James Goodger taking a tackle against Buller in the Heartland Championship in 2016. PHOTO/GETTY IMAGES

RUGBY

CHRIS COGDALE
chris.cogdale@age.co.nz

Wairarapa-Bush captain James Goodger is “pretty stoked” he’s been named in the Heartland XV to play Manu Samoa.

Goodger is the only player from the region picked by Heartland XV coach Mark Rutene to play in the Pasifika Series match at Eden Park on August 31.

It is the third time the utility forward has made the team, who are selected from the 12 provinces that contest the Heartland Championship. He played for Heartland XV sides in 2015 and 2018.

Goodger has performed well at lock and blindside flanker in his 52-game representative career stretching back to 2012, but said he had no idea of his role in the Heartland XV.

“I was told to put on 10 kilos. I managed to put on six, so I’m not sure, but I don’t mind where I play,” he said.

“I just want to get out there and do my best.

“I pretty much want to put my best foot forward. It’s a good chance to show what I’ve got.”

Goodger is relishing the prospect of a tough challenge from the Samoans who are using the game as part of their build-up for the Rugby World Cup.

“They’re renowned for their physicality, and it will be a great chance to test ourselves against their sheer physical strength.

“We go up [to Auckland] on Monday and come back Sunday. We have a full week of training and we will need it.”

Former Wairarapa-Bush coach Rutene told allblacks.com the game against Tonga would be a great chance for grassroots players to display their talent.

“Opportunities like this don’t come around every day.

“We are calling this our test match, it’s the biggest game our Heartland team have played.

“It’s against a passionate and proud international side and it’s at Eden Park. Both teams can look forward to that.”

With the core of the squad from the 2018 campaign returning in 2019, Rutene said those connections will be key in next week’s build-up.

“It definitely gives us some comfort that we have worked with a lot of the players before so we should be able to hit the ground running.”

There was ample motivation for his team.

“These guys are pulling on a black jersey. On top of that, Sir Brian Lochore passed away a few weeks ago and he was one of the greatest champions of Heartland rugby.

“It will be about his legacy and we are hoping to put on a performance everyone can be proud of.”

Meanwhile, Goodger is buoyant about Wairarapa-Bush’s prospects in the Heartland Championship, which kicks-off on Saturday with a home game against six-time Meads Cup winners, Whanganui.

“We’ve got the skills. We’ve certainly shown that in our warm-up games and I’m really confident. I reckon Whanganui might be in for a bit of shock.”

Having a fully homegrown squad was a big plus.

“There’s such an awesome attitude. All of the team are from Wairarapa, and the boys just want to go out there and play for each other.

“We’ve got the four brothers [Max, Sam, Kirk, and Ueta Tufuga] and they each bring something different to the team.

“They’ve been playing high quality rugby and they leave it all out on the field.

“We’ve shown a lot of promise, especially when we have to.

“We know we have the skills and talent. It’s just a matter of putting it together for the whole 80 minutes.”