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Neither King Country nor North Otago will be lacking motivation when the two sides meet in the sixth round of Heartland rugby this afternoon.
Only a solitary point separates the two sides, with sixth-placed King Country having the point advantage.
Both sides’ ultimate fates could come down to the remaining two rounds that follow.
As a team does not play the other 11 teams during the season, the luck of the draw is important.
After the King Country game, North Otago plays second-placed South Canterbury and West Coast, and King Country has to play East Coast and Buller.
King Country looks to have the easier draw but the competition appears to be defying logic this season, with some upset results.
King Country, which early in the season had the motivation of a Ranfurly Shield challenge against Waikato, has recorded three wins in its five games to date, beating Wairarapa-Bush, Poverty Bay, and Horowhenua-Kapiti.
It drew with Thames Valley and lost to Wanganui.
North Otago’s record is two wins — over Thames Valley and East Coast— a draw with Horowhenua-Kapiti, and two losses, to Mid Canterbury and Wairarapa-Bush.
North Otago head coach Barry Stevens said there had been some soul searching in the squad this week.
The starting eight in the pack has not changed, and in the backs fullback Oscar Pamment is not available this weekend while second five-eighth Cameron Morris has been sidelined with concussion.
Kayne Middleton has been promoted from the Development XV to fill Morris’ position.
Lemi Masoe and Craig Smith have been bracketed for the left wing and fullback berth and a decision will be made today on where they play.
North Otago needs to be more accurate with its play and also use its speedy outsides.
The weather is expected to be wet with some heavy showers which may turn the game into a battle between the forward packs.
- Terry O'Neill
N. Otago v K. Country
Te Kuiti, today, 2.30pm
North Otago: Lemi Masoe or Craig Smith, Simon Lilicama, Shae Tucker, Kayne Middleton, Masoe or Smith, Josh Casey, Robbie Smith, Sione Misiloi, Matt Duff, Filipo Veamatahau, Jared Whitburn, Lucas Goodin, Dan Towler, Sione Vea, Ralph Darling. Reserves: Joe Pickett, Meli Kolinisau, Soni Tongotongo, Maene Mapusaga, Tyron Davies, Siua Ngalo, Matthew Vocea.
King Country: James Hemera, Ralulu Bavou, Stephen Turner, John Koko, Dean Church, Whakataki Cunningham, Zayn Tipping, Rob Sherson, Sam Mason, Anthony Wise, Aarin Dunster, Gene Waller, Brian Mansfield, Josh Dais, Carl Carmichael. Reserves: Sean Wanden, Steve Te Moananui, Daniel Baxter, Matt Towers or Mike Foden, Jesse Williams, Cameron Robinson, Te Waiti Mareikura, Alex Trupp.