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Boys in blue . . . Excelsior rugby players (from left) Anthony Kent, Joe Pickett and Thomas Shields form a powerful front row at Belenenses. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

It must be time for another “state of the nation” catch-up with North Otago rugby boss Colin Jackson. Jackson recently returned from his annual trip overseas to visit North Otago players at various clubs, and sign up some new talent for the season. Hayden Meikle gets Jackson’s thoughts on a few things.

OVERSEAS BRIGADE
“I’ve been in the UK and Portugal. We’ve got Joe Pickett, Anthony Kent, Thomas Shields and Jake Greenslade all playing for the same club in Portugal. They’re doing fantastically well. Their club is top of the table, and their scrum is something else. I watched a game and they just demolished the other front row.

Young buck . . . Valley utility forward Jake Greenslade in action for Portuguese club Belenenses. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

“Jake broke a bone in his foot when he got there, but he’s coming back into it now and he’s in great nick. And Thomas Shields has lost a lot of weight and is scrummaging very well. He’s quite enthusiastic about coming back here in about April.

“Joe’s not coming back to Excelsior, and Anthony is actually playing for the Czech Republic. He’s become an international rugby player.

“At the Olney club in England, I caught up with the other Shields boys, Jeremiah and Isaac. Isaac, especially, is playing very good rugby in his second season there.

“And I caught up with Dan Lewis, who is playing for Cambridge and Bedford. We’re pretty keen for him to come up, and I think it’s looking pretty good.”

NEW FACES
“We’ve got some boys on the go who will be out here in April.

“We’re looking at some outside backs through the Bedford club. That’s an area we’ve identified as one we need to fill. We’ve also got a hooker coming out to play.

“It’s always exciting to bring some new talent to North Otago.It’s getting harder. The good players are getting contracted in England. The top three levels of rugby over there are all contracted. But there are still some who fall through the gaps, and we can offer them an opportunity.”

CITIZENS SHIELD
“Things are looking good. Clubs are now recruiting well for themselves. As a union, we want to cut down on that reliance on overseas players to bolster the clubs.

“At various times over the last 10 years, we’ve bolstered a club with quite a few overseas players. But clubs are now looking after themselves better, which is good news for everyone.

“I hear good things coming out of Kurow. They’ve got a heap of players. Maheno are so proactive, which is fantastic. The town clubs have to work hard. We’ve basically got three clubs holding hands. I don’t think anywhEre else in the world would have three clubs right beside each other.”

PRESIDENTS GRADE
“We’re just desperate to get four B teams. Blues are trying very hard again, which is good. Old Boys say they will have some players.

“If Maheno, Old Boys and Blues could combine to put one team in, we’d have four, and we could have a meaningful competition.”

WOMEN’S RUGBY
“We’re looking for a person to join the union and have a specific, fulltime role in women’s rugby. We see a need there.

“Women’s rugby is just going so well. We’ve got Waitaki Girls’ and St Kevin’s combining to play in a midweek competition in Dunedin. That’s an under-18 and an under-15 team. We’ve got Mark Wilson on board to coach the women. So we just feel that we need to really continue to support and beef up women’s rugby.

“It’s such a growth area, and we’re excited about that. The enthusiasm of the girls is great. We will again bring in some players from overseas, and we’ll look at sending some girls away for experience overseas.”

HEARTLAND RUGBY
“We’ve added a third coach. Chris Jennings will be joining Nigel Walsh and Jason Forrest.

“Out of our review of last season, it was identified that we need someone specifically coaching defence. They are such vast roles now, and both Nigel and Forrie saw a need there.

“It’s great for Chris, who is a talented young coach.”