Quadragenarian on Southland’s bench

Dale MacLeod. PHOTO: Debbie Fahey
Dale MacLeod. PHOTO: Debbie Fahey
Experienced, seasoned, long-serving — vintage even.

However you describe Southland hooker Jason Rutledge, playing top-level rugby into your 40s is a remarkable feat.

The 42-year-old, who last suited up for the Stags in 2016, has been named on the bench for Southland’s opening Mitre 10 Cup game against Hawke’s Bay in Invercargill tomorrow.

That will make him one of the oldest players — certainly in the professional era — to play in a first-class game.

"I’m more than ready for it," he said with genuine enthusiasm.

"I’ve played club rugby all year and held my own."

He certainly did.

Rutledge has got himself into tremendous shape through cross-fit exercise and had a strong season for Woodlands, which blitzed Star 83-31 in the club final.

Rutledge amassed 138 games for the Stags between 2000 and 2016. He also made 59 appearances for the Highlanders.

The way he sees it he is in "bonus territory now". His wife and four children have his back, so there is no stopping him.

And his beloved Southland has somewhat of a crisis in the hooking department. Talemaitoga Tuapati has fractured a bone in his hand and is out for eight to 12 weeks.

Flynn Thomas dislocated his shoulder while playing club rugby in Dunedin and had surgery this week.

Replacement hooker Sebastian Siataga has arrived in Southland late, so was not considered for the game against Hawke’s Bay.

Jacob Payne is returning from a lengthy injury spell and Greg Pleasants-Tate has a fractured finger but will just strap it up and play on.

Having someone of Rutledge’s ilk to lean on was a blessing, coach Dale MacLeod said.

"It was always in our mind that he could come in if something happened on a Thursday or a Friday, then we could slot him in there," MacLeod said.

"But I didn’t think I’d be bringing in a 42-year-old this early."

Despite the awful run of injuries, Southland has been able to put together a pretty decent tight five of Mike McKee, Manaaki Selby-Rickit, Siate Tokolahi, Pleasants-Tate and Ethan de Groot.

Southland will need to muscle up. Hawke’s Bay has a talented pack and penchant for scoring tries from lineout drives.

Hooker Ash Dixon bagged seven tries last season and will no doubt try to tuck in at the back of a maul again in search of more.

"We knew 12 months ago how they would try and play us. They have two outstanding leaders in the pack in Ash Dixon and Gareth Evans," MacLeod said.

"They are not going to change too much. They will come down and try and bully us."

Southland has named midfielder Ray Nu’u on the bench. He would normally start but he has been ill this week.

Mitre 10 Cup

Invercargill, 4.35pm tomorrow
Southland: Josh Moorby, Rory van Vugt, 
 Isaac Te Tamaki, Jaye Thompson, 
Amanaki Nicole, Scott Eade, Logan 
Crowley, Tony Lamborn, Matt James, 
Charles Alaimalo, Mike McKee, Manaaki 
Selby-Rickit, Siate Tokolahi, Greg 
Pleasants-Tate, Ethan de Groot. 
Reserves: Jason Rutledge, Joe Walsh, 
Chris Apoua, Ray Tatafu, Glenn Preston, 
Raniera Takarangi, Greg Dyer, Ray Nu’u.
Hawke’s Bay: Kurt Baker, Jonah Lowe, 
Stacey Ili, Ollie Sapsford, Mason 
Emerson, Lincoln McClutchie, Folau 
Fakatava, Devan Flanders, Brendon 
O'Connor, Marino Mikaele-Tu'u, Tom 
Parsons, Geoff Cridge, Joe Apikotoa, 
Ash Dixon (captain), Pouri Rakete-
Stones. Reserves: Kianu Kereru-Symes, 
Jason Long, Joel Hintz, Isaia Walker-
Leawere, Solomone Funaki, Brad Weber, 
Caleb Makene, Lolagi Visinia.

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