Ranger wants to finish on a high
Rene Ranger might have turned down an All Black jersey, but he's still determined to leave New Zealand rugby with a bang.
Ranger, who will play for French club Montpellier next season, made himself unavailable for the Rugby Championships to be with his partner and their baby daughter, who was born in April, although he will answer the call if the All Blacks suffer an injury crisis.
"I want to finish strong with the Taniwha, leave on a high note. I wouldn't call it leaving a legacy because I still want to come back and play for Northland, but I want to leave with a bang because I think I've played some good rugby through Super Rugby and I want to carry that on with Northland."
Ranger will have featured prominently in Southland's team meetings this week ahead of their round two game in Whangarei tomorrow.
At his best, the 26-year-old can tear any defence apart, and the Stags defence was already under examination after leaking substantially during the opening round loss to Tasman.
At times you get the feeling that the NPC is just a bit easy for someone with Ranger's skillset.
"Playing in Super, the skill level is right up there, with [NPC] you get a few fellas coming in from club rugby. In saying that, you don't want to drop your standard, you have to keep a high standard and you want your players to reach their potential. I wouldn't say it's easy, because if it was easy, we'd be winning."
Playing in the Cambridge Blue is something which means a lot to Ranger, who will start at centre in his 57th appearance for Northland tomorrow.
"I love playing for the Taniwha, it's home for me. I love pulling the jersey on and to get that captaincy has been mind-blowing. I wouldn't have thought I'd ever be a captain, but the boys really respect me and they are really keen to just play," he said.
"This is where I started my career ... it's family and friends, it's just a great place. We have got quite a big province and a lot of history. I'm really proud to represent Northland."
There is a mutual respect between New Zealand rugby's most far-flung provinces, something that will be borne out again tomorrow.
"We see [Southland] as southern men, pretty rugged like the fellas up north - both are from the countryside and the coast. There's a lot of respect ... it's always physical and the boys like playing against each other, I guess."
The Stags have made five changes to the starting team which lost 25-15 to Tasman.
Elliot Dixon's one-game ban for a dangerous tackle sees Hale T-Pole switch to No 8, with Tim Boys returning from injury to the blindside flank.
Robbie Robinson's return to fullback after Super Rugby duties pushes Marty McKenzie to the left wing, with Tim Cornforth moving to the bench.
Auckland import Gareth Williams-Spiers gets a start on the right wing, replacing Keanu Kahukura.
After relying heavily on imports last year, new Northland coach Derren Whitcombe and his assistant George Konia have picked entirely from the local club competition.
Highlanders prop Bronson Murray is closing in on 100 games for Northland, while the backline includes former Fijian flyer Rupeni Caucaunibuca.
The Northland lineout will revolve around 2m-tall Reds academy lock Tom Murday.
Northland: Whiria Meltzer, Jone Macilai, Rene Ranger (captain), Derek Carpenter, Rupeni Caucaunibuca, Ben Seymour, Sonatane Takulua, William Whetton, Jack Ram, Dan Pryor, Bryce Williams, Tom Murday, Scott Vessey, Robbie Abel, Bronson Murray. Reserves; Matthew Moulds, Justin Davies, Roy Griffin, Owen Pihema, Mac Sykes, Daniel Hawkins, Warren Dunn.
Southland: Robbie Robinson, Gareth Williams-Spiers, Bryan Milne, Cardiff Vaega, Marty 茁McKenzie, Scott Eade, Tayler Adams, Hale T-Pole, John Hardie, Tim Boys, Michael Fatialofa, Josh Bekhuis, Nick Barrett, David Hall, Jamie Mackintosh (captain). Talemaitoga Tuapati, Tuki Raimona, Craig Smith, Naulia Dawai, Nemia Kenatale, Willis Halaholo, Tim Cornforth.
- © Fairfax NZ News