Thursday, 13 August 2009

As great as it is to see the talented James Wilson back in the Stags for tonight’s Manawatu clash, I’m a tad disappointed he’s not wearing the number 15 jersey.

I reckon his lanky frame and superb long-kicking game make him more suited to fullback than first five-eighth. Besides, I’d love to see the boy wonder Robbie Robinson go head-to-head with the equally gifted Aaron Cruden. As my cliché-prone mate Podge Macpherson would say, it would be worth the price of admission alone.

At the time of writing I have no idea how many fans paid the price of admission to watch Otago play North Harbour last night, but I’d wager Podge’s best pair of platform disco shoes, it wasn’t many.

If you took the Southlanders out of last Friday’s crowd at Carisbrook you’d have been left with the Otago side, team management, close friends and family, the security guards and the pie sellers.

It reminded me of my days on the terrace as a university student 30 years ago, when Otago only survived in First Division courtesy of some wayward goal kicking by Marlborough’s Steve Marfell in the promotion-relegation match (won by Otago 15-13).

1979 was as bad as it ever got for Otago rugby. As a scarfie with time on his hands, I never missed a match at Carisbrook and for some of the mid-week games there would be barely 50 hardy souls on the terrace.

Otago’s only win in the NPC that year came at the expense of Southland (10-7). Southland fared little better, only claiming the scalps of South Canterbury (16-3) and Taranaki (22-21) in a cliffhanger season finale, thanks to an injury time dropped goal by Brian McKechnie.

This was a Southland side which had defeated France 12-11 and included All Blacks McKechnie, Ken Stewart, Leicester Rutledge and Ash McGregor, New Zealand Junior Doug Murcott and New Zealand Colts Bruce Robertson, Jim Fortune and Chris Hiini.

Throw in the likes of Jeff Gardiner, Ian Donaldson, Wayne Boynton, Murray Mitchell, Gus Dermody, Phil Butt and Lex Chisholm and this was a Southland side which should have done better than third-last in the NPC.

Thirty years on, third-last means you’re history. We now have only two All Blacks and some promising youngsters yet I’m picking the Class of ‘09 will make history - and the final of the Air New Zealand Cup.


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