North Otago coach crosses the Waitaki

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by Chris Tobin

A new coach and well-known figure in local rugby will replace Barry Matthews as coach of the South Canterbury Heartland team next season.

Nigel Walsh, the North Otago Heartland head coach for two seasons, was appointed to the position this week on a two-year contract after Matthews had earlier decided to step down.

“He’s got the right rugby pedigree being a successful coach of the Celtic senior team and he’s had experience with the Heartland competition in North Otago,” Calder said.

A total of 19 hopefuls applied for the position of whom four were interviewed, two of them locals and two from Christchurch.

Calder said the decision by the two-man panel was unanimous and ratified by the South Canterbury board.

Walsh played 70 matches for South Canterbury and coached Celtic to a string of Hamersley Cup championships, as well as the South Canterbury development team and New Zealand Marist colts.

He stood for the South Canterbury job four years ago, losing out to Matthews, and went to North Otago as assistant coach in 2016 before becoming head coach.

South Canterbury Rugby Football Union chief executive officer Craig Calder

Now having been given the opportunity with South Canterbury, he was delighted to be appointed.

“I’m very excited – it’s always been my ambition to coach South Canterbury. We’ve got a good challenge in front of us.

“Macca has done a great job and now the thing is to keep that going.”

He said coaching North Otago had been a big learning curve.

“Getting to know the general playing style . . . it was a different culture and a different environment.”

Calder said Walsh brought a fresh approach.

“He knows a number of the players and he has coached some of them. We’re looking forward to a new era and a new approach.”

Calder said South Canterbury had an excellent season this year, coming close to winning the Meads Cup Heartland competition until being tipped over by Thames Valley on home turf in the final.

“Just missing out on the Meads Cup final was disappointing. We can strive for better.”