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Friend to foe . . . Former North Otago rugby coach Nigel Walsh will be in charge of South Canterbury next season. PHOTO: STU PIDDINGTON

Nigel Walsh could not resist the lure of home.

Walsh, who has coached North Otago in the Heartland Championship for the past two seasons, has been appointed coach of fierce rival South Canterbury.

He replaces North Otago-based coach Barry Matthews, who finished a broadly successful four-year reign with the green and blacks with an agonising defeat in the Meads Cup final.

Walsh lives in Timaru and played 70-plus games for South Canterbury, so the job is a natural fit.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” he told the Oamaru Mailthis week.

“It’s a proud moment. It’s something that I always wanted to do at some stage in my career.”

Walsh paid tribute to the outgoing South Canterbury coaching team of Matthews and Grant McFarlane.

Their success in the job effectively blocked his path in his home province, so he accepted an offer to join the Old Golds as an assistant coach three years ago before moving into the top role.

“North Otago gave me an opportunity to get in there and have a go, and I really appreciate the support I’ve had from Colin Jackson and the board and the clubs.

“I’ve really enjoyed it and I’ve learned a lot, and it’s hard to give that job up, but coaching South Canterbury has always been my main aim.”

South Canterbury has not managed to win the Meads Cup since its inception, and it is no surprise that is Walsh’s major goal in his new job.

“You want to win the competition. There’s no use sitting here saying you just want to be competitive.

“It’s a big challenge but it’s an exciting challenge.”

Walsh said he would always be keenly interested in North Otago’s fortunes, and he was confident the next Old Golds coach would do a fine job.

North Otago Rugby Football Union chief executive Colin Jackson said the union would advertise the position in the new year, and he was confident he would get plenty of good candidates.

“There are plenty of good coaches around, and plenty of good local coaches,” Jackson told the Otago Daily Times

“There will be no shortage of candidates, I would imagine.”

Jackson said it was a good move for Walsh as the coach lived in Timaru, and he had given good service to North Otago.

There was plenty of time to get a coach for the Old Golds next year with the Heartland Championship not set to start until August.

An early candidate to replace Walsh is assistant coach Jason Forrest, who has indicated he is keen to pursue the head coaching role.

Other contenders could include Matthews, who has already won a Meads Cup with North Otago and is a popular and respected figure, the Citizens Shield-winning Valley coaching duo of Mike Mavor and Shane Carter, Kurow and North Otago Development coach Nick Anderson, Waimate coach Kilifi Fangupo, and rising Maheno coach Chris Jennings.