Doubt over whether Mafi will line up

Mika Mafi.
Mika Mafi.
Otago’s win over Auckland on Thursday has caused a few headaches for North Otago coach Nigel Walsh prior to this afternoon’s Heartland game against South Canterbury in Timaru.

No8 Mika Mafi had been playing for North Otago but has also been training with Otago for the past three weeks.

On Thursday night, he found himself on the bench for Otago and was on the field after two minutes when Otago lock Tom Rowe fractured his forearm.

He played to a standstill and came off late in the second half.

Whether he plays for North Otago is still up in the air and has led to Mafi being bracketed in the starting side with Lio Lolo.

It is not great for continuity but North Otago will simply have to roll its sleeves up and get out and perform.

The side has plenty to play for this afternoon with the Hanan Shield and the Phil Gard Memorial Trophy up for grabs as well as points in the Heartland competition.

"We’ve had a good build-up this week. We know it’s going to be a big challenge but it’s not a challenge we can’t face up to. As we’ve seen in Heartland rugby, anybody can beat anybody on the day," Walsh said.

The clash between the two forward packs should be one of the highlights in the game. The South Canterbury pack is strong while North Otago has had the edge up front in its four games so far.

South Canterbury coach Barry Matthews has brought in Liam Edwards for the final four matches of the competition. Fullback Edwards played for South Canterbury as a loan player from Dunedin in 2012 and 2013 but then shifted to Hawkes Bay. He is a prolific points scorer — 144 points and 10 tries in 2012 and 40 points and nine tries the following season.

There was talk Hayden Parker would line up for North Otago today to test his knee but the Otago first five-eighth is not quite ready to play yet.

South Canterbury leads the Heartland competition. It lost its opening game against Buller 27-24 but since then has beaten King Country 42-36, Mid Canterbury 31-16 and Whanganui 21-17 while North Otago lost to Horowhenua-Kapiti 22-19 and Buller 33-31 but has had wins over Mid Canterbury 31-25 and King Country 28-26.

North Otago is sixth but only four points off South Canterbury.

- Terry O'Neill


N. Otago v South Canty
Timaru, 2.30pm, today

North Otago: Josh Buchan, Aaron Martin, Sala Halaleva, Lemi Masoe, Matthew Vocea, Dan Lewis, Robbie Smith, Mika Mafi or Lio Lolo, Matt Duff, Josh Clark, Don Lolo, Tom McDonald, Meli Kolinisau, Joe Pickett, Ralph Darling. Reserves: Petelo Pouhila, Anthony Kent, Jared Whitburn, Junior  Fakatoufifita, Inoke Naufahu, Antini Brown, Adam Johnson.

South Canterbury: Liam Edwards, Sireli Bulirarua, Tora Vatiliai, Shayne Anderson , Kalavini Leatigaga, Miles Medlicott, Willie Wright, Bradley Hemopo, Nick Strachan, Kieran Coll, Luke Brice, Josateki Veikune, Juan-Pierre Keon, Marac Beckham, Matt Fetu. Reserves: Ben Hewitson, BJ Oliver, Philip Henderson, Leone Nawalu, Theo Davidson, Loni Toumohuri, Jared Trevathan.

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