North Otago first into the fray in Heartland resumption

North Otago will return to the field next weekend, but Otago will have to wait.

Oamaru will host the return of first-class rugby in the South as North Otago is home to East Coast next Saturday in the Heartland Championship.

It follows yesterday’s announcement of the initial NPC and Heartland Championship draws.

Otago will have the weekend off, having been scheduled to play Counties-Manukau.

That match has been postponed, as Counties-Manukau remains under Alert Level 4 protocols.

Southland will also miss the first weekend back, having been scheduled to play Auckland.

Four games will be played next weekend.

Beyond that, the draw is yet to be confirmed, as New Zealand Rugby awaits the government’s Covid-19 update on Monday.

A revised Farah Palmer Cup draw is expected in coming days.

The complete Heartland Championship draw was unveiled, able to proceed with all its teams under Alert Level 2.

It will play an eight-game season followed by finals, dropping the semifinal round.

The top two teams will play for the Meads Cup, third and fourth will play for the Lochore Cup, and fifth and sixth will also play in a ‘‘final’’.

The announcement came as welcome news to North Otago coach Jason Forrest, following the cancellation of last year’s Heartland Championship.

While the team played a handful of games in a makeshift schedule last year, this was its first national competition since winning the Meads Cup in 2019.

Forrest said the team had been back training since Wednesday and was excited to get on the park.

‘‘We got some sort of rugby last year with our Hanan Shield competition, the local stuff.

‘‘To have reassurance from New Zealand Rugby that we have locked in and Heartland is going ahead and we haven’t lost any games, apart from the semifinal, it’s very exciting.

‘‘The boys are fizzing and we’re getting ready for the 18th, East Coast at home.

‘‘It’s exciting times and we’ve got a couple of big trainings coming up.’’

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