Balanced Country for campaign

Otago Country’s representative season starts with a game against Southland Country at the University Oval today.

The Country team will then play Meads Cup champion North Otago in Arrowtown next weekend in what has become an annual encounter.

Country then heads back to Dunedin to face Otago Development before heading to Waikouaiti to take on South Canterbury Development. Country finishes their campaign with a match against North Canterbury in Cromwell which will also feature the annual “Past players’ afternoon”, which always brings out a good crowd.

An initial squad of 29 players have been picked at the conclusion of the club season. Sixteen of the selected players ply their trade in the Central Otago competition, with the Southern Region accounting for the other thirteen.

Countrywide champion Clutha Valley has five players in the squad, with impressive forwards Liam Turnbull and Lachie Gunson receiving their first glimpse of Otago Country premier action, along with first five-eighth Thomas Johnson.

Halfback Jared Edwards and midfielder Jonny Sargent have Country caps under their belt and fully deserve their spot for another season.

Countrywide runner-up Cromwell has four players selected in the squad, all with prior Country experience.

The halves combination of Ben Maxwell and Rhys Harrold reap the rewards of another successful club campaign. Uncompromising forwards Daniel Hurring and Stefan Blakeborough are also in the mix.

The Country tight forwards have plenty of experience and form to call upon with the likes of Ben Millar (Heriot) and Michael Phillip (Matakanui) ready for another year.

Clutha’s Josh Turnbull offers versatility and can play more than one front row position. Upper Clutha lock Lachie Garrick gets his first opportunity at this level. Garrick will have plenty of experienced heads to lean on for advice with West Taieri lock Steve Green and Matakanui utility Dean Sinnamon alongside him in the squad.

Country’s backs will be served well by the halves’ combinations of Edwards and Johnson and Maxwell and Harrold. Clutha halfback Jamie Brown’s inclusion in the squad shows plenty of depth in the position.

Inside backs Tyler Ford (Alexandra) and Chase Owen (Crescent) are coming off extremely strong seasons at club level and are both capable of playing in numerous positions along the backline. Outside backs Robin Fesilafai (Clutha), Doug Smith (Maniototo) and Blair Foster (Arrowtown) are ones to keep an eye out for as the season progresses.

Coach Paul Tait is excited about the challenges ahead and can’t wait to get started.

“It’s been a weird build-up with teams finishing at different parts of the season, some teams finished four weeks ago, all the boys are fit and we are excited to start”.

Tait’s number one goal is to retain the Triangular series trophy against Southland Country this weekend before clashing with North Otago, which it has been close to in recent seasons.

“We have had a couple of close shouts against North Otago so would love to finally get the job done against them”.

Tait is happy with his squad and feels he has the right balance between youth and experience.

The opening match against Southland Country kicks off at 1pm.

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