Middleton’s rare return to rugby paddock

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The Wakatipu Premiers rugby coach resurrected his impressive playing career after a five-year gap for a “must-win” game last Saturday.

Former Highlander Kelvin Middleton played a vital hand in his side’s 27-10 win over Clyde-Earnscleugh at the Queenstown Re­­­­creation Ground. 

Middleton says it was a must-win game to keep them in contention for a home semi-final.

The team has now jumped from third place in the Central Otago competition to second equal with Clyde-Earnscleugh. 

More importantly, Mid­dleton says the team and club were keen to retain the White Horse Cup which they’d claimed off Maniototo two weeks earlier. 

Middleton, 38, filled in at number eight for an injured Jake Lawrence but says other players on the field were also nursing injuries. 

“It was just to help out, ’cos we knew Clyde would take us on upfront.” 

Middleton, who lasted 50 minutes, says he also used his experience to help out captain Regan Pearce. 

“It certainly wasn’t because of my speed and fitness,” Middleton says. 

Now in his third season as Wakatipu Premiers coach, Middleton recalls his last serious match was a Japanese championship game five years ago. 

However he did make a cameo appearance for the Premiers in 2009 and plays when required for the Classic All Blacks. 

Pearce says Southland Stags coaches Dave Hend­erson and Simon Culhane, watching Saturday’s game, were impressed with Wakatipu’s openside flanker Marcus Balchin and centre Danny King. 

Balchin was player of the day and King scored an outstanding last-minute 60-­­­­­­ metre try despite a bung foot. 

Meanwhile, the Arrow­town Premiers beat Upper Clutha 41-17 at home last Saturday to stay top of the competition. 

The Wakatipu Wanderers beat Cromwell 42-10 in Cromwell last Saturday in the Central Otago senior competition. 

SATURDAY’S DRAW: Clyde-Earnscleugh Premiers v Arrowtown, Clyde, 2.45pm; Upper Clutha Prems v Wakatipu Prems, Wanaka, 2.45pm; Roxburgh Seniors v Wakatipu Wanderers, Roxburgh, 2.45pm