Game chance for rookies to step up

Ben Herring.
Ben Herring.
There will not be any hiding on the bench for a fresh-looking Otago side in today's warm-up against Southland in Alexandra.

Otago has six new caps in the starting line-up and that many again waiting on the bench.

They can expect a run with coach Ben Herring keen to use ''nearly all of them''.

With most of Otago's Super Rugby players missing, the match is as much about finding out what some of the best club players are capable of at the next level as it is a good blowout heading into the opening game of the season against Wellington in the capital on August 19.

Kaikorai stalwarts will be interested to see how a trio of their favourites perform.

Eti Slater, Matt Jones and Christian Lio-Willie have been three of their better performed players.

Slater has been impressive in the midfield. He has been solid on defence and has run through his share of tackles.

Matt Jones is different type of player. An outside back, his goal-kicking game has been an asset for the club.

He has a touch of Terry Wright about him with his wiry frame but is surprisingly strong as well.

Lio-Willie, who will start from the bench, has grabbed attention with some powerful runs close to the ruck. The blindside flanker has often provided the spark his side needed in those physical encounters up front.

Most Otago eyes will be on the first five-eighth-halfback combination of Finn Strawbridge and Kurt Hammer, though.

Strawbridge is set to play a big part in the Otago campaign. Herring did not want to put too much pressure on the former Canterbury representative but he will no doubt be watching how well he is able to set the tempo and steer the team around the field.

The Green Island pivot has a cracking pass and a good tactical kicking game. He will be hoping to put pressure on Highlanders back-up first five-eighth Josh Ioane for a starting spot when the season begins proper.

Hammer is one those tenacious players you need in every side. He pops up where he is needed most and is always in the game battling for possession.

He has a serviceable passing game but arguably his greatest asset is the combative approach he brings to the role.

South African-born No 8 Dylan Nel will make his debut for Otago. He has been brought into the side to hit the ball up and get Otago on the front foot close to the rucks.

''He is an immensely strong fellow with an amazing work ethic and he has fitted into our team environment very well,'' Herring said.

''He is a fairly abrasive sort of player and you can expect him to be carrying the ball into contact and see a few heavy hits.

''He has put in some personal bests at the gym and he is certainly a physical guy.''

The format for the game is four 20-minute periods and most players will get a run.

''Obviously, we want to make sure our contracted guys get a good hit-out but we will definitely get nearly all of them on.''

The Southland team was unavailable last night.

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