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The big prize . . . Otago coach Ben Herring (left) and North Otago coach Jason Forrest pose with the Ranfurly Shield during a fan forum at Fat Sally's Pub and Restaurant. PHOTO: GUS PATTERSON

It was set up like a heavyweight boxing press conference, but there were no punches thrown at the “Coaches Chat” with North Otago’s Jason Forrest and Otago’s Ben Herring last week.

The informal evening at Fat Sally’s on June 5 gave punters a chance to hear from Forrest and Herring about their respective squads and thoughts on the coming season, ahead of the Ranfurly Shield challenge next month.

Forrest named his North Otago squad for the game last week.

“It is a young squad, with some X-factor players floating around,” he said.

“This squad is just for the Otago game, and we will name the Heartland squad a few days after that game.

“With a round of club rugby to go, I am more than happy for guys to go out and prove us wrong – there are still chances for them.”

Depth in North Otago was good this year, which was a credit to the local clubs, he said.

“We will look to play an attacking style of footy.

“Against Otago, we don’t expect to have a lot of the ball so we will have to be clinical and accurate when we do have it.”

Herring said the shield challenges gave the pre-season an extra edge.

“Normally guys come back from Super Rugby and are keen for a break, but this season they are keen to be involved.

“Matt Faddes even wrote it into his contract with Ulster that he gets to play against Thames Valley to bring up his 50 games and defend the shield.”

Fittingly, for a game between two neighbouring unions, it seems likely that two brothers will face off against each other.

Antonio Misiloi has been in excellent form for Excelsior, and his brother, former North Otago player Sione, was singled out by Herring as someone who could make the step up to Super Rugby.

“If he can crack that, it would be a lovely story for a beautiful family, and show the pathway is there to come from a smaller union like North Otago,” Herring said.

In 2013, Otago ended a 56-year drought when it beat Waikato, but had to hand the shield over to Hawkes Bay a week later.

Last year, Otago won the shield in the final round robin game, so it was guaranteed a long reign.

Otago Rugby commercial manager Matt McLennan said it had been 72 years since Otago and North Otago had played for the Ranfurly Shield.

He said the Thames Valley game had already sold out and there had been good uptake on the packages available for the game in Oamaru.