Country boy goes to town


Wakatipu rugby powerhouse tries out for Otago jersey next week.

Take the skills of Taine Randell, add the ball-handling of Paul Miller and Isitolo Maka and you get some idea of Ben Blakely’s talent.

“That’s giving him big raps but he certainly has the ability and potential,” says former Highlanders captain and Wakatipu Premiers technical adviser Kelvin Middleton.

Most Tuesdays and Thursdays he watches Blakely – a 192cm and 115kg No 8 who anchors the Wakatipu scrum – hit the tackle bags and then unleash hell each Saturday.

Twenty-two-year-old Blakely was this week among 46 players named to contest the Otago trial at Alexandra next Tuesday.

He’s one of just seven Otago Country players to get the nod – and the only rep from the Central region.

“He has the potential to go further,” Middleton says. “As a Country player you don’t get too many opportunities to play in front of the selectors, so he’s got to take this chance with both hands.”

Otago seem to have a production line spitting out loose forwards of national standard, but that won’t be a barrier to the young Blakely.

“He might be behind in the pecking order to Paul Grant and Steven Setephano, however I know that No 8 is a wee bit of an issue.”

Australian-raised Blakely has a strong rugby pedigree. He played in the touring Australian Schoolboys side that beat Otago in 2004 before his family shifted across to the City of Sails, where he made the Auckland Colts squad in 2006-07.

His team-mates in Aussie age-group teams included Brumbies Super 14 flyhalf Christian Lealiifano and Waratahs silver bullet Lachie Turner.

Lindsay Thomas, co-coach of Wakatipu with Clark Frew, says Blakely’s a great role model:

“He’s a fantastic ball carrier and can offload either side.

“When we beat Cromwell 49-15 in the first round, he basically destroyed them by himself, breaking tackles in midfield and offloading.”

As for the player himself, there might be more experienced players lining up at next Tuesday’s trial, but there won’t be any more committed.

With last night’s training held at Logan Park in North Dunedin, Blakely had to take a half-day at the Kawarau Falls site where he’s employed as a plumber.

He then got straight behind the wheel of his Commodore to drive three hours-plus to the scrum machines – the longest by a stretch that any of the triallists will travel.

A quick change after­­wards and back in the car to be home by midnight, he reckons – then on site bright and early at work today.

Rep rugby is a man’s game in the country.