Hopes high as Otago to play Northland

Otago captain James Lentjes trains with Otago at Logan Park. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
Otago captain James Lentjes trains with Otago at Logan Park. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
James Lentjes is hoping he is not a curse.

The Otago captain is enjoying being back in blue and gold this year.

He missed last year’s NPC after a serious ankle injury during Super Rugby ruled him out for the rest of the year.

There was one trend, though, that could not quite escape his mind — even if only in a joking manner.

"It has been good to be back. Otago’s always an enjoyable team to be part of," Lentjes (30) said.

"I don’t know, maybe I’m a bit of a curse. They won plenty last year and we don’t seem to be winning too much at the moment. But maybe we’ll turn that around this week."

Northland is the team it will look to buck that trend against, tonight in Rotorua.

Otago has had a rough restart to its campaign following its extended lockdown break.

Lentjes said the team had been disappointed in its performances in losses to Manawatu and Taranaki.

Rust had been evident in both matches, although the openside flanker did not want to use that as an excuse.

He said the error rate had been too high and Otago had beaten itself.

There had been improvements against the competition’s leading team last week, though.

The physicality had been better, it was just a case of cutting out the errors and one-off lapses.

Remembering those improvements and looking to take another step forward was the team’s focus to ensure it did not continue the slide.

"I think after a couple of losses it’s easy to look under every rock for what’s wrong," Lentjes said.

"That requires energy and can be really draining. I think for us we’re doing some really good stuff in the game. It’s actually acknowledging the good stuff we’re doing, try to build on that and then try to eliminate those little errors that are killing us.

"We played better against Taranaki than Manawatu. If we can do that again this weekend I think we’ll be hard to beat."

Lentjes, who is closing in on 50 games for Otago, remains happy in the province in the short term.

His contract ends this year, although he said he would potentially be back next year.

The effects of the ankle injury still lingered, but it was something he was able to manage.

"It still gets stiff. It’s always going to be like that for the rest of my days.

"But I’ve got good support from the physio and stuff. I know what I need to do to get it right to play and turn it around week to week, so I’ll box on."

Otago has named an unchanged starting line-up for tonight’s game, although it has two notable returnees to the reserves in Liam Coltman and Kayne Hammington.

Both add significant experience and quality to the team.

Northland is coming off an impressive win two weeks ago against Waikato.

It had a bye last weekend, when it made a hasty escape from its home region before Alert Level 3 was enforced, which has allowed it to continue playing.

Lentjes said he was expecting a tough and physical encounter.

"They’re a team that plays for each other.

"You saw it against Waikato — it was Rene’s [Ranger] 100th [match], and they just got up.

"They’re a hearty team — they don’t go away and they never give up.

"They’ve got some pretty good strike weapons in key positions. They’re big boys, so we’re expecting a tough, physical game," Lentjes said.

"If we eliminate our errors and play smart rugby I think we can come out on top."

The match kicks off at 7.05pm.

National Provincial Championship

Rotorua, today, 7.05pm

Otago: Sam Gilbert, Freedom Vahaakolo, Sio Tomkinson, Ray Nu’u, Vilimoni Koroi, Josh Ioane, James Arscott, Dylan Nel, James Lentjes, Sam Fischli, Josh Dickson, Will Tucker, Jermaine Ainsley, Ricky Jackson, Tau Koloamatangi. Reserves: Liam Coltman, Abraham Pole, Josh Hohneck, Josh Hill, Christian Lio-Willie, Kayne Hammington, Matt Faddes, Viliami Fine.

Northland: Rivas Reihana, Pisi Leilua, Rene Ranger, Tamati Tua, Jone Macilai, Dan Hawkins, Sam Nock, Tevita Fa’ukafa, Kara Pryor, Sam McNamara, Sam Caird, Josh Goodhue, Kaliopasi Uluilakepa, Ross Wright, Justin Davies. Reserves: Mason Hohaia, Coree Te Whata-Colley, Leka Tu’ungafasi, Liam Hallum-Eames, Isi Manu, Will Grant, Blake Hohaia, Jordan Hyland.

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