Otago look to build on 2016 effort

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Tuesday, August 8, 2017    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

Hooker and captain Sam Anderson-Heather said last season had felt like Otago's year and they had 'an awesome season' and put themselves in a really good position for promotion to the Premiership and then fell short at the last hurdle which had been frustrating.

"A lot of guys were disappointed, understandably, because we were a really good group and with great coaching staff and management.

"You always want to make finals and making finals is a challenge and then winning the final is the next one and I know that feeling very well. I've made six club finals in the last 10 years and only won two of them.

"It's hard work getting there and it's even harder trying to win it," he said.

Losing it to North Harbour would make them pretty keen to reverse the situation when they meet in this year's first round of the competition.

Otago go into the competition without hooker Liam Coltman who requires surgery and utility Mike Collins who is carrying an injury from Super Rugby. But Anderson-Heather said that was always an opportunity for younger players to come into the squad.

There had been another strong season of club rugby in Dunedin and that had proven a backbone for selection in the side again. Going into the finals weekend there had been four or five contracts still open and it was good for players to see that sort of career pathway, he said.

It's already been a big year for Anderson-Heather who was captain of the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians who made such an impact in the opening game of the British & Irish Lions tour.

He said the experience had reminded him why he still played rugby.

"It was a really raw experience, there wasn't a lot of the other factors you have in professional rugby. It was just to go out and play and enjoy it and have fun, all those sorts of things that sometimes can get a little lost in the professional game.

"For me it was really refreshing and I'm heading into this season really excited obviously really stoked personally with the appointment of captaincy which is something I enjoy doing and I look forward to spending some time with the young guys that come to the group and getting to know them.

"I just love the Mitre 10 Cup and it is awesome to be involved again," he said.

That international experience had also heightened the value to be had, in the unique circumstances, of playing as a team.

While there were time constraints it bore out as he put it, "As Kiwis we are inherently wired to play rugby a particular way and it just happens to align with the way that Barbarians teams like to play and we just went out and played rugby.

"I guess it was a good reflection of grassroots rugby in New Zealand and what expectations we have of each other as players and the type of rugby we like to play," he said.