North Otago to play neighbours home and away

North Otago will play in front of its own fans this year, after all.

The Meads Cup champion will play neighbours South Canterbury and Mid Canterbury on a home-and-away basis after the club season is finished as the three Hanan Shield unions play games against each other over six weeks.

Buller will play Mid Canterbury and South Canterbury, but not North Otago.

The Hanan Shield, which is held by North Otago, will be at stake in every game.

The first defence against South Canterbury in Oamaru on September 12.

North Otago will play four games in as many weeks.

The away game against Mid Canterbury may not necessarily be played in Ashburton, but may instead be played at a country ground.

The games will be first-class fixtures.

No table or competition ladder will be kept.

There will be no loan players as such.

It would be a good chance for players from North Otago clubs to show their abilities, North Otago Rugby Football Union chief executive Colin Jackson said.

The Heartland Championship, for the 12 teams outside the Mitre 10 Cup, was canned by New Zealand Rugby in late March in reaction to the lockdown because of Covid-19.

The axing was supported by the unions participating.

Jackson said the games were a good incentive for local players and coach Jason Forrest was set to name a squad in the coming weeks.

He said the fixtures had the blessing of NZR.

The side also had a Ranfurly Shield challenge against Canterbury, set for August 28.

The game had been confirmed for Rugby Park in Christchurch and would be a week after the club season finished in North Otago.

Jackson said club rugby had started well in North Otago with good crowds and quality play.

Player numbers were good.

There was a renewed enthusiasm for the game, and games were being played in a good spirit.

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