Strong core of experience in Otago squad

At the launch of the Otago season last night at a function in Dunedin are (from left) lock Blair...
At the launch of the Otago season last night at a function in Dunedin are (from left) lock Blair Tweed, midfield back Sio Tomkinson and prop Donald Brighouse. Photo by Gregor Richardson.
Otago has named just two new caps in its squad for the Mitre 10 Cup as it looks to push on from last year.

Otago coach Cory Brown has named a squad of 27 players with the addition of injured inside back duo Hayden Parker and Josh Renton, and All Black Ben Smith.

The side made it through to the semifinals of the championships section of the competition last year and with plenty of experience back the desire is to go further this season.

Brown said the aim of the season was simple — to win the championship.

"That is what we set out to do. There is no point not wanting to do that. But we know it is going to take a lot of hard work," he said.

"But everyone is another year older and there is good experience within the group. We have over 600 Otago caps within the squad."

The days of having players with hundreds of caps scattered throughout a squad at provincial level are long gone.

Players come and go so quickly these days to even reach 50 games in a provincial jersey is relatively uncommon.

At the end of 2012, Otago had just over 350 caps in its squad, so is well above that number in a relatively quick time.

Otago has forwards Liam Coltman and Paul Grant, who have both played more than 50 games for the province along with Tom Franklin, who is a seasoned campaigner now at this level.

In the backs, Otago country products Tony Ensor, Michael Collins and Matt Faddes have all been around the traps for a good while and will be looking to make an impact.

Throw in youngsters such as winger Gavin Stark and midfielder Sio Tomkinson and there are some encouraging signs  in the Otago side.

The side will be captained by Coltman, who also skippered the team  last year.

The new players to the squad — halfback Jono Ruru and first five-eighth Scott Eade — are not new to the first-class scene and both came to the province after injury robbed Otago of  Parker and  Renton.

Eade has played 48 games for Southland but has decided to look elsewhere, while Ruru, in a backlog of halfbacks at Hawke’s Bay, has moved south.

Brown said he viewed Eade as a first five-eighth after he split his time between that position and halfback.

Parker and Renton both suffered knee injuries within a couple of weeks of each other about three months ago and have had operations.

Parker may get back to some contact training by November, while Renton is unlikely to be sighted until early next year.

The duo would be missed but it is a chance for Eade and also Fletcher Smith, who has spent some time with the Highlanders.

Getting players into the Highlanders is part of the job for Brown and he fully embraces that.

"Every rugby player wants to play at the next level and that is what makes this such as awesome competition. Players want to play their best to show they are good enough to play Super rugby."

The 27-man squad includes nine players who played Super rugby this year.

One notable inclusion is loose forward Lee Allan.

Allan took all of last year off because of concussion but had a storming last few games for Kaikorai in the club competition and is a welcome addition to the team.

He has previously captained Otago and his guts and application will be appreciated by Otago.

Otago players will head to Queenstown over the next two days  for a training camp before their  final pre-season game against Southland in the resort on Thursday.


Mitre 10 Cup squad

Tony Ensor, Gavin Stark, Fa’asiu Fuata’i, Jack Wilson, Matt Faddes, Michael Collins, Tei Walden, Sio Tomkinson, Fletcher Smith, Scott Eade, Jono Ruru, Kaide Whiting, Paul Grant, Lee Allan, Naulia Dawai, Dillon Hunt, Adam Knight, James Lentjes, Blair Tweed, Tom Franklin, Josh Dickson, Donald Brighouse, Hisa Sasagi, Craig Millar, Aki Seiuli, Liam Coltman, Sam Anderson-Heather.

Injured: Hayden Parker (knee), Josh Renton (knee)

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