James Goodger, centre in blue headgear, lining up for the 2015 Heartland XV. PHOTOS/GETTY IMAGES

Harwood welcomes Samoa test

RUGBY

CHRIS COGDALE
chris.cogdale@age.co.nz

Wairarapa-Bush look set to play North Otago under the roof at Dunedin’s Forsyth Barr Stadium.

That’s come about after confirmation that the New Zealand Heartland XV, coached by former Wairarapa-Bush mentor Mark Rutene, will play against Manu Samoa at Eden Park on August 31.

That game will be part of an international doubleheader with Tonga and Fiji getting top billing for the World Cup warm-ups.

The Heartland championship game against North Otago was originally scheduled to be played at Oamaru but that now looks certain to be moved to Forsyth Barr Stadium as the curtain-raiser to the Otago-Manawatu Ranfurly Shield challenge.

“Because of the Samoan game, there’s had to be a change in the draw for the second round of the Heartland Championship.

“The game being played at Forsyth Barr Stadium on Friday, August 30, is all but confirmed,” Wairarapa-Bush chief executive Tony Hargood said on Wednesday.

“Both games – the Samoan game and the Heartland game – are great chances to showcase Heartland rugby. It’s an exciting opportunity for Wairarapa-Bush to play a curtain-raiser for a Shield game.”

Wairarapa-Bush coach Joe Harwood said it would be an awesome opportunity to play in a great stadium.

“The chance of playing there, and on a Friday, will be different. I’m looking forward to the experience.

“We’ve been lucky enough to have played at Westpac Stadium [Wellington] but to get the chance to go down to Dunedin and to play strong opposition such as North Otago, who we beat in last year’s semifinal, will be a very special occasion.”

And Harwood imagines the team would be able to call on plenty of support.

“There are a lot of students in Dunedin from Wairarapa. We expect they’ll come out in force and get behind us.”

Harwood is also excited about the prospect of some of his players making the Heartland XV for the Samoan game.

“We might lose one or two players, but that game would be an awesome experience for all the players named.

“The opportunity to play on Eden Park doesn’t come around every day.”

Wairarapa-Bush already has a strong presence with the Heartland XV.

New Heartland XV coach Mark Rutene is excited about taking on Manu Samoa

Former 2011-14 coach Mark Rutene, who is now assistant coach of Lochore Cup champions Horowhenua-Kapiti, will take the head coaching reins of the Heartland team after being assistant coach last year.

“It’s a massive occasion and we’re calling it a test match. I’ve already spoken to a few players and they’re pretty excited about it,” Rutene said.

Rutene expects his team will meet a full-strength Manu Samoa team.

“They’re playing Australia the following week. This will be their World Cup squad. They will have all their big guns with the cup starting within the month.”

The fact that the game will be played in the second round of the Heartland Championship creates its own problems for Rutene.

However, he said it was still a great opportunity to test themselves against a top 20 team.

“It’s a big challenge. I’ll be picking a forwards coach soon and we’ll be looking at who’s around from last year and talking to the rep coaches to find out who’s playing well in club rugby.”

Wairarapa-Bush had one representative in last year’s Heartland XV in loose forward-lock James Goodger.