On the line . . . North Otago head coach Jason Forrest holds the new Maroon and Gold Cup to be played for between the Old Golds and King Country tomorrow. PHOTO: KAYLA HODGE

A fresh-faced North Otago side will suit up tomorrow to take on King Country.

The two Heartland Championship teams will play for the new Maroon and Gold Cup introduced to mark the first pre-season meeting between the two teams. The cup reflects the two unions’ main colours and will be played for each time they met.

King Country is touring in a memorial capacity for King Country and All Black great Sir Colin Meads, and North Otago coach Jason Forrest said it was an exciting opportunity for the two unions.

“There’s a little bit on the line. It’s just great, and it’s a little bit old school as well, for a Heartland union to tour, which is pretty cool,” Forrest said.

While winning the match was always the aim, Forrest and the coaching group were looking at the bigger picture, and blooding some new players.

At least five players were “fresh” to the Old Golds, and many others had their first taste of provincial rugby last year.

Players such as Kurow’s Hayden Todd, who had previously played in Cromwell, were experienced, but new to the North Otago set-up.

Tomorrow’s match would be an opportunity to see if the new players could take that next step up, and work towards the Ranfurly Shield challenge at the end of the month.

“It’s going to be a pretty youthful side, really. This will be a much higher level than club rugby, [it’s] just seeing if they’re up to it.”

Many experienced players were sidelined with injuries, including Sam Sturgess, and others had been left out of the squad, he said.

“A lot of experienced guys we don’t need to see, we know that they can play at this level. It’s about giving these young guys a bit of an opportunity.”

The match provided the perfect opportunity for Forrest to test out combinations for the Ranfurly Shield match against Hawke’s Bay, and it was a special opportunity as the union usually went into those games “cold” with only training sessions.

The team had three trainings under its belt, and Forrest was impressed with the squad’s efforts.

“The boys have clicked on to what we’ve put in front of them pretty quickly. We can only ask so much without trying to complicate things.

“We’ll get through another training this week, and see what happens on Saturday.”

North Otago side to play King Country

Mataroa Maui (Excelsior), Levi Atiga (Old Boys), Hayden Todd (Kurow), Taniela Samita (Kurow), Sione Fa’aoso (Old Boys), Abel Magalogo (Athletic Marist), Alipate Tuipulotu (Kurow), Mosese Aho (Athletic Marist), Cameron Rowland (Valley), Oliver Kinzett (Athletic Marist), Blake Welsh (Valley), Adyn Anguna (Excelsior), Meli Kolinisau (Captain, Valley), Jake Greenslade (Valley), Kelepi Funaki (Old Boys). Reserves: Lenny Varu (Old Boys), Lisivani Tu’ifua (Athletic Marist), Samuela Babiau (Excelsior), Toni Taufa (Old Boys), Jake Matthews (Valley), Josh Phipps (Excelsior), Matt Vocea (Valley), Sam Tatupu (Maheno), Filipo Sefo (Athletic Marist), Jacob Day (Maheno).