Saturday's Meads Cup final will showcase seven players chosen for the NZ Heartland XV to play games at home and in Fiji this November.

Head coach Mark Rutene (Horowhenua Kapiti) and the selectors have picked a squad of 26 for the annual McRae Cup clash with NZ Marist, to be followed by games against a Vanua Fiji selection in Lautoka and Sigatoka.

Of the new squad, 13 of them were involved in the NZ Heartland XV that lost 36-19 to Manu Samoa in the Pasifika Challenge II at Eden Park in July, while 12 others will be making their New Zealand debuts.

There are 11 unions out of 12 represented by at least one player, with only Poverty Bay missing out.


"We have a really good balance of players who will be new to the team and those who have been involved in past campaigns," said Rutene.

"It is great to be able to reward players who have performed well in their provincial colours over the past few months."

Retaining their spots from the Samoa game are North Otago's Ralph Darling, Meli Kolinisau and Josh Clark incumbents, while joining them from their team are fullback Patrick Pati and goal kicking halfback Robbie Smith.

Smith is the only player who could reach 100 points for the Mitre 10 Heartland Championship season, sitting on 94 coming into the final, and along with South Canterbury's incumbent Willie Wright will fill the halfback spots.

It is understood Wanganui's Lindsay Horrocks, who came off the bench at Eden Park, could not commit to the full week away on tour due to work.

Lindsay Horrocks
Lindsay Horrocks

Wanganui's Craig Clare was in that Samoa game but since injured his pectoral muscle, requiring surgery, meaning Wanganui captain Campbell Hart and midfield back Peni Nabainivalu will fly the flag after retaining their spots.

Both Hart and Nabainivalu were in the NZ Heartland XV team last year that hammered Vanua 60-0 and then beat NZ Marist 46-19 in games in Taupo.

Also selection criteria can change, the Vanua side is believed to be made up of players from the second tier of club competition in the islands.


"We know we have the best players from across the Heartland unions coming together, so there is no lack of skill or talent, the key is getting them all on the same page with how we want to play so we can put out three good performances," said Rutene.

Again, it will be a short timeframe to do so, with three matches in seven days.

The New Zealand Heartland XV is:
Carl Carmichael (King Country); Josh Clark (North Otago); Ralph Darling (North Otago); Anthony Ellis (Buller); Tristan Flutey (Wairarapa Bush); Hone Haerewa (East Coast) Campbell Hart (Wanganui); Himiona Henare (Horowhenua Kapiti); Sione Holani (West Coast); Tyler Kearns (West Coast); Meli Kolinisau (North Otago); Seta Koroitamana (Mid Canterbury); Miles Medlicott (South Canterbury); Peni Nabainivalu (Wanganui); Regan O'Gorman (South Canterbury) Willie Paiaua (Horowhenua Kapiti); Patrick Pati (North Otago); Tim Priest (Wairarapa Bush); Brett Ranga (Thames Valley); Robbie Smith (North Otago); Churlainn Sowerby (King Country); Nick Strachan (South Canterbury); Jaxon Tagavaitau (Horowhenua Kapiti); Troy Tauwhare (West Coast); Alex Thrupp (King Country); Willie Wright (South Canterbury).

Match Schedule
November 2, NZ Marist XV, 2pm kickoff, Te Aroha; November 6, Vanua Fiji, 7pm kickoff, Lautoka; November 9, Vanua Fiji, 3pm kickoff, Sigatoka.