North Otago sporting changes to front row

North Otago will take on Otago Country in a match which will attract interest on both sides this afternoon.

The match will kick off at 2pm, as a curtainraiser to the Ranfurly Shield match.

It will be the final warm-up match for North Otago before it starts the Heartland Championship with a game against South Canterbury in Timaru.

North Otago goes into today's game without two of its key props, Ralph Darling and Meli Kolinisau, both of whom have played for the New Zealand Heartland team.

Kolinisau has had to return to the Islands for personal reasons, while Darling will be on a planned holiday sprung on him by his wife, Victoria. Kelepi Funaki and Mike Mata'afa come into the front row.

One other possible change is in the reserves where Antonio Misiloi, who has been carrying an injury, could be replaced by Maheno midfielder Sam Tatupu, if Misiloi is not fit.

Also in the backs, Excelsior three-quarter Taina Tamou, who missed the Ranfurly Shield challenge through a leg injury, makes his debut on the wing.

University first five-eighth Mike Williams joins the side but will be in the reserves today.

North Otago had a Ranfurly Shield challenge against Otago last month in which it showed some nice patches, eventually going down 49-14.

The Country side is coming off a fine win against Southland Country last weekend, which will give it confidence heading into what will be a very big challenge.

Otago Country has made some changes from the side that played last weekend.

Lock Brendon Murdoch comes in to replace the hard-working Malcolm Sutherland.

Nick Egerton starts at blindside, and Sam Calder moves to No8, to replace the injured Nemo Gent.

Crescent halfback Josh Cook gets his first start inside captain Ben Maxwell, who runs the cutter this week.

Ryan Egerton starts on the right wing and will cherish the perfect conditions under the roof.

There are potential debuts off the bench for Clutha halfback Ollie Kenny and either Chase Owen (Crescent) or Oliver Stirling (Upper Clutha) in the midfield.

The North Otago side is near full strength and will want to make a statement leading into its season.

If Country can hold on to the ball for long periods and frustrate the North Otago side, then it is well capable of scoring points.

A win over North Otago would be real feather in the cap for the country side.

Forsyth Barr Stadium, today, 2pm

North Otago: Patrick Pati, Howard Packman, Clem Gasca, Lemi Masoe, Taina Tamou, Lachie Kingan, Robbie Smith, Josh Clark, Marcus Balchin, Jake Greenslade, Woody Kirkwood, Josh Hayward, Mike Mata’afa, Sam Sturgess (c),  Kelepi Funaki. Reserves: Hayden Tisdal, Bailey Templeton, Jacob Coghlan, Samisoni Tongotongo, Anthony Arty, Antonio Misiloi or Sam Tatupu,, Mike Williams, Adam Johnston.

Otago Country: Warrick Chimney, Ryan Egerton, Sylvester Reeves, Hayden Todd, Robin Fesuilafai, Ben Maxwell (c), Josh Cook, Sam Calder, Johnny Sargeant, Nick Egerton, Alex Grogan, Brendan Murdoch, Fergus Smith, Brady Robertson, Ben Millar. Reserves: Joe Cairns, Josh Turnbull, Dean Sinnamon, Conner Mills, Cole Birse, Ollie Kenny, Brodie Flannery, Oliver Stirling.

Referee: Stu Curran (Otago)

 - Terry O'Neill & Francis Parker 

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