Above: Expect another explosive National Provincial Championship campaign by Vaea Fifita
American prop Chris Baumann and towering lock Sam Lousi will add bulk to a Wellington Lions squad packed full of young talent during the upcoming National Provincial Championship (NPC).
Wellington head coach Earl Va’a has named a squad of 38 ahead of the start of the provincial season where the Lions will again be looking to gain promotion from the Championship to the Premiership.
The squad will be captained by outstanding loose forward Brad Shields, one of 12 members of the Hurricanes squad that recently won the Super Rugby title.
Baumann, at 1.82cm and 119kg, joins the Lions off the back of an international season with the USA Eagles, while Auckland-born former New Zealand Warriors league player Lousi comes to the capital fresh off a season of Super Rugby with the Waratahs.
With nine caps to his name Colorado native Baumann, 29, adds experience at tighthead prop while incumbent Jeff Toomaga-Allen recovers from a broken arm suffered during the Hurricanes Super Rugby campaign.
At 1.99m and 128kg, Lousi adds size to the locking stocks alongside another sizable second rower in 19-year-old New Zealand Under 20s lock Isaia Walker-Leawere.
Va’a said Baumann and Lousi were exciting additions and would add some experience to a squad full of young locally grown talent.
“Chris is a current test prop and with Jeff injured we felt we had to look outside the region. He’s got plenty of experience and he’s already had a run for the Wellington XV against Manawatu and settled in well.
“Sam’s a player with a lot of potential and we are really looking forward to working with him before he links up with the Hurricanes next year.
“But I think if you look at our squad the thing that stands out to me is there are seven players who were in the New Zealand Under 20s squad this year and a number who were in that team the previous year.”
The squad’s Under 20s contingent includes hookers Leni Apisai and Asafo Aumua, prop Alex Fidow, Walker-Leawere, first five TJ Va’a, utility back Malo Tuitama and outside back Peter Umaga-Jensen.
Wellington’s four current All Blacks Dane Coles, TJ Perenara and Ardie and Julian Savea have been named in the squad, but are unlikely to play a major part in the campaign due to international duties.
“There are some familiar names in there with the All Blacks and the likes Brad Shields and Vaea Fifita, but it’s also pleasing to see a number of players coming straight out of the Wellington club competition,” Va’a said.
“Guys like Valentine Meachen, Galu Taufale, Isaac O’Connor and Kane Leaupepe have impressed and forced our hand and that tells me that competition is in good health.”
The Lions preseason schedule has seen a Wellington XV post wins over Tasman and Manawatu in recent weeks with their final hit out against Canterbury in Christchurch tomorrow before the season opener against Hawke’s Bay in Napier on August 20.
Wellington Lions NPC Squad:
Forwards: Asafo Aumua*, Leni Apasai, Valentine Meachen*, Alex Fidow, Chris Baumann*, Jeff Toomaga- Allen, Joe Apikotoa, Reg Goodes, Vince Sakaria, Christian Lloyd, Hoani Matenga, Kane Leaupepe, Mark Reddish, Sam Lousi*, Isaia Walker-Leawere, James Blackwell, Vaea Fifita, Brad Shields (c), Galu Taufale*, Greg Foe, Issac O'Connor*. Backs: Sheridan Rangihuna, Tomasi Palu, TJ Va'a*, Jackson Garden-Bachop, Matt Proctor, Mike Lealavaa, Shaun Treeby, Wesley Goosen, Jason Woodward, Joe Hill, Losi Filipo, Malo Tuitama, Peter Umaga-Jensen. All Blacks: Dane Coles, Ardie Savea, TJ Perenara, Julian Savea. * Uncapped for the Lions.