Ben Palmer is confident that North Otago’s winning ways can continue when the Old Golds take on Mid Canterbury in Ashburton tomorrow.
North Otago have notched back-to-back wins over Thames Valley (19-15) and South Canterbury (22-19) in the last fortnight and the Englishman believes his side have the firepower to hand Mid Canterbury their third loss of the campaign.
“From the start, we’ve always had a team that can go far in the tournament, but it’s just about coming together at the right time,” he said.
“It’s just about getting a feel for each other, but now it’s starting to come together, which is good.”
Palmer played for Bromsgrove in Worcestershire in England, and can operate at fullback and centre, but prefers to ply his trade at first five-eighth.
The 21-year-old arrived in New Zealand from his hometown of Coventry in April, following a call-up from the North Otago Rugby Union. He turned out for Athletic Marist during the club season after his friend and former North Otago import TJ Harris recommended the side.
The first five said his fondest memory of the club season was the final against Old Boys, even though his team were on the wrong end of a 24-11 scoreline, and enjoyed the camaraderie amongst the squad.
“The club season helps out because you play with and against them through the club season and that transfers into North Otago.
“The final is a good memory, and just the camaraderie you build with the other players,” he said.
Despite being a long way from home, Palmer lined up against a familiar face last weekend, with his brother, Josh, playing for South Canterbury at Forsyth Barr.
Palmer said the experience was one that he will always remember.
“We went to watch the England against All Blacks second test, so we had a feel for it, but not playing on it, It’s an unreal experience, something you’re probably never going to get again,” he said.
Palmer has enjoyed bragging rights over his younger sibling since the tightly-contested clash, but is now looking ahead to the coming weeks where the Old Golds must continue to win if they’re to secure a Meads Cup semi-final place.
The youngster said the second half against Poverty Bay was also a memorable experience as North Otago fought back for a 43-34 victory.
“For me personally, the second half of the Poverty Bay game was memorable. It was a good experience. It was my first feel for it,” he said.
With four weeks left until he returns to England, Palmer reflected on the difference in styles of play between New Zealand and the UK.
“It’s more forwards-orientated back home,” he said.
“The weather doesn’t help because of the rain and the boggy pitches. Here it’s like a fast track. You can throw it around, it’s more off the cuff. It suits me, whereas at home it’s more pre-planned.”
The Coventrian believes the fast pace of New Zealand rugby has sharpened his skills, and improved his chances of playing professional rugby in England.
“My decision-making’s improved. You have to make decisions instantly, you have to scan, which has probably improved my game quite a lot,” he said.
“The fact that it’s not pre-planned, you have to go on instinct, it’s a faster pace.”
The play-maker said he would like to return to Oamaru next year to don the gold of North Otago for another Heartland campaign, and has become accustomed to the Kiwi way of life.
“I’d like to come back. New Zealanders are really laid-back and chilled out. I like that kind of lifestyle,” he said.
By JAMES FORD
PHOTO: JAMES FORD – North Otago first five-eighth Ben Palmer.