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Gibbes excited by potential of Wellington Lions squad

Wellington Lions head coach Chris Gibbes sees plenty of potential in the 2019 squad which has been bolstered by a number of new players ahead of the start of the Mitre 10 Cup next month.

Gibbes named a 35-man squad at today’s season launch while also naming Matt Proctor and Du’Plessis Kirifi as co-captains.

The two captains would compliment each other well in terms of their skill sets Gibbes said.

“There are also other key individuals in this team who will help lead the squad and assist the captains in their roles.”

Hurricanes utility back Vince Aso has transferred from Auckland and is one of six new additions in the backs along with former Canterbury halfback Connor Collins.

Up front, lock Josh Furno and Queensland Reds prop Sef Fa’agase will provide some valuable experience.

“The key thing for us is we have recruited into spaces we clearly needed,” Gibbes said.

“I think the guys who have come in provide not only excitement but an ability to do their job really well.

They bring a different type of energy to the group and that’s adding to our culture and that’s exciting.”

All Blacks TJ Perenara, Ardie Savea, Dane Coles, Vaea Fifita and Asafo Aumua have been included in the squad but will potentially play limited roles.

There is plenty of Super Rugby experience with the likes of Aso, Wes Goosen, Ben Lam, Billy Proctor, Thomas and Peter Umaga-Jensen, Jackson Garden-Bachop, Du’Plessis Kirifi, James Blackwell, Alex Fidow, Xavier Numia and James O’Reilly expected to play prominent roles throughout the season.

“I think the experience we have in key positions with our Super Rugby guys alongside the young guys we have coming through provides us with good diversity and that’s important in our squad,” Gibbes added.

A key part of what the Lions are about was the way they expressed themselves on the field and Gibbes was excited about the style of rugby the squad hoped to adapt.

“On both sides of the ball we want to express our skills and play an entertaining brand of rugby. Where we need to get better is understanding the game more and we’ve put a lot of work into that.

“Achieving a semi-final spot last year was good achievement but this group want to continue their progress and move forward from there. We have put a lot of work in the off-season and we are excited to now get the chance to apply that on the field.”

Looking at the sides the Lions will meet this season, starting with Tasman away on August 10, Gibbes stressed there would be no easy opposition.

“I think everyone has taken a step up and squads have got stronger. I think there is definitely going to be an improvement in the quality of play in this campaign.”

The Wellington Lions 2019 Mitre 10 Cup squad is:

Outside backs: Vince Aso (Paremata Plimmerton) Losi Filipo (Petone), Connor Garden-Bachop (Northern United), Wes Goosen (Old Boys Univesity), Ben Lam (Tawa)

Midfield backs: Pepesana Patafilo (Tawa), Billy Proctor (Marist St Pats), Matt Proctor (Oriental Rongotai), Thomas Umaga-Jensen (Wainuiomata), Peter Umaga-Jensen (Wainuiomata)

Five-eighths: Jackson Garden-Bachop (Northern United), Callum Harkin (Old Boys University), Trent Renata (Oriental Rongotai)

Halfbacks: Kemara Hauti-Parapara (Tawa), Jono Hickey (Western Suburbs), TJ Perenara (Northern United), Connor Collins (Hutt Old Boys Marist)

Loose forwards: Teariki Ben-Nicholas (Old Boys University), Vaea Fifita (Wellington), Mateaki Kafatolu (Petone), Du’Plessis Kirifi (Northern United), Ardie Savea (Oriental Rongotai), Galu Taufale (Poneke)

Locks: Naitoa Ah Kuoi (Marist St Pats), James Blackwell (Petone), Josh Furno (Western Suburbs)

Props: Alex Fidow (Oriental Rongotai), Xavier Numia (Oriental Rongotai), Kaliopasi Uluilakepa (Petone), Morgan Poi (Old Boys University), Sef Fa’agase (Johnsonville)

Hookers: Asafo Aumua (Avalon), Dane Coles (Poneke), James O’Reilly (Hutt Old Boys Marist), Sitiveni Paongo (Tawa).