Old Golds taking their game to the heartland

Colin Jackson
Colin Jackson
They really are putting the heartland into Heartland Championship.

North Otago will play a national championship game in Kurow for the first time this season.

The Old Golds will host Hanan Shield rival Mid Canterbury at the Kurow Rugby Club’s home ground on September 10.

But wait, there is more.

North Otago will also play two away games at village grounds — against bitter enemy South Canterbury at Strathconan Park in Fairlie on September 3, and against Thames Valley at Moewai Park in Whitianga on September 24.

The decision to investigate hosting a Heartland Championship game in Kurow was driven by the looming Waitaki Event Centre project, North Otago Rugby Football Union chief executive Colin Jackson said.

"If that goes ahead, we’re going to end up losing our main ground for probably a season, maybe a little bit longer.

"So we thought we would have a look at playing a game
in the country and see how it goes.

"Mid Canterbury are ideal because there are a lot of farmers involved."

Kurow has become a modern-day heartland rugby success story.

The club attracts fervent support, has recruited good depth in recent years, and is still basking in winning the Citizens Shield for the first time since 1982.

"They’ll do a fantastic job — I’m really confident of that," Jackson said.

"I think the support for the game will be great. They have all the facilities there and we’ll just look at what else they might need.

"There is so much enthusiasm and willingness in the Kurow area, which is terrific."

South Canterbury, which is unable to play at the Timaru stadium as it undergoes redevelopment, will also play home games in Temuka, Waimate and Geraldine.

North Otago’s pre-season games are against King Country — for the Maroon and Gold Cup — in Taupo on August 6, and against Otago Country in Oamaru on August 13.

Its opening Heartland Championship game is away to Wairarapa-Bush on August 20. The other away game is a return to Taupo in the final round, while home games in Oamaru are against Buller (August 27), Horowhenua-Kapiti (September 17) and West Coast (October 1).

Jason Forrest continues as Old Golds coach, and will be joined this year by former captain Ralph Darling.

Former winger Scott Mayhew, back in town to run the Waitaki Boys’ High School hostel, will be manager, the great Lemi Masoe will be assistant manager, and the guru Barry Matthews will be technical analyst/mentor.

Meanwhile, North Otago has decided to trim its club playoffs by a week.

The Citizens Shield final was to be played on July 9, the same day as the All Blacks-Ireland test in Dunedin.

The club council this week agreed to move the final forward to July 2. Old-fashioned semifinals (1v4 and 2v3), rather than effective quarterfinals that gave one team a life, will be played on June 25.

"It’s a good change, I think," Jackson said.

"We’ve played the 1v4 and 2v3 format for 15-16 years, maybe longer, so everybody knows how it works.

"The test match has been thrown upon us, in a good way, and lots of our people will want to go to that game."

 

hayden.meikle@odt.co.nz

 

 

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