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Worn with pride . . . The North Otago rugby team is gearing up to represent the district in the Heartland Championship. PHOTO: PHIL JANSSEN

North Otago’s pre-season campaign has wrapped up and now it’s time for coach Nigel Walsh and his players to focus on the Heartland Championship. The Old Golds kick off their campaign against Buller on August 25 and confidence is high leading up to the first game of the representative season. Reporter Daniel Birchfield caught up with him this week.

Nigel Walsh

Q: So Nigel, are you happy with your pre-season performances?
Yeah, we are. It was a very good hit-out against Southland and a very good hit-out against Otago Country at the weekend. Also, some of the boys have played in the Southland under-19 game in Dunedin, so they’ve been good across the board. We’ve seen some great work and some good results coming out of the boys from the hard work they’ve put in.

Q: Have you confirmed your imports?
We haven’t confirmed the imports yet. We had a couple playing on Saturday, obviously, in Pita [Sinamoni] and Paul [Tupai], and both had very good games. We’re just talking to them now to make sure they enjoyed the experience, can they contribute and do they want to commit to the rest of the campaign before we look too much further. We were happy with what we saw from those boys – they went well for us.

Q: Is it Meads Cup or bust as far as you’re concerned?
It’s got to be. We come here and we do a lot of work and a lot of practice to prepare to get into that top four first and foremost. We’ve got to take small steps first and that’s getting into that top four and then work our way from there. Certainly, the aim is to win the competition and the first and foremost aim is the top four.

Q: Do you think you will be stronger in any particular area this season?
If you look across the park, I think we’re a stage above where we were last year again, just with the local players we’ve got and the players that have come into the region. We’ve got some very good players that are unavailable in Robbie Smith and Lemi Masoe, which has left a wee bit of a gap. But it’s given some other local young fellows a chance to stand up and show us what they’ve got.

Q: What is the situation with Lemi Masoe?
We’ve talked to Lemi on four or five occasions and we’re certainly keen for him to play for North Otago. We told him we wanted to pick him and he advised us he had work commitments and family commitments that meant he could not make himself available because he didn’t have the time. We would love to see Lemi get his 100 games for North Otago. He’s a North Otago icon .. a lot of people look up to Lemi. He’s done a lot of work for North Otago rugby as a rugby development officer and a player. He and Philippa [wife and former team physiotherapist] have done a hell of a lot of work for the union on and off the field. I would be rapt to bits to see Lemi Masoe get to 100 games for North Otago.