Fresh-faced front row the Spirit of youth

Otago Spirit front-rowers (from left) Paige Church, Tegan Hollows, Isla Pringle, Amy Rule, Gemma Millar, Morgan Walker and Eilis Doyle have an average age of just 20. Photo: Linda Robertson
Otago Spirit front-rowers (from left) Paige Church, Tegan Hollows, Isla Pringle, Amy Rule, Gemma Millar, Morgan Walker and Eilis Doyle have an average age of just 20. Photo: Linda Robertson
This is a long overdue story about front-rowers.

The Otago Spirit backs will no doubt be peeved to miss out on the headlines.

But they say it all starts up front, and the Spirit has put its faith in a fresh-faced lot with an average age of just 20.

In prop years, they are barely out of nappies. Paige Church is the grand old lady of the crew at just 22.

She is from East Otago and drives dump trucks for a living.

''I'd say the wheels are double her height,'' Otago coach Scott Manson joked.

''She is a hard wee player and pretty skilful. She has always been a hooker but I converted her to a prop this year and she has picked it up pretty well.''

Next in the line is the captain Tegan Hollows. The 21-year-old has played quite a bit of rugby at No 8 this year but, with regular hooker Rebecca Todd ruled out with concussion symptoms, Hollows has moved back to the front row.

She shapes as a key player for Otago in its home playoff against Hawke's Bay at Forsyth Barr Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

''She is dynamic out in the wide channels ... and her go-forward is massive for us and she does not take a step back on defence either.''

Isla Pringle (19) will start at loosehead in the semifinal. The teenager has great passing skills and a knack of getting away those tip passes which have become all the rage.

Eilis Doyle (21) will complete the starting front row.

''She is a good scrummager and ... is awesome on D [defence] and likes to make dominant tackles.''

Amy Rule is one of the babies in the pack at age 18. The tighthead is the head girl at Aparima College. She is a player who likes to carry the ball into contact and operates with no fear.

''She punches on to the ball nicely and her scrummaging has improved immensely from the start of the season.''

Gemma Millar is her fellow 18-year-old. The Otago Girls' High School pupil is still learning her craft. The hooker has not played ''a whole lot'' this season but she is a physical defender and a ''hard-nosed'' player.

Morgan Walker (21) is a hooker who can also cover all three loose forward positions. That versatility is what has earned her a spot on the bench for this weekend.

She has good pace and skills and is a busy defender- just the sort of player you need coming off the bench when fatigue becomes a factor.

And that completes the super seven, the power behind the Otago effort.

Otago Spirit: Sheree Hume, Trisha Hopcroft, Kilisitina Moata'ane, Greer Muir, Kiana Wereta, Rosie Kelly, Rosie Buchanan-Brown, Morgan Henderson, Zoe Whatarau, Julia Gorinski, Jess Kendall, Kate Smith, Eilis Doyle, Tegan Hollows, Isla Pringle. Reserves: Morgan Walker, Amy Rule, Jess Dermody, Janelle Romanchuck, Sammy Wong, Georgina McCullough, Cheyenne Cunningham.

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