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ITM Cup
Otago realistic on Ranfurly quest
August 19, 2013
Waikato's players pose with the Ranfurly Shield, Waikato v Northland, ITM Cup, Waikato Stadium, Hamilton, August 17, 2013
Otago will challenge Waikato for the Ranfurly Shield this weekend © Getty Images
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Otago's rugby past is littered with Ranfurly Shield disappointments so it is no surprise that hopes are measured as the side heads north to challenge Waikato in Hamilton on Friday.

Given where Otago rugby has been in the past few years as a result of financial pressures that almost sank the proud province, it can only be wondered what a fillip Shield success might be.

Coach Tony Brown doesn't have the riches to boost his numbers that other coaches enjoy but he is developing a reputation for producing a pragmatic rugby side and from that base confidence can flower.

Certainly the side showed its capabilities when taking a win over an upper tier side, Bay of Plenty, in the first round of games but, like all teams, Otago will need to advance on the effort in their opener.

Brown, who had to prepare with a short turnaround from a Sunday to a Friday game, said there were a few "sore boys" in his team at training on Monday.

"It was a pretty tough battle. We were pretty average in the first half but we went better in the second," he said. "It will be a really tough shield challenge. I really enjoyed the challenge on Saturday night. I though Northland played pretty well. It was a tough match."

At the same time he acknowledged that such a tough opener first up would be to Waikato's advantage.

"Waikato are a balanced side. They've got a good strong pack, and some good, physical backs and a couple of younger players inside," he said.

Otago were not without hope in the challenge and would be preparing as if they had a chance. What has impressed Brown about his side has been their hard work ethic and a desire to improve both individually and as a unit. They featured the traditional core strength of Otago rugby with good loose forwards and the team overall was getting "better and better", he said.

While the shield challenge has captured the focus in the early part of the season, the main objective was to develop a winning habit and to get a chance to make the play-offs at the end of the competition.

A tough start with Waikato on Saturday and Hawke's Bay, the top-ranked side after their demotion from the upper section last year, has put the pressure on from the outset.

"Obviously we want to play good rugby and making the play-offs is the goal and if we can do that, we can starting thinking about promotion-relegation," he said.

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