Hopes high for the women in gold

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New coach Mark Wilson has high hopes for the North Otago women’s rugby team.

Wilson, who won the Citizens Shield at the helm of both the Old Boys and Maheno men’s teams, leads the women into a new campaign this weekend.

North Otago has had a decent couple of years since entering the Dunedin club competition, playing some nice rugby and posting some good results.

The problem has been matching the superpowers – the likes of Pirates and University, which have great depth and loads of size and skill.

An example was last year’s semifinal, in which North Otago was crushed 44-0 by Pirates.

But Wilson is an optimistic and ambitious coach, and believes the women in gold can build something special in the next two or three years.

“It will take time. But from what I’ve seen already, our core skills have improved hugely, and some of the girls’ understanding of the game has developed quickly.

“I have no doubt at all that, over time, we will be competing with those top teams, and beating them.”

North Otago has lost some star power from last season following the transfer of Morgan Walker to Dunedin and the departures of imports Patsy Ford and Catarina Antunes.

The key women will be dynamic flanker Morgan Henderson and sparkling fullback Cheyenne Cunningham, while Nia Sanft, Lini Kaufana and Sarah Crabbe will play senior roles.

Kat Perkins is a promising lock or blindside flanker in her first year out of school, while a handful of year 13 pupils may get some opportunities throughout the season.

“We’re trying to create an environment that people want to be part of,” Wilson said.

“It’s like all club rugby teams – there is a wide range of skillsets and experience, from girls who haven’t played organised rugby to someone like Morgan Henderson, who potentially will be a Black Fern.”

Henderson was a finalist for the New Zealand women’s provincial championship player of the year last season, and Wilson is looking forward to working with her.

“She’s an exceptional athlete, and her work rate is .. I’ve never seen anyone like it in any grade. She deserves everything that comes her way.”

Wilson is also keen to see Cunningham, who joined Henderson in the Otago Spirit last year, continue to develop, while he hoped Crabbe could stay fit and get more opportunities at the next level.

North Otago had a couple of abbreviated warm-up games last weekend, beating Pirates 24-0 and Green Island 48-7.

The competition starts with a home game against University this weekend.

Wilson hopes the women will get some opportunities to play at Whitestone Contracting Stadium, but they may also play the odd game under lights at Maheno.

Southern has dropped out of the Dunedin competition and has been replaced by Green Island. The five teams will play each other twice, home and away, before semifinals and final.

Wilson is also overseeing the two combined Oamaru school teams who play in the Dunedin competition on Wednesday nights.