Renata returns to play Otago

Fullback Trent Renata's return from injury is one of six changes to the Wellington Lions starting side for Sunday's top of the table Mitre 10 Cup Championship match against Otago.

Renata has been side-lined since tearing his hamstring against Taranaki in round two and has missed the past five matches as the Lions have set the pace at the top of the Championship ladder.

The 29-year-old's timely return means Ben Lam returns to his more accustomed role on the left wing after starting the past three matches at fullback, the rejig coming at the expense of the side's equal top try scorer Malo Tuitama.

Wellington head coach Chris Gibbes has made three changes each to his backline and forward pack from the side that beat Waikato 34-10 last week.

Kemara Hauiti-Parapara and Jackson Garden-Bachop are restored to their starting roles at halfback and first five respectively after watching Sheridan Rangihuna and Dan Kirkpatrick run the ship in Hamilton.

Gibbes has also freshened up his front row where the experienced pairing of hooker Leni Apisai and prop Tolu Fahamokioa have come in for youngsters Asafo Aumua and Sitiveni Paongo.

Likewise heady Samoan international Galu Taufale replaces up and comer Teariki Ben-Nicholas at No.8 in a side captained by wing Julian Savea for the third week in a row.

"Otago have shown this season how tough they are and we've picked our team accordingly," Gibbes said. "They're a very good side and if you look at their four losses this season, three of them have been by only two points and the other, against Canterbury, went down to the wire too."

The changes to the starting side add plenty of punch to the Lions reserves bench where Aumua, Paongo and Teariki-Nicholas are joined by wing Losi Filipo, who comes into the squad for what will be his third appearance of the season.

With three matches to play before the semi-finals, Wellington head into Sunday's match as the clear leaders on the Championship ladder, 12 points clear of Otago, who are tied with Northland on 20 competition points.

Last time Wellington played Otago, the southerners won convincingly, 44-21 in Dunedin in 2016.

The overall record between the two provinces in the national championship era stands at 39 matches with the Lions winning 21 (53.8%) and Otago 16 with two draws.

The Wellington Lions team to play Otago at Westpac Stadium in Wellington on Sunday, October 1 is:

15 Trent Renata (Oriental-Rongotai)

14 Julian Savea (Oriental-Rongotai) (c)

13 Thomas Umaga-Jensen (Wainuiomata)

12 Regan Verney (Old Boys University)

11 Ben Lam (Tawa)

10 Jackson Garden-Bachop (Northern United)

9 Kemara Hauiti-Parapara (Tawa)

8 Galu Taufale (Poneke)

7 Du'Plessis Kirifi (Loan Player)

6 Mateaki Kafatolu (Petone)

5 Will Mangos (Old Boys University)

4 Sam Lousi (Marist St Pats)

3 Alex Fidow (Oriental-Rongotai)

2 Leni Apisai (Northern United)

1 Tolu Fahamokioa (Tawa)

Reserves:  Asafo Aumua (Avalon),  Sitiveni Paongo (Tawa), Joe Apikotoa (Hutt Old Boys Marist), Chris Middleton (Northern United), Teariki Ben-Nicholas (Old Boys University), Sheridan Rangihuna (Hutt Old Boys Marist), Billy Proctor (Marist St Pats), Losi Filipo (Petone).