Strong side named for shield defence

The Otago team has a debrief after the captain's run at Logan Park yesterday. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
The Otago team has a debrief after the captain's run at Logan Park yesterday. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
Otago has named the strongest side possible for its Ranfurly Shield defence against Thames Valley in Wanaka tomorrow.

Ten players who helped wrest the Shield from Waikato last year have been selected in the game day squad.

But there are also plenty of new faces. Kaikorai first five-eighth Ben Miller will make his debut for the province, and Taieri lock Ben Morris will also get his first opportunity to impress in Otago colours.

University prop Kilipati Lea was initially named on the bench. But a late injury to Hisa Sasagi means the loosehead will make his debut in the run-on side.

Five players will be waiting anxiously on the bench hoping to get on for their debut as well. Props Ben Millar and Saula Ma'u, lock Josh Hill, Highlanders back-up halfback Kayne Hammington and Harbour centre Aleki Morris are all in line for a maiden appearance.

The match will be memorable for Highlanders centre Matt Faddes as well. He will be playing his 50th and last game for Otago before he joins Irish club Ulster in an exciting new stage in his career.

All Blacks Sevens player Jona Nareki has been named on the bench, despite not playing any 15-man rugby for a while.

In the other notable appointment, openside flanker Slade McDowall will captain the team for the first time.

"It feel likes a very settled squad even though there are [eight] debutants in there," coach Ben Herring said.

"It is the strongest team we could put out and it is a great way to start the season.

"It just feels like where we are now compare to where we were last season is poles apart.

"That was a good last training for the first week of preseason. Normally it is all sorts but it is just the familiarity we can build on.

"We've got some fresh guys as well who offer that x-factor."

Herring said Ben Miller had earned his opportunity at first five-eighth following a steady club season for Kaikorai.

His game management has "been really good" and "since coming into this environment he has been very clear and understood the way we want to play very quickly".

"So it was a really easy call and I look forward to seeing how he goes."

The decision to promote McDowall to captain for the game was easy as well.

"He has a very good rugby brain on him and I can see a very good future for him in a leadership role going forward.

"You wouldn't know it is his first time because he has been straight in there, so the fit is lovely."

Roxburgh prop Ben Millar has been called into the side and will start from the bench.

"We had a three-week training [period] with the wider group and invited a couple of the standout country guys up. He just lapped it up and travelled from Roxburgh daily just to go to those trainings.

"He was awesome and grew heaps. He's as tough as boots."

Herring has a little inside knowledge on the Thames Valley side. His wife's cousin Connor McVerry plays for the team.

"But they are planning on the big heart factor. They play with their hearts and they won't give up.

"And we will treat it like a test match, as well."

Ranfurly Shield 

Otago v Thames Valley, Wanaka, today, 2.05pm

Otago: Taylor Haugh, Mitchell Scott, Matt Faddes, Matt Whaanga, Josh Timu, Ben Miller, Kurt Hammer, Dylan Nel, Slade McDowall, Sione Misiloi, Ben Morris, Joe Latta, Angus Williams, Sekonaia Pole, Kilipati Lea. Reserves: Ricky Jackson, Ben Millar, Saula Ma’u, Josh Hill, James Lentjes, Kayne Hammington, Aleki Morris, Jona Nareki.

Thames Valley: Jason Laurich, Harry Lafituanai, Sam McCahon, Danny Kayes, Kieran Lee, Reece Boughton, Ben Bonnar, Matty Axtens, Fred Kei Fotofili, Brett Ranga, Connor McVerry, Cameron Dromgool, Sitiveni Tupou, Glen McIntyre, Lance McIntyre. Reserves: Brooklyn Toia, Sergio De La Feunte, Lance Easton, Siona To’a, Laulea Mau, Cole Berridge, Regan Crosland, Matiu Abraham.

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