There are plenty of differing opinions about the merits of the revival of the Town-Country rugby game this weekend.
Cynics will say it does not carry enough relevance these days, and it is impossible to get full-strength teams as club coaches are reluctant to play ball and several players will use a broken toenail as an excuse to take the weekend off.
Romantics will think of the glory days of the fixture, harking back to a time when the North Otago rugby landscape was vastly different, and Town-Country had real meaning.
Realists will say, “hey, a week of something different from club rugby, and a chance for fringe Old Golds contenders to put their hands up, can’t be a bad thing”.
For North Otago coach Nigel Walsh, who will coach Country in the clash against a Town side guided by assistant Jason Forrest, the game at Maheno tomorrow has genuine significance.
“It certainly is a trial,” Walsh told the Oamaru Mail
“We’ve named a training squad but there is still room to move between now and our first game in the Heartland Championship. We’re keeping our eyes open from here right up until the end of July.
“We want to see these guys express themselves, but we also want to see how they fit into a team environment and how they adapt quickly.
“Heartland rugby is about team culture and attitude, so I don’t really need to see individuals standing out and carrying the ball. I’m there to see them hit the rucks and make tackles. We want hard workers.”
Predictably, several players withdrew from the game after the last round of club rugby.
That would weaken the fixture slightly, Walsh acknowledged, and he was disappointed to lose another opportunity to see how potential representative players coped in the spotlight.
Still, there will be plenty of intriguing match-ups across the park for Walsh and Forrest to monitor.
A feature should be the battle of the inside backs, where incumbent North Otago halfback Robbie Smith and versatile Kurow five-eighth Tyler Burgess will guide Country, and Old Boys newcomer Sefo Maake and Athletic Marist pivot Antini Brown appear for Town.
Walsh said he had been impressed by what the Citizens Shield clubs had done to bring some good new players into the region.
He thought Excelsior, in particular, would be a handful now the club’s forward pack had been beefed up, while he showered Old Boys with praise for their fitness and energy.