Battle looms for N. Otago

North Otago knows it will have to be on top of its game when it hosts Wairarapa-Bush in a Meads Cup semifinal this afternoon.

Wairarapa-Bush has had a good season, although it lost 25-11 to North Otago early on.

North Otago last won the Meads Cup in 2007 when it beat Wairarapa-Bush 30-13 in the semifinals and Wanganui 25-8 in the final in Oamaru.

That is a good omen for North Otago going into this afternoon's game, but there is not a lot between the two sides.

North Otago may have a slight advantage playing on the home ground with local support, but the boys from Bush have shown in the past that location does not have much impact on them.

In what has been a tight competition, games have gone right down to the wire.

Wairarapa-Bush's only other loss was to Thames Valley. Thames Valley will take on Wanganui in the other semifinal.

North Otago can host the final if it wins and the fast-finishing Wanganui gets up over Thames Valley.

North Otago will be without captain Sam Sturgess who is sidelined with a leg injury, and his place at hooker has been taken by Hayden Tisdall.

Sturgess will be a big loss, as he is a quality player who has been at the top level of domestic play, turning out for Otago a few years ago.

The captaincy has been taken over by Ralph Darling, who will be playing his 111th game for the union.

No 8 Josh Clark, who missed the East Coast game last week with a shoulder injury, returns to the side, and his drive will be appreciated.

In the Lochore Cup semifinals, Buller will play South Canterbury in Westport, and top qualifier West Coast will host Poverty Bay in Greymouth.

Nth Otago v Wairarapa-Bush

Oamaru, today, 2.30pm

North Otago: Patrick Pati, Adam Johnson, Lemi Masoe, Taina Tamou, Howard Packman, Michael Williams, Robbie Smith, Josh Clark, Marcus Balchin, Jacob Coghlan, William Kirkwood, Charles Elton, Melikisua Kolinisau, Hayden Tisdall, Ralph Darling. Reserves: Jake Greenslade, Kelepi Funaki, Mathew Duff, Manulua Taiti, Anthony Arty, Matthew Vocea, Lachlan Kingan.

Wairarapa-Bush: Inia Katia, Logan Hebenton-Prendville, Ueta Tufuga, Raneira Petersen, Tristan Flutey, Tim Priest, Daryl Pickering, Kirk Tufuga, Johan van Vliet, James Goodger, Andrew McLean, Lachlan McFadzean, Max Tufuga, Bruce Kauika-Petersen, Sam Gammie. Reserves: Elijah-James Pakoti, Sam Tufuga, Logan  Flutey, Brendon Campbell, Bryan Arnold, Tipene Haira, Brock Price. 

Referee: Tipene Cotterell

- By Terry O'Neill

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