Shakeup in Wakatipu

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Old guard to revive fortunes.

Former Highlanders stalwart Kelvin Middleton joins four other seasoned veterans trying to reverse Wakatipu rugby’s sagging fortunes next year.

Queenstown-raised Mid­dleton captained New Zealand A and Otago, and played 58 games for the Highlanders before heading over for a stint in Japan. He will be technical advisor to new Premiers coach Lindsay Thomas and assistant Clark Frew.

Last season the team finished among the bottom three Central Otago sides after having placed in the top three every season for more than two decades.

They ended their season at home with a humiliating 32-3 drubbing by Matakanui Combined – coach Rob Nicholls didn’t reapply for his job.

Former Wakatipu Rugby Club president John Mansfield says “a lot of change of personnel” contributed to the Premiers’ demise.

Farming and family commitments will prevent 34-year-old loose forward Middleton from playing but he’s keen for Wakatipu rugby to regain its prestige and become “a big part of the community” again.

Thomas, who recalls only one loss when he earlier coached the Premiers in 2004 and 2005, has gone on to successfully coach Cen­­­tral Otago and under-age sides as well as help select Otago Country teams.

He wants to bring “a bit of pride back in the club” and entice some former players back.

Frew is a former Southland and Otago B rep who played for Wakatipu in 2003 after arriving in town.

Wakatipu veterans Gra­­­­­eme “Buckets” Jones and Grant “Spud” Murphy will co-coach the Wanderers side, who’ll play senior rugby after being swamped in the higher-level Central Otago Premiers competition last season.

Jones, 44, is also threatening to play again.

The new coaches for the Otago Countrywide-winning Arrowtown Premiers, to replace Richie Anderson who’s stepping down, will be announced soon.