Pride on line in classic clash
South Canterbury face a season- defining game tomorrow when they take on North Otago in the Heartland competition in Oamaru.
Both sides sit tied for third, with two wins apiece, while Wanganui and Wairarapa Bush are tied at the top of the table, unbeaten.
The top four sides will compete for the Meads Cup after the truncated round-robin, therefore a victory is paramount as not to lose pace with the front-runners.
South Canterbury carry the momentum into the game having pulled off an amazing come-from-behind victory against Poverty Bay last weekend, having been behind by 31 points early in the second half before snatching the win on fulltime.
By contrast North Otago were upset 7-3 by Mid-Canterbury.
Coach Chester Scott has made two changes but only one on form, with Rick McKenna starting at first five-eighth ahead of Kurt Rooney.
McKenna has been brought in as loan player from the Taranaki development side and helped orchestrate South Canterbury's remarkable comeback.
No 8 Kali Latu is forced out with an ankle sprain and that means Luke Brice returns to lock and Joeli Kotobolavu shifts to the back of the scrum.
South Canterbury loses little in the forward reshuffle while McKenna looks a class act and should boost South Canterbury's style of moving the ball wide.
Scott said the team has Meads Cup aspirations so the game was very important to them.
"They are regularly in the top four so we have respect for them and their coaching personnel."
Scott and North Otago coach Barry Matthews are good mates having played in the South Canterbury colts together many years ago.
Both like to see the ball spread wide so it should be an entertaining encounter. Scott however, is still urging his side to be more accurate.
"We also need to be more physical at the breakdown and the set pieces need tidying up.
"They were good against East Coast but not last weekend."
Scott said while there was jubilation in the changing room after the amazing turnaround the boys realised they had put themselves in that situation.
"We have certainly used our get out of jail free card."
Scott was wary of the challenge North Otago offered.
"They are a well balanced side, good forwards, a decent halfback, with pace out wide.
"You certainly can't give them any space to work in."
One player with some insight into the team is second-five Fa'aitu Tuamoheloa, who played for the "Old Golds" in their Meads Cup victory last year.
Tuamoheloa has added some real class to the South Canterbury backline and will play his 101st first class game tomorrow.
In the past 13 championship encounters South Canterbury have only won three times, the last in Oamaru in 2009, although they did beat their neighbours in at the preseason but little can be read into that. The Phil Gard Memorial Cup and Direen Cup are also up for grabs.
- The Timaru Herald