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North Otago’s squad for this afternoon’s Ranfurly Shield challenge has been bolstered by some experienced players.

Despite some earlier uncertainty about their availability, Ralph Darling, Robbie Smith, and Lemi Masoe have put their hands up to be a part of the North Otago team for the game in Christchurch.

“They are back for the shield game – and hopefully for more,” North Otago coach Jason Forrest said.

“These experienced guys want to play and I don’t want to put the young guys under pressure which might do them more harm than good.”

They will be joined by Otago loan players Charles Elton, Mike Williams and former Queensland Reds prop Sef Fa’agase.

“For us it’s just about enjoying the occasion, having fun,” Forrest said.

“We are trying to build off the success we had in the Meads Cup, and get the core group of those guys back.”

More opportunities for the younger players would come in the Hanan Shield games against South and Mid Canterbury, he said.

There will be no spectators at Rugby Park for the challenge, due to Alert Level 2 restrictions, but the game will be broadcast live on Sky Sport.

Canterbury co-coach Reuben Thorne said the clash with North Otago was a great opportunity for his side to remember what Ranfurly Shield rugby was all about.

“It’s not just about teams in the top part of the competition, it’s a national competition, the shield, and any team can challenge for it,” Thorne said.

“When these guys get the opportunity they really get motivated for it, so it’s pretty exciting.”

Canterbury has a young squad with only a few Super Rugby players available, although the union has enviable depth in its development system.

Former All Blacks Luke Romano and Brett Cameron have been named, as well as Crusaders standout Cullen Grace.

A North Otago XV, without Valley and Maheno players, took on an Otago XV in an opposed training session at Maheno last Wednesday night.

The session allowed both teams to train for different game scenarios.

“It was exactly what we needed,” Forrest said.

“It was a hell of a lot more beneficial than playing an 80-minute game against them.”

Forrest said Kurow’s Jack Kelly played his way into the side based on his performance in the hit-out.

“He was physical, he was niggly and that’s what we need.”

As well as Kelly, Sione Kavatoe and Mataitini Feke had impressed Forrest this season, playing for Old Boys.

Maheno’s Sam Tatupu, who was in and out of the North Otago XV last year, had been another standout, Forrest said.

Ranfurly Shield challenge

Where: Rugby Park, Christchurch

When: Today, 2.05pm.

North Otago squad: Marcus Balchin, Josh Clark, Ralph Darling, Charles Elton, Sef Fa’agase, Kelepi Funaki, Jake Greenslade, Josh Hayward, Jack Kelly, Robert Richardson, Cameron Rowland, Junior Fakatoufifita, Sam Sturgess, Toni Taufa, Mataitini Feke, Sione Kavatoe, Lemi Masoe, Antonio Misiloi, Josh Phipps, Robbie Smith, Taina Tamou, Sam Tatupu, Mathew Vocea, Mike Williams.

Canterbury squad: Alex Harford, Andrew Knewstubb, Bill Fukofuka, Billy Harmon, Brett Cameron, Brodie McAlister, Caleb Aperahama, Cameron Bailey, Chay Fihaki, Cullen Grace, Dallas McLeod, Dan Fransen, Ere Enari, Finlay Brewis, Fletcher Newell, Isaiah Punivai, Liam Allen, Luke Donaldson, Luke Romano, Manasa Mataele, Mitch Gibson, Rameka Poihipi, Sam Darry, Scott Mellow, Shilo Klein, Tamaiti Williams, Troy Hallett, Zac Gallagher.