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Waikato make four key signings

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Lynn McConnell     14 Jan 2018     Getty Images

Having won only two games in the competition, Waikato slipped down to the Championship when finishing one point behind Auckland while Wellington stepped up into the Premiership in the automatic promotion-relegation.

Four new signings have been confirmed with Otago first five-eighths Fletcher Smith and Canterbury halfback Jack Stratton making the move north while halfback Kylem O'Donnell and prop Toby Smith will return to the side for the first time since 2013.

Smith, 22, who can also play fullback, played 26 games for Otago after making his debut in 2015. Last season he scored 116 points for the side achieving an 83 percent success rate while landing 26 conversions and 13 penalty goals to go alongside the five tries he scored.

Stratton, 23, who made his first significant impact on the national scene when playing for the Provincial Barbarians against the British & Irish Lions, has played 23 games for Canterbury and scored seven tries in those games. He was called into the Crusaders' wider training group last year and has been contracted to the side for the 2018 season.

O'Donnell, 28, played eight games for Waikato before he headed to Taranaki in 2014 in a bid to win more game time. He played 21 games for Taranaki.

Smith, 29, is no stranger to Waikato having made 50 appearances between 2008-13 while also playing 37 games for the Chiefs. Smith had a stint in Australia achieving his half-century of appearances for Melbourne's Rebels. That also allowed him to win Test selection for Australia in 2015 making five appearances in the Wallaby jersey.

Waikato Rugby Union chief executive Blair Foote said: "It will be exciting to see the experience and composure these players will bring to the halves position.

"Then you have a player like Toby Smith, who has played well over 100 first-class matches [and] only adds experience to the front row."