Ardmore-Marist RFC, Bruce Pulman Park, Papakura
Saturday November 5, 2pm
The New Zealand Heartland XV will seek to redress the record after dropping two of their three games in 2015.
The national amateur side, which is selected out of the Heartland Championship, play New Zealand Marist in their annual MacRae Cup fixture in Auckland tomorrow. They won the always competitive clash 47-42 in 2015, but lost their two other games with the Australian Barbarians.
Assistant coach Mutu Ngarimu of Poverty Bay says the Heartland Championship standard is on the up and the passion for this team remains undimmed for the nation's top amateur players.
"When we did the phone calls, they were ecstatic. The likes of Aarin Dunster and Peter Rowe are just passionate about this team," says Ngarimu.
Now loan players were eligible for this team, precluding the likes of former All Black Zac Guildford, who went well at centre for Wairarapa-Bush in 2016.
"We had some challenges around selection, some guys were unlucky, but we feel these are the best guys to wear the jersey," says Ngarimu. No less than 11 of the 12 heartland provinces are represented - winless East Coast miss out - but Ngarimu is adamant that the best players have been named, rather than seeking a nice spread.
Happily, there were no casualties (of 13 on show) from two high quality finals last weekend and the full complement of 26, barring injuries tomorrow, will travel to Fiji for games against Nadi on Tuesday and Nadroga on Friday. It is an intense programme, so ensuring they gel swiftly will be the priority for coaches Barry Matthews and Ngarimu.
The players may have to adjust their mental arithmetic calculators as the scoring reverts to the normal methods, as opposed to the six point tries and two point goals trialled in the Heartland Championship.
The Marist combination, which has in the past fielded the likes of Piers Francis and Ben Tameifuna, has four players returning from the 2015 match, while prop Viki Tofa is now with the Heartland XV. Steelers lock Viliame Rarasea, who was one of the unlucky ones to miss a Super Rugby contract, will play on his home club ground.
The match was originally slated for Sacred Heart College, venue for next month's Condor Sevens, but, in a late change, it was shifted to Bruce Pulman Park.
NZ Heartland XV: Sam Monaghan (Wairarapa-Bush), Te Rangitira Waitokia (Wanganui)/Maleli Sau (Mid Canterbury), James Hemara (King Country), Lemi Masoe (North Otago), Willie Paia'aua (Horowhenua Kapiti), James Lash (Buller), Lindsay Horrocks (Wanganui), Kieran Coll (South Canterbury, c), Dan Hytongue (Buller), Peter Rowe (Wanganui), Everard Reid (Poverty Bay), Josh Manning (West Coast), Scott Cameron (Horowhenua Kapiti), Hayden Wisnewski (Thames Valley), Ralph Darling (North Otago)
Reserves: Jackson Donlan (Mid Canterbury), Timaru Tafa (South Canterbury), Viki Tofa (Wanganui), Aarin Dunster (King Country), Eddie Cranston (Wairarapa-Bush), Zayn Tipping (King Country), John Koko (King Country), Maleli Sau (Mid Canterbury)/Nete Caucau (Mid Canterbury)
NZ Marist XV: Hamish Strachan, Simon Lilicama, Simon Dibben, Neria Fomai, Jesaia Bogileka, Ellery Wilson, Shawn Begg, Ben Hammerlink, Te Puoho Stephens, Taylor Jones, Viliame Rarasea, Murray Hewson, Matt Fetu, Valentine Meachen, Tuki Raimona; Reserves: David Adams, Jason Long, Joe Apikatoa, Angus Lindsay, Mickey Seymour, Bram Egli, Scott Adams