Teenage hooker Jack Taylor gets start for Southland Stags

Teenage hooker Jack Taylor will get to pull on the Southland Stags jersey for the first time on Friday when the Stags take on Otago in a preseason hitout.

The 19-year-old, in his first year out of Southland Boys’ High School, has been named to start in the No 2 jersey in the game to be played at Rugby Park in Invercargill.

He will pack down alongside Highlanders loosehead prop Ethan De Groot in the front.

Taylor impressed playing for the Highlanders under-20 team this year and was close to making the New Zealand under-20 team.

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Prop Ethan de Groot training with the Southland Stags on Thursday.

Robyn Edie

Prop Ethan de Groot training with the Southland Stags on Thursday.

Southland was dealt a blow during the club season when experienced hooker Greg Pleasants-Tate broke his ankle ruling him out of the NPC season. Flynn Thomas will also miss Friday’s preseason showdown against Otago as he recovers from a head knock.

Stags coach James Wilson was comfortable lining Taylor up against a strong Otago side. Wilson was encouraged by the teenager’s performance playing for Southern in the Otago club final in Dunedin on Saturday.

“We’ve paired him with Ethan [de Groot] and his experience in that frontrow. He is very keen to get out there and pull on the Southland jumper, and to be fair he’s been training the house down.

“He’s loving the experience and loving the environment and has shown some really good stuff. He’s a strong boy and is raring to go. “

Other players that will miss Friday’s game with niggles include Morgan Mitchell, Greg Dyer and Solomon Alaimalo.

Highlanders midfielder Scott Gregory joined the team on Wednesday and could have played on Friday but the Stags management has opted to manage his workload, given he had such a big Super campaign and will be a key figure for Southland in the NPC season proper.

Southland Stags coach James Wilson during training at Surrey Park in Invercargill on Thursday.

Robyn Edie

Southland Stags coach James Wilson during training at Surrey Park in Invercargill on Thursday.

Wilson has led the off-season program, as well the build-up to the first preseason on Friday, before Dale MacLeod returns to take on the head coaching duties next week.

MacLeod was with the Moana Pasifika team during the Super season and more recently an assistant coach with Tonga.

Wilson was thrilled with where Southland was at this year given they have had a large group of players working together during the off-season, as well as a large contingent of players returning from last year.

“I’m stoked with how things are progressing. If you want to compare how things were last year compared to where we are now, it’s a whole different world. That first week, week and a half last year was just about getting to know people’s names. Now from day one boys are coming in and chatting, everyone knows each other, ”Wilson said.

“We were picking up guys in Dunedin [last year] to go play for us in that first preseason game. We are miles ahead now, so I’m just excited to see how they go tomorrow. “

Lock Josh Bekhuis in the middle of a maul during Southland Stags training in Invercargill on Thursday.

Robyn Edie

Lock Josh Bekhuis in the middle of a maul during Southland Stags training in Invercargill on Thursday.

Wilson wants to see that connection within the group transfer to the field on game day.

He was keen to also have a look at some players playing at the next level.

“I don’t really like saying it, but a lot of guys have club habits that you just can’t have at that NPC level. Hopefully we’ve ironed that out. “

This week there has been a lot of detail to deliver to the players in preparation for the first hit-out, Wilson said.

Both teams will carry extended benches for the preseason fixture giving as many players as possible the opportunity for some game time heading into the NPC competition.

Otago has named a strong team which includes plenty of Southland connections. Included is former Southland Boys’ High School first XV captain Sean Withy who will captain Otago alongside fullback Sam Gilbert.

Gore lad Cameron Millar will start for Otago at first five-eighth, with another Gore product Finn Hurley on the bench. Another promising Southlander Will Stodart is also in the reserves, as is former Stag Raymond Nu’u.

Friday’s preseason showdown will kick-off at 2.05pm.

The Stags will play its first NPC competition against Tasman on Sunday, August 7.

Retunring Southland Syag Robbie Robinson at training on Thursday.

Robyn Edie

Retunring Southland Syag Robbie Robinson at training on Thursday.

THE TEAMS

Southland: Robbie Robinson, Michael Manson, Isaac Te Tamaki, Matt Whaanga, Rory van Vugt, Marty Banks, Jay Renton, Arese Poliko, Matt James, Grayson Knapp, Josh Bekhuis, Caleb Aperahama, Niko Manaena, Jack Taylor, Ethan de Groot. Reserves: Joe Walsh, Shaun Stodart, Paula Latu, Jacob Payne, Quinn Harrison-Jones, Joe Robins, Ben Morris, Jacob Coghlan, Hayden Michaels, Charles Alaimalo, Jahvis Wallace, Levi Emery.

Otago: Sam Gilbert (cc), Vilimoni Koroi, Josh Timu, Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Jona Nareki, Cameron Millar, Kemara Hauiti-Parapara, Rupeni Tamani, Sean Withy (cc), Oliver Hagg, Will Tucker, Fabian Holland, Saula Ma’u , Henry Bell, Abraham Pole. Reserves; Harry Press, Tau Kolomatangi, Josh Honeck, Will Stodart, Taylor Dale, Jin Ho Mun, Raymond Nu’u, Jake Te Hiwi, Rohan Wingham, Leroy Ferguson, Finn Hurley, Jeremiah Asi, Jack Leslie.

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