be proud of."

Wellington: Trent Renata, Julian Savea, Wes Goosen, Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Ben Lam, Jackson Garden-Bachop, Kemara Hauiti-Parapara, Brad Shields (captain), Mateaki Kafatolu, Vaea Fifita, James Blackwell, Sam Lousi, Alex Fidow, Sitiveni Paongo, Tolu Fahamokioa. Reserves: Asafo Aumua, Vince Sakaria, Joe Apikotoa, Will Mangos, James Tuiatua, Carlos Price, Regan Verney, Malo Tuitama.​


Photo by: ANDREW CORNAGA/PHOTOSPORT (Caption: Vaea Fifita made a huge impact for the All Blacks against Argentina in New Plymouth and returns for his first provincial game since, for Wellington against Northland)