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Glory days . . . This is the Autoworld AFC football team in Oamaru in the early 1990s. The coach is the great Billy Mitchell. Recognise anyone else? PHOTO: SUPPLIED

OUR BOY BEN

I was at the Cake Tin in 2007 when a fresh-faced kid called Ben Smith made his provincial rugby debut.

Smith was at fullback as Otago was ripped to shreds by Wellington, and I confess I would not have guessed that kid would go on to be the best fullback in the world, and arguably the greatest player in the history of Otago rugby.

But did you know Ben Smith once wore the greatest JERSEY in the history of Otago rugby?

It’s true! Ben Smith once played for North Otago.

The story goes that he made the Otago under-18 team way back when – alongside Craig Smith, the future Otago Volt and North Otago rugby player, no relation.

Ben Smith sat on the bench. Unbelievably, he missed the cut the following year, so got loaned to North Otago under-18, playing alongside Craig Smith’s brother, Geoff.

There you have it. North Otago can lay claim to Richie McCaw AND Ben Smith. Swoon.

REID ALL ABOUT IT

Cricket is another sport with links to top-class players that are not always well known.

It still fascinates me that the immortal John R Reid played for North Otago.

He played six games for our province in the 1950s while based in Oamaru as, I believe, a representative for BP, scoring 357 runs (average 51) and taking 39 wickets (at 7.10).

North Otago cricket statistician Scott Cameron lists Reid with three other cricketers to have played for both North Otago and New Zealand.

David Sewell, of course, is the most recent.

Arthur Fisher was the first. An accomplished all-round sportsman at Waitaki Boys’ High School, Fisher played five matches for the New Zealand cricket team, and still holds an Otago bowling record for his nine for 50 in an innings against Queensland in 1897.

The other man is Zinzan Harris, who boarded at Waitaki Boys’ and played one game for North Otago as a schoolboy, later playing nine tests.

I fancy a lazy fiver on young Llew Johnson to become the next Black Cap from North Otago.

MIXED WEEKEND FOR TAINUI

Logan Lory and Thomas Wouters scored the goals as Oamaru hockey club Tainui was beaten 4-2 by Northern Hearts in the South Canterbury premier men’s competition last Saturday.

A Ryan Stringer brace guided the in-form Tainui reserves to a 2-1 win over table-topping Cambridge F Troop in Timaru.

The Tainui premiers are at home to Temuka this Saturday, while the reserves are at home to Excelsior on Sunday.

In local hockey, Caleb Jopson (five goals in Pirata Black’s 9-0 win over Waitaki Girls’ Development) and Amber Cunningham (four in the St Kevin’s First XI’s 7-0 win over St Kevin’s Development) showed goal-scoring form.

The Waitaki Girls’ First XI beat Pirata White 5-2, and Pirata Blue beat the Waitaki Boys’ Second XI 5-0.

BLOOD MATCH TIME

Yes, indeed. Just seven days until the greatest day in the North Otago sporting calendar.

The First XV clash between Waitaki Boys’ High School and St Kevin’s College could be a cracker.

Having retired as Waitaki Boys’ manager with a perfect Blood Match record, I will be in the grandstand as a COMPLETELY impartial observer, and look forward to interviewing the winning team. No matter who that is. Because I’m impartial.

Spare a thought for Robbie Breen, doing a fine job as coach of St Kevin’s.

Robbie reminded me this week he might want the boys in blue to regain the Peanut but he is still a proud Waitakian, and he has a current link to Waitaki in the form of his sister, the queen of sports co-ordinators, Paula Symes.

Robbie’s dad went to St Kevin’s, and we hear papa is chuffed his lad is coaching the First XV.

SEND ‘EM PACKING

The Oamaru First XVs combined last Saturday to remind King’s High School that schoolboy rugby is not to be taken lightly in this part of the world.

Waitaki Boys’ gained revenge for its narrow interschool loss earlier this year with an 18-15 win over the King’s First XV at Milner Park.

Winger Bailey Howell scored four tries and Paea Fifita two as St Kevin’s thumped the King’s Second XV 76-10.

Both Oamaru schools are on the road tomorrow – Waitaki to Wanaka to play Mt Aspiring College, and St Kevin’s to Balclutha to play South Otago High School.

Five local players have been selected for the annual Highlanders schools camp.

Waitaki provides hooker Siketi Tevao and midfield backs Bryden Skinner and Bayley Sullivan, and St Kevin’s has prop Tupou Fifita and first five-eighth Ben McCarthy.

That’s a heck of an effort for a small town, and I hope those five boys make the most of this opportunity.

A THOUSAND WORDS

One of my favourite jobs to delegate to master photographer Carol Edwards is our annual series of junior sports photographic essays.

They always highlight the absolute essence of sport: kids running around and having fun.

Today’s junior football splash follows those for rugby, netball and hockey, and we will get to miniball soon.