Two pre-season challenges

There were plenty of teams lining up to have a crack at the Ranfurly Shield this season but Otago is limiting itself to just the two mandatory pre-season challenges.

Otago will have the automatic five challenges from games played in the Mitre 10 Cup and also has to play two pre-season challenges.

Otago Rugby Football Union general manager Richard Kinley said the union had received seven challenges for the pre-season games which was a high number compared with the past few years.

But with such a congested playing calendar, having Super Rugby played until July and not wanting to crowd the club rugby schedule, the union decided to just have the two games before the Mitre 10 Cup kicks off in August.

Meads Cup winner Thames Valley had a mandatory right to challenge and has taken up the offer and will be heading south.

This game was likely to be played in Central Otago although the location and date had yet to be confirmed. However, Alexandra looks a starter.

The other pre-season match was likely to be against North Otago and again the venue and date are yet to be confirmed. Kinley said North Otago was a neighbour and it was a good fit to play the side in a challenge.

Both games are likely to be used as pre-season matches for the Mitre 10 Cup, which will start a week earlier than usual, kicking off in the first week of August.

The draw in the Mitre 10 Cup has Otago playing home games against Canterbury, Southland, Manawatu, Waikato and Taranaki.

Otago had been keen to play a home game against Southland to kick off its season at Forsyth Barr Stadium which would double as a shield challenge.

The draw had not been confirmed yet for the Mitre 10 Cup but every indication had been given by New Zealand Rugby that it was keen to have Otago and Southland clash early in the competition for a shield challenge.

A challenge would be a good way to start the season for both unions and would create some excitement around the first challenge of the year, Kinley said.

The season is starting earlier after unions and NZR decided to do away with the midweek games.

Although these were good to make the season shorter and added a live game midweek for broadcasters, serious issues arose concerning player welfare and poor crowds attending.

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