Donnelly switches Vahaakolo to centre

Winger Freedom Vahaakolo is out for Friday's game against Northland. Photo: Peter McIntosh
Freedom Vahaakolo. Photo: Peter McIntosh
Solid with a touch of experiment.

That probably best sums up the Otago line-up for today’s final warm-up match against Canterbury in Temuka today.

Otago has some real strike-power out wide in wingers Jona Nareki and Matt Fades.

Sam Gilbert gets another run at fullback, while Vilimoni Koroi will provide cover from the bench.

Freedom Vahaakolo, who scored two tries against Southland on Friday and was arguably the most potent back in the game, has shifted in one spot and will start at centre.

Coach Tom Donnelly acknowledged it was a bit of an experiment. He is keen to see what Vahaakolo is capable of but it is also a case of needs must.

With Thomas Umaga-Jensen injured and Aleki Morris-Lome still in the United States, Donnelly wants to develop another option.

"[Vahaakolo] has played a wee bit there as a youngster. But it is just a wee bit of an experiment to see if he could do a job for us there if we need it.

"It is a good opportunity and he has trained there all week. We’ll see how he goes, really."

Morris-Lome is due back in New Zealand on Tuesday but prop Sef Fa’agase has not been able to secure a manage isolation quarantine spot and is stranded in the United States.

Fa’agase’s absence has added to a minor crisis for Otago in the front row. Jermaine Ainsley is still "a couple-three weeks away" from a playing return.

Abraham Pole will start at loosehead and will pack down next to a couple of experienced campaigners in Liam Coltman and Josh Hohneck.

"We’re all right at the moment but if we get a few bangs we could be a little bit thin there."

Otago has called in Tau Koloamatangi as cover. He is a former New Zealand under-20 representative and was with the Tongan side recently but had some eligibility issues because he has previously played for Hong Kong.

Sam Fischli gets the nod on the blindside. It is arguably one of the more open spots in the team.

Charles Elton and Christian Lio-Willie will provide cover from the bench, while openside Slade McDowall is also in the reserves.

"Sam adds to the balance of our loose forward trio. Both Slade and Jimmy [Lentjes] are 7s and he just adds the bit more physicality and aerial skills in the lineout."

Lock Will Tucker has been ruled out with a knee injury. He will be replaced by the province’s leading lineout jumper Josh Dickson, and Josh Hill also gets a start.

Donnelly is expecting a tough workout against Canterbury.

"The big thing for us is to make sure we get our mindset right. Canterbury is very strong in the set piece traditionally, so that will be a good challenge for us."

Otago opens its National Provincial Championship campaign against Southland at Forsyth Barr Stadium on August 7.

Otago v Canterbury

Temuka Domain, 2.05pm

Otago: Sam Gilbert, Matt Faddes, Freedom Vahaakolo, Sio Tomkinson, Jona Nareki, Josh Ioane, Kayne Hammington, Dylan Nel, James Lentjes, Sam Fischli, Josh Dickson, Josh Hill, Josh Hohneck, Liam Coltman, Abraham Pole. Reserves: Ricky Jackson, Jonah Aoina, Tau Koloamatangi, Charles Elton, Christian Lio-Willie, Slade McDowall, James Arscott, Vilimoni Koroi, Michael Manson, Ray Nu’u.

Canterbury: Dan Fransen, Cameron Bailey, Isaiah Punivai, Dallas McLeod, Manasa Mataele, Fergus Burke, Luke Donaldson, Matt Letoga, Angus Fletcher, Corey Kellow, Sam Darry, Daniel Johnston, Fletcher Newell, Sam Stewart, Daniel Lienert-Brown. Reserves: Sam Cottam, Conan O’Donnell, Tamaiti Williams, Luke Romano, Dom Gardiner, Jono Kitto, Rameka Poihipi, Tahu Kaa, Wil Gualter, Mitch Gibson.

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