North Otago set for Heartland champs

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North Otago will kick off their Heartland Championship campaign against Buller in Westport tomorrow.

The Old Golds will be looking to go one better this year after losing out 26-20 in the Meads Cup final to Mid Canterbury in a windy Ashburton last season, but will face a tough test in the opening fixture against the last year’s Lonchore Cup finalists.

Buller were narrowly beaten 17-10 by South Canterbury in last year’s Lonchore Cup final and have produced fine preseason performances with a 42-31 win over 2013 Meads Cup semi-finalist Westport a fortnight ago and a slender 18-17 loss to an impressive Nelson Bays Outfit last Saturday.

North Otago Coach Mike Mullins said he is anticipating a tough encounter.

“Their (Buller’s) preseason results show they are playing expansive rugby, scoring 42 points against West Coast, last year’s Meads cup semi-finalists, and last week narrowly lost to a strong Nelson Bays team 18-17,and were leading till the last eight minutes of the game,” he said.

“They have a strong experienced forward pack and have a predominantly Fijian back line can understand why they are playing a running style game.”

Mullins’ said the players kept training simple last night in their final session before travelling north today.

“Keeping things simple at this point as we don’t want to overload players with too much info,” he said.

“We will be looking at making sure our new combinations in the forwards and backs are comfortable with our  systems and type of game we want to play, as we have quite a few changes from the team that toured the Pacific.”

North Otago will have plenty of recognisable faces from last year’s campaign but Mullins will hope the new recruits can help his side to Meads Cup glory.

“There is a core of ten players from last year’s squad and the new additions will add to the team culture,” he said.

“The are always areas to keep on improving each week, but in terms of last year’s result, the big improvement is to go one better and win the Meads Cup.”

The team had not been announced when the Oamaru Mail went to print, the match will kick off at 2.30pm in Westport.

By JAMES FORD

PHOTO: JAMES FORD – The Old Golds will be looking to go one better this season after losing out  to Mid Canterbury in last year’s Meads Cup final in Ashburton.