Key trio return for Otago

Openside flanker James Lentjes has played 45 games for the province and brings plenty of...
Openside flanker James Lentjes has played 45 games for the province and brings plenty of physicality to the No 7 jersey. Photo: Getty Images
Otago has confirmed the return of a key trio for this year’s National Provincial Championship.

Highlanders duo James Lentjes and Kayne Hammington have re-signed with the province, while No 8 Dylan Nel is also back for another year.

They join Matt Faddes, Jermaine Ainsley and Will Tucker among the confirmed players for this year’s squad.

Lentjes’ return will be among the most welcome for the Otago side.

The openside flanker has played 45 games for the province and brings plenty of physicality to the No 7 jersey.

He has also forged a handy career with the Highlanders and was part of the side which won the 2015 Super Rugby title.

Tom Donnelly. Photo: Getty Images
Tom Donnelly. Photo: Getty Images

However, he missed the entire campaign last year as he recovered from a broken ankle suffered while playing for the Highlanders last February.

‘‘Yeah it was a pretty horrific leg injury last year,’’ Otago coach Tom Donnelly said.

‘‘It’s a testament to him and the way he trained, he’s come back 5kg-6kg heavier which has really helped him at that next level.

‘‘He’s really fit and strong and looking forward to the campaign.’’

Meanwhile, Hammington provides an equally experienced presence at halfback.

He initially came to Dunedin when he joined the Highlanders in 2017, but signed with Otago in 2019.

After originally signing for two years, he has renewed his contract.

Donnelly said Hammington’s experience would be a boost for the side.

He also confirmed experienced prop Hisa Sasagi might be seen in blue and gold this year.

Sasagi had retired at the end of last year, but has since returned to club rugby.

With Ainsley set to miss the first few weeks of the season and a relatively young propping group, the side had been looking for some experience.

‘‘We had a chat to Hisa to see if he’d be keen to possibly come back and help us out in the early part of the season,’’ Donnelly said.

‘‘He’s really excited, he’s had a good break and his body’s feeling really good. There’s a possibility he’ll be seen back in an Otago jersey this year for sure.’’

A wider training group had been together for the past month and would have a break next week, before a final squad was selected.

Pre-season matches against Southland and Canterbury are lined up for the end of July.

Donnelly is balancing his Otago commitments with assistant coaching the New Zealand under-20 team.

Winger Michael Manson and hooker Harry Press have been called into that squad, joining halfback Nathan Hastie, lock Fabian Holland and loose forward Sean Withy.

Donnelly said it was great to have five players from Otago in the side and all would be knocking on the door of the NPC squad.


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