Cook Is captaincy part of hectic year

Otago captain and hooker Sam Anderson-Heather at training at Logan Park yesterday. Photo: Peter McIntosh
Otago captain and hooker Sam Anderson-Heather at training at Logan Park yesterday. Photo: Peter McIntosh
Sam Anderson-Heather had nothing planned for this year - but it has turned out busier than ever.

The Otago captain envisaged playing club rugby for Dunedin and then working his way into the provincial season.

But it did not turn out like that.

First, the 30-year-old was forced to have surgery on his knee which was limiting his mobility.

''I just battled through the Mitre 10 Cup and the way that competition is you can't afford to take six weeks off for surgery,'' he said.

''It was just annoying - affecting my training and I did not have the confidence in my knee.''

So he missed the first half of the club season but just as he got back on the field, an international opportunity arrived.

He was asked to play for the Cook Islands in a World Cup qualifier against Hong Kong - his father's parents came from the Cooks.

Anderson-Heather used to visit the Islands when he was younger but had not been back since he was a teenager.

''It's been in the pipeline to play for them over the last two World Cups but for some reason or another I haven't done it. But in another four years, who knows where I'll be, so I decided to go.

''It was awesome. In terms of the rugby side it was challenging. There are not a lot of resources there and we had just the basics for a campaign. We were limited in time and personnel.

''But culturally it was great. We had an awesome group of guys who had the experience of playing for your country.

''I consider myself a bit of a plastic Islander so to get an opportunity to immerse yourself into the culture of the place. That is what I wanted the most, to put on the jersey and enjoy the time.''

The Cook Islands lost both its games to Hong Kong but Anderson-Heather did not have much time to dwell on it.

He was called up by the Crusaders and flew out of Hong Kong almost straight after the match, arriving in Christchurch at 1am on Monday.

He went to training that day and ended up coming on in the final-round match against the Blues, playing for the final six minutes. It was a whirlwind time as he then caught up with family and came back to train with Otago.

But then he was called back to Christchurch before the Super Rugby semifinal.

He was with the Crusaders right through to the final and was bracketed to be on the bench in the final before hooker Andrew Makalio declared himself fit the day before the game.

''It was just a lot of fun. I did not know really what to expect. I had been with the Highlanders and coming from down here there were always the enemy. But I went up there seeing it as another opportunity, part of my development.

''There is no real silver bullet in the way they do things, that is any different to other teams. Right through the organisation they do things a little bit better. A little bit here, a little bit there and it all adds up.''

He had a couple of days of celebration with the Crusaders before he had to head back to Dunedin and rejoin Otago.

He also wanted to be with partner Nicole McGaveston and their baby boy, James John Anderson-Heather (9 months).

James is doing well, nearly walking, and the new dad is enjoying life both on and off the field.

Anderson-Heather's next rugby assignment is doing battle with Hawke's Bay on Friday night.

''Everybody made a few mistakes against Wellington. But the good thing about this competition is you don't have to wait long to make amends. You just get back on the horse straight away.''

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