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It is winter, so frozen grounds have quickly become an issue as the Central Otago club competition gets under way today.
Rivals Arrowtown and Wakatipu clash at Jack Reid Park, and the Arrowtown ground is frozen in patches.
The Arrowtown side has not done any contact training during the week because of the state of the ground.
Arrowtown coach Aidan Winter hopes to get a game under way, but a decision will be made this morning.
The resilient Winter, whose 200th game for Arrowtown is coming up, will start as a loose forward against Wakatipu as the competition begins three months late.
“It’s always a great local derby, Arrowtown against Wakatipu, and the fans will be desperate for some live action after the coronavirus lockdown. It’s all been a bit surreal, with no sport to watch or participate in,” Winter said.
Lock Malcolm Sutherland will again captain the 2019 champion team which has lost a couple of valuable loose forwards — Nick Egerton to Cromwell and Johnny Appleby to Dunedin.
Wakatipu, again being coached by Brad Robertson, beat Arrowtown twice in 2019 but under-achieved in the play-offs, where Arrowtown produced its finest rugby of the season.
The backline is rebuilding; notable losses are winger Kapa Moeke and second-five eighth Tom Kelly. But back after missing much of 2019 with a shoulder injury is halfback Stephen Bruce, who is nearing 50 games for the club.
In dramatic contrast to Arrowtown, where frosts have been followed by clear skies for more than a week, Wanaka and Cromwell have been dogged by fog.
The Wanaka Domain is where Upper Clutha and the Cromwell Goats will clash.
Before Covid-19, Upper Clutha was considering entering two teams in the competition, having more than 50 players at training.
Post-Covid, it is down to 25 players and one team.
Many players focus on skiing and play before ski fields open. This year, with the later start, players are simply heading up the mountain straight away.
Upper Clutha, again coached by Paul Glynn, will field a talented backline, but the forwards may take time to gel. A notable loss is loosie Sam Calder.
Cromwell Goats narrowly missed completing a double in 2019. They had the White Horse Cup in the trophy cabinet (the first 2020 defence is against Wakatipu next week), but narrowly failed to overcome Arrowtown in the club final.
Midfielder Hayden Todd, who represented Otago in the Ranfurly Shield defence against North Otago, will make his 100th appearance tomorrow.
An exciting newcomer is 18-year-old hooker Hayden Hart from Southland Boys’ High School.
Cromwell will field two teams again.
Jason Clark and Paul Tait are coaching the Cavaliers, who have plenty of forwards to choose from to complement an essentially Fijian backline.
Thanks to Matakanui Combined getting a premier squad together, a bye has been averted this season.
First up, Matakanui, which reports good numbers under coach David Cockburn, will tangle with the Maniototo Maggots at Maniototo, while the Cromwell Cavaliers will host Alexandra, again under the guidance of Trevor Washington.