Rugby: Donnelly named in ITM Cup squad

Otago coach Tony Brown makes a signal with first five-eighth Peter Breen beside him at training...
Otago coach Tony Brown makes a signal with first five-eighth Peter Breen beside him at training at Logan Park yesterday. Photo by Peter McIntosh.

Otago has retained the core of its side from last season, adding six new faces, in its squad to contest the ITM Cup this season.

The squad features the return of former All Black lock Tom Donnelly, along with another veteran in Erza Taylor.

The six new players yet to play for Otago are prop Craig Millar, openside flanker Willis Scott, halfback Josh Renton, midfield back Teihorangi Walden, and outside backs Kieran Moffat and Fa'asiu Fuatai.

Lock Jackson Hemopo and outside back Marshall Suckling would have made the squad but have been sidelined by injury.

Hemopo damaged ligaments in his foot in May and is out for the season while Suckling tore his ACL ligament in his knee last week in a game for the Sassenachs against the Spartans and is also out for the season.

Brown said it was tough for both players but injuries were a part of rugby.

He said the squad was the best he could pick from the talent available.

Donnelly (31) was keen to come back to Otago after last playing for the province in 2011. He has played 73 games for Otago.

''Tom is staying in New Zealand and he wants to play for Otago if he stays here,'' Brown said.

''It's good to have him back here as after losing three locks from last year that has been an area of concern for us during the club season.''

Donnelly played in Japan last year and was believed to have been chased by other provinces with deeper pockets, but Brown said money never came into the equation in getting the 15-test All Black back to Otago.

He has played for the Crusaders over the past couple of years.

Three locks have left Otago from last year - Justin Ives is staying in Japan, Rob Verbakel is in England and Hemopo is injured. Brown said Taylor was seen as a locking option, and he would be competing with Donnelly, Tom Franklin and Charlie O'Connell.

Paul Grant will captain the side.

Brown said it was good to get the bulk of the side back from last year and he was looking forward to a big year.

''One of our goals is to build on that experience we picked up last year and go on from there. We got a few more guys in the Highlanders and they are getting a bit more experience as rugby players.

''The boys are pretty keen to get out there and get started. It is going to be tough but we want to go out there and play some exciting rugby.''

Notable players gone from last year are Glenn Dickson (England), Tamati Ellison (Japan) and Adam Thomson (Japan).

Brown said there were some close selection calls made, with the other halfback in the squad, after Fumiaki Tanaka, coming down to a straight choice between Josh Renton and Brad Weber.

Renton, who is the first year out of the Otago Boys' High School first XV, won the nod ahead of Weber as Brown felt he had the better skill set to suit the side.

Willis Scott was included as an openside flanker ahead of Hadleigh May after impressive club form.

May is serving a suspension picked up at the world junior championships and cannot play until mid- September.

Key midfield back Jayden Spence is still recovering from a bad head knock and Brown said he was still a week to week proposition.

He hoped Spence would be available for the first ITM Cup match against Bay of Plenty on August 18.

No vice-captain has been named.

The side takes on Tasman (August 4) and Southland (August 9) in pre-season games.

Ben Smith has been named in the squad but, with All Black commitments, is unlikely to play any games in the blue and gold jersey.

Otago made it to the final of the ITM Cup Championship section last year before losing to Counties-Manukau.



Forwards: Paul Grant (captain), Lee Allan, Hugh Blake, Gareth Evans, TJ Ioane, Charlie O'Connell, Willis Scott, Tom Donnelly, Tom Franklin, Ezra Taylor, Scott Manson, Craig Millar, Tama Tuitirangi, Aki Seuili, Liam Coltman, Sam Anderson-Heather.

Backs: Josh Renton, Fumiaki Tanaka, Hayden Parker, Peter Breen, Michael Collins, Teihorangi Walden, Jayden Spence, Kieran Moffat, Matt Faddes, Fa'asiu Fuatai, Buxton Popoali'i, Tony Ensor.

Also: Ben Smith.



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