You don’t have to be from the big smoke to make it to the big stage.
Kurow flanker Paddy Henwood and Maheno utility back Ben McCarthy have recently returned from the Jock Hobbs Memorial national under-19 rugby tournament where they played for the Heartland under-19 team, made up of players from the smaller unions in New Zealand.
The tournament, held at Owen Delany Park in Taupo, is a key calendar event for New Zealand’s emerging rugby talent. The New Zealand under-20 squad, for next year’s under-20 world cup, is largely selected from the standout players.
Most of the squads had been training all year, but the Heartland under-19 players met for the first time on September 5, before playing their first game on September 9.
Henwood, who works on a farm in the Waitaki Valley, only found out he was selected five days before the tournament.
“I was helping with the shearing at Waitangi [Station] and was out of [phone] service for nine days.”
He and McCarthy got a lot of game time in the “quick but structured” competition.
“It was a pretty high standard, you wouldn’t think [some of the players] are under 19 – there were some big puppies.”
Across the tournament, 400 players from 16 teams competed – one team from each of the Mitre 10 Cup provincial unions, one Auckland development team and the Heartland unions combined team.
Some of the players were on the pathway to becoming professional, but the Heartland team was made up of mostly tradesmen, forestry workers and shearers, Henwood said.
“It was a real good group of lads.
“Considering we only met three days before, we went really well.”
The Heartland team was defeated in its first game by Tasman 33-3, before bouncing back to see off Northland 41-26. Three days later, the team was beaten by a big Counties Manukau outfit 52-20, and finished in 14th place.