James Lentjes set to battle old Canterbury pals
Leeston lad James Lentjes would love nothing better than to gain bragging rights over many of his close pals in Dunedin tonight.
With a logjam of quality openside flankers in Canterbury, including Richie McCaw, Matt Todd and Jed Brown, Lentjes decided to move to Otago at the start of this year.
Lentjes, 23, went close to cracking the National Provincial Championship ranks in Canterbury.
He was a member of last year's wider training squad and had previously played for the Crusaders development side, the Knights.
''It's always a tough decision to move away from home. Canterbury is all I've ever known, really,'' he said.
''Canterbury seems to breed loose forwards left right and centre. One minute, you're an injury away, then one minute, you're right down the pecking order.''
The change in scenery has worked out well for Lentjes. He shone for the championship-winning Taieri club in Dunedin premier rugby and gained selection in Otago's NPC squad.
Lentjes has started at openside in Otago's opening three games and tonight under the roof, he will have the chance to prove himself against many of his former team-mates.
Last year, while playing club rugby for University, Lentjes had the opportunity to match up against McCaw, when he returned from his sabbatical for Christchurch.
He held his own against the three-time IRB player of the year and 129-test veteran. Lentjes' performance drew praise from McCaw after the game.
Tonight, Lentjes will go up against another All Black when he battles Todd.
Lentjes had played against the two-test international once previously, for the Knights against the Crusaders, in a pre-season clash.
He expected a busy night at the breakdown against Todd and would be doing all he could to combat his presence.
''Matt Todd is playing really good rugby. If you ask me, he was pretty unlucky not be in the All Blacks squad. It's going to be a test for me, for sure.''
Lentjes' former University team-mate and Canterbury loose forward Luke Whitelock had been impressed by how he was going in Otago.
''He always played well [for University] and was always keeping the guys above him honest,'' Whitelock said.
''He's had an opportunity to go down there and the quality player he is, he's taken it up and is performing well for them.''
Lentjes scored a try on debut for Otago against North Harbour and was involved in their unsuccessful Ranfurly Shield challenge against Counties Manukau, a week later.
Next Sunday, he has another chance to contest the log o' wood when Otago take on new holders, Hawke's Bay, in Napier.
''Luckily, we have another challenge. You could go through a whole season and not get a challenge, but luck seems to be rolling our way.''
Lentjes played for Leeston in the junior grades before heading to St Bede's College, where he won a Crusaders secondary schools' title in 2008.
The shift south had been made easier with siblings, Sam and Georgia, both attending the University of Otago and several friends also in Dunedin.
Lentjes was working as a lab technician for Fulton Hogan, but has put that on hold for three months to concentrate on his rugby commitments.
AT A GLANCE
Canterbury v Otago
Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin, 7.35pm tonight
Referee: Richard Kelly (Taranaki)
TAB odds: Canterbury $1.13, Otago $5.25
Canterbury: Patrick Osborne, Rob Thompson, Jack Goodhue, Adam Whitelock, Milford Keresoma, Richie Mo'unga, Willi Heinz (c), Nasi Manu, Matt Todd, Luke Whitelock, Matt Symons, Scott Barrett, Nepo Laulala, Ben Funnell, Alex Hodgman. Reserves: Codie Taylor, Siate Tokolahi, Joel Everson, Tom Sanders, Mitchell Drummond, Luteru Laulala, Nathaniel Apa.
Otago: Trent Renata, Marshall Suckling, Jayden Spence, Teihorangi Walden, Fa'asiu Fuatai, Hayden Parker, Nick Ealey, Charlie O'Connell (c), James Lentjes, Naulia Dawai, Tom Franklin, Jackson Hemopo, Hisa Sasagi, Sam Anderson-Heather, Aki Seiuli. Reserves: Liam Coltman, Donald Brighouse, Joe Latta, TJ Ioane, Lee Allan, Josh Renton, Peter Breen.