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The Southland club season finally kicks off today and it will be short and intense.
Rugby Southland had to continually revise the competition structures through autumn as the Covid-19 pandemic hit.
There are six teams in the Glabraith Shield compared to last year’s 12-team competition.
The teams are made up of five Invercargill-based sides and the Eastern Northern Barbarians.
The teams will play a round-robin and then four games in another round, some rounds being played midweek. There will be a final between the top two teams on August 15.
Midlands and Wyndham were going to play in the top grade but have now moved down to the six-team Ack Soper Shield competition.
Another six teams will contest the Gerald Dermody Shield.
The women’s competition will once again be played on Sundays — the four clubs involved this year are Pioneer, Blues, Albion and the defending champion Marist.
Reigning Galbraith Shield champion Blues has a host of promising players joining the club fresh from Southland Boys’ High School but has also suffered major losses from last year.
Shoulder surgery for halfback Jay Renton and knee surgery for flanker Ben Paulin has ruled them out. Fellow Stags loose forwards Taine Te Whata and Bill Fukufuku have also left Balmoral and prop Ethan De Groot is with the Highlanders.
Last year’s beaten finalist Star has a similar team to last year. It has strengthened the backline with two players from the North Island who have joined the Southland Academy.
No8 Jordan Stewart will have a heavy workload this season without Highlanders lock Manaaki Selby-Ricket, and Braydon Mitchell who is rehabbing some niggling injuries.
Beaten semifinalists the Eastern Northern Barbarians have lost a lot of experienced players including Rory McCall, Bill Christie, Scott McKee, Willy Short, Jake Lawlor and Caleb Young. Front-row stocks are not huge, injury already taking its toll.
Marist has lost about five regular starting players from last year including loose forwards Brad Whyte and Tangaroa Walker.
Woodlands has assembled a very strong squad this year and beat Marist last week in a warm-up match by six tries to two.
Former Southland halfback Liam Howley is one of the club’s new recruits, as are nearly half a dozen players from the North Island who are keen to secure Southland Stags contract.s
Midfielders Marty McKenzie and Ray Nu’u and forwards Joe Walsh, Charles Alamoa and Matt James are some of its stars.
Pirates Old Boys has a similar team to last year. Greg Dyer is back in the No10 jersey and his links with Isaac Tamaki and Jaye Thompson will be important.
Pirates Old Boys beat Star in a warm-up match last week.
In the lower divisions, Riverton, Balfour-Lumsden, Mataura and the Ohai Nightcaps-Otautau teams are all sitting out the 2020 season and plan to be back next year.