Awww, so cute . . . Another cracking photo from our archives. This little cherub is netball coach Rihi Salter (now Schultz), who was just 18 months old when this photo was taken in March 1988. PHOTO: OAMARU MAIL FILES

‘Tough but positive’ year for rugby in North Otago

This week’s column has a distinctly rugby flavour following a decent catch-up with North Otago union boss Colin Jackson.

Firstly, the import situation around the Citizens Shield.

Usually, by this time of year, the local competition has a United Nations feel about it with a healthy sprinkling of Englishmen, Canadians and other nationalities joining the Oamaru-based players.

But the scene has been a bit quieter this year. After a month of the competition, the only exotics we had were English hooker Jack Williams and American winger Bryan Hazel at Excelsior, and versatile Canadian forward Brandan Mangold at Old Boys.

Star English first five Dan Lewis has turned up for his second season with Valley – and got injured in his first game, darn it – while another Pom, rugged lock Mike Lawrence, is in his second season with Maheno but is essentially a local now.

Where are the other imports? Well, they are coming.

An 18-year prop, Tom Fornibal, has just landed from Worcester to play for Kurow, and a highly rated winger-fullback from Canada, Anton Ngongo, arrives next week to join Old Boys – like they need any help!

English centre-fullback Frank Kelly, brother of former North Otago representative John, is coming to Blues, and both Maheno and Athletic Marist are waiting on backs sourced through the North Otago union.

Jackson acknowledges the union is cutting back on the number of overseas imports it brings into the region.

The NORFU had brought in about 120 players over the last eight years, he estimated.

That’s a heck of a number, and each player has cost the union both money – it typically pays for the player’s air fares – and time, as Jackson himself tends to source most players through his contacts in Canada and England and recruitment trips.

Jackson has been keen for clubs to do their own recruiting work, and that is happening, but it is not easy.

“We’re tending to find, especially out of the UK, players are going to the bright lights of a place like Sydney.

“New Zealand used to have this sort of mystery about it – the ‘rugby academy of New Zealand’ – but now these players are on the internet and sourcing opportunities for themselves.”

Some clubs – look at Excelsior last year as a prime example – have been heavily reliant on their cadre of overseas players just to stay competitive in premier rugby.

Yet, ironically, senior numbers are actually up in North Otago.

Between 2013 and 2017, the number of registered senior (21 and older) rugby players in our province jumped from 205 to 270.

Jackson said junior numbers were relatively static – “which is actually a good thing” – and so were coaching numbers.

After a couple of questionable transfers at the start of the season, the NORFU has moved to clear up the process by which players change clubs.

A new transfer form will be in place by next season, and players must have paid all outstanding subs to their former club before they can join their new club.

Jackson says the union will not chase personal debts but it will block transfers if players have not paid their subs.

The Maheno club has had to tinker with its coaching staff.

First-year coach Adriaan Botha has stepped down for health reasons and has been replaced by North Otago Development coach and former Maheno first five Chris Jennings.

Maheno president Michael Hore said the club wished Botha a speedy recovery and the door was open for the South African teacher to return in the future.

Friday was the last day on duty for the North Otago union’s office manager, the indefatigable Pam (not Pamela) Anderson.

Pam politely declined an exit interview with the Oamaru Mail, but instructed me to do a story on one of her replacements – Pam did the work of two people – Georgia McCullough, who is the new club development officer and women’s rugby liaison, and also plays for the North Otago women’s team.

The NORFU posted a loss of $3143 for the last financial year. That followed a $3267 profit the previous year.

It was a “tough but positive” year, Jackson said. Like most of the unions, North Otago was having to think about new revenue streams as gaming funding, in particular, dried up.

One of the union’s priorities was protecting its almost year-round programme of coaching in schools, he said.

A special meeting before the NORFU annual meeting revised the union’s constitution to “bring it into this century”.

One significant change is that JAB governance will now extend only as high as under-14 level. Under-16 and under-18 coaching appointments and season plans will be delegated to the Heartland Championship coaches.

Valley stalwart Don Roney has retired from the NORFU board and is replaced by Kurow manager Andrew Harding.

David Douglas remains president, and the union will elect a chairman – presumably Warren Prescott will continue – at its first meeting.

Other board members are Michael Hore, Elizabeth Soal, John Tito, Fraser McKenzie and James Symes.

North Otago smallbore rifle shooters Stephen Strachan and Brent Martyn led the way for Otago in its clash with Southland in the first round of the national districts competition last week.

Strachan posted the top score for the Otago composite team, and Martyn had the best effort for the Otago open team.

Unfortunately for the pair, Southland recorded a clean sweep across composite, open and junior grades.

You may have missed an Otago Daily Times story last week about some interesting goings-on at Centennial Park.

Work at the site of the North Otago Cricket Association’s pavilion project over the back of the park was halted for several weeks due to soil contamination fears.

The $335,000 pavilion is being constructed in an area that was once the site of the Oamaru landfill before it was closed in the early 1960s and relocated to Tamar St.

During the early stages of construction work at the site near the Excelsior sports club building, the remains of a motor vehicle were discovered buried under several metres of soil.

Tests for hazardous materials, such as asbestos, came back negative which meant work could resume. cloneAsics Onitsuka Tiger