By GUY WILLIAMS
One of Queenstown’s finest rugby products, Michael Collins, hopes he’ll get on the pitch when his Highlanders team brings the Super Rugby circus to his hometown at the end of this month.
In a scheduling reshuffle enabled by the trans-Tasman bubble, the Highlanders play the Melbourne Rebels in an afternoon match at the Queenstown Events Centre’s John Davies Oval on May 30.
Although it’s the first professional game in the resort since the Highlanders beat the Western Force in 2010, Wakatipu diehards will argue it’ll be Collins’ second-most important game in the area after he helped the Wakatipu Prems lift the White Horse Cup off Arrowtown at Jack Reid Park in 2019 — it’s been his only showing for the team.
The 27-year-old utility back reckons he has a chance of playing on May 30 given he’s fully fit in a squad that’s been ‘‘falling like flies’’ in recent weeks, including more than half-a-dozen out for the season.
‘‘It depends on week-by-week stuff … but I’d love to play in front of my home area.’’
If he does play, it’ll literally be on a pitch.
The cricket oval, which hosted several international warm-up games over the summer, is where the one-time schoolboy sporting wonderkid played a bunch of times as a batsman-wicketkeeper who also captained Otago age-group teams.
But Collins reckons a rugby match on the ground will have a ‘‘good vibe’’.
‘‘Normally you get warm-up games in Central when it’s 35-degree heat when people are still playing cricket, so playing in winter will be really interesting.
‘‘It’ll be a bit old-school with those grass embankments, so hopefully that’ll help create that
atmosphere with kids running around and people having a few beers.’’
He’s particularly happy for his mum and dad, Ruth and Kelvin, who’ll ‘‘save a bit of petrol money this time’’ after racking up thousands of air and road miles over the years to watch him play.
‘‘Mum and dad have been awesome for me, and I think the older you get you realise how far they have travelled, and how far they’ve had to go to take me to things.’’
After what will be his second season with the Highlanders, which follows three years with the Blues, there’s talk Collins is bound for top Welsh club Ospreys.
He can’t confirm the move to Mountain Scene, saying nothing’s official and he doesn’t want to ‘‘count his chickens before they hatch’’.
He has Welsh experience under his belt after playing for the Llanelli Scarlets in 2015-16, and qualifies for Wales through his grandparents.
Asked if he’d like to play for Wales, he says the question’s ‘‘hypothetical’’.
‘‘But if doors open, you make your decision then.
‘‘If I went over there, it would be a case of play for the club and put your best foot forward.’’
After 71 matches for Otago since his debut in 2012, and captaining the blue and golds for the past two-and-a-half years, he feels like he’s starting to peak as a player.
‘‘The older you get, the body slows down a wee bit, but if you keep growing the mind, being in the midfield can be pretty beneficial.
‘‘I have a few things I want to achieve before I finish.’’