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First time . . . Celebrating the announcement of the Farmlands Cup coming to Weston are (from left) Highlander Jona Nareki, The Highlander mascot, Valley Rugby Club president Hamish Loe, and Farmlands Oamaru business manager Steffan Souness. PHOTO: KAYLA HODGE

The Highlanders are heading to the North Otago countryside.

Winger Jona Nareki visited Weston School last Friday to announce the annual preseason Farmlands Cup clash against the Crusaders will be played at Weston’s Valley rugby club grounds on February 4, 2022.

It is the first time the fixture will have been played in North Otago, and Nareki said it was exciting to bring a Super Rugby hit-out to the proud rugby region.

‘‘It’s good to come to these smaller towns and give back to them. No doubt there will be a nice crowd here — there usually is when it’s in the little country towns,’’ Nareki said.

Highlanders coach Tony Brown said North Otago was known for its rugby passion, and the clash with the Crusaders would be a great way to kick off the season.

Highlanders chief executive Roger Clark said it was ‘‘tremendously exciting’’ for the franchise to play in Weston.

‘‘We have always enjoyed great support from the North Otago area and they are of course a very successful and proud rugby region,’’ Clark said.

‘‘It will be enjoyable for both teams to have the opportunity to engage with local supporters.’’

Valley Rugby Club president Hamish Loe was rapt to be hosting the match in Weston. Valley was the largest JAB club in North Otago, and the game was a massive opportunity for those keen young players to watch professionals in action, Loe said.

‘‘It’s good for young children like this to see their players and that up close,’’ he said.

‘‘It’s just going to be a great opportunity for everyone to come and see some good Mainland rugby being played.’’

There were already discussions for fundraising opportunities, involving other country rugby clubs such as Maheno and Kurow, and creating an event around the game — including a dinner with some of the players.

North Otago Rugby chief executive Colin Jackson said the union was appreciative of Clark and Highlanders management’s continued support of North Otago.

‘‘The game promises to be a wonderful spectacle at Valley and our community just loves the opportunity to mix and watch some of the most elite rugby players in New Zealand,” Jackson said.

‘‘These games help to inspire the next generation of North Otago players — bring it on.”

Farmlands shareholders could access tickets from next month, and public tickets would be available early next year.