Club rugby: Midlands wants to establish itself in premier ranks

Joe Robins will captain Midlands during the 2022 Southland premier club rugby season starting on April 2.

Robyn Edie/Stuff

Joe Robins will captain Midlands during the 2022 Southland premier club rugby season starting on April 2.

Midlands wants to establish itself in Southland’s premier club rugby competition.

The Winton-based club has been one of the leading teams in Division One, Southland’s second-tier club competition, in recent years but has now chosen to play out the 2022 season in the top-flight.

Brendan Dennis, who has taken over the coaching duties at Midlands this year, said the club had to make a call given there was a group of players at the club who wanted to play premier rugby.

“The issue we were facing is we were going to lose some players to premier rugby, and then where does that leave Midlands rugby?

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“So that shaped our decision. Were we better to let players go to premier clubs and entrench ourselves in Division One? Or take the bull by the horns, and say, ‘we are a prem club and keep our players at the club’?”

It was decided that having a crack in the premier grade was the right decision for the future of the club.

“It’s going to be a challenge, but I’m pretty excited with what I’ve seen from the boys so far in their attitudes,” Dennis said.

Southland’s senior men’s club rugby competitions are scheduled to kick off on April 2, although Rugby Southland is keeping a watching eye on the Omicron situation.

Other provinces where Omicron has spread quickly, including in Dunedin, have delayed the start of its club seasons.

Midlands will be largely made up of the 2021 team which was beaten by Wyndham in the Ack Soper Shield Division One semifinals.

Dennis said it was too late in the piece to go on a recruitment drive, but he hoped if Midlands can establish itself as a premier team it could prove to be an attractive prospect for players in coming seasons.

“Any country boys that might want to have a crack at prems we’ll be welcoming and Winton is not far from town as well. If your not in prem you are not an option for players to come to you.”

Midlands had previously been a force in Southland’s premier competition which included making the Galbraith Shield final in 2009.

Last year Midlands spent the first round playing in the premier ranks before being relegated to Division One for the remainder of the season.

The difference this year is Midlands will see out the entire season in the premier ranks.

While it’s a step-up for the players, for Dennis it will also be a challenge after agreeing in December to step in and coach Midlands.

Dennis and his family have been farming in Grove Bush since 2017 and over the past four years he has coached the Verdon College 1st XV which won the Southland-wide under-18 competition in 2021.

He has also coached Southland junior representative teams.

“I was going to take this year off, but I got a poke in the ribs and asked if I wanted to coach Midlands,” Dennis said.

Captain Sam Brame has hung up the boots and stepped in as the team’s fitness trainer this year with lock Joe Robins taking over the skipper duties.

Robins has impressed in recent seasons which has included him getting some opportunities with the Stags.

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