The New Zealand Heartland XV’s end of season tour had a strong North Otago flavour.
Meli Kolinisau, Ralph Darling, Robbie Smith and Patrick Pati all pulled on the black jersey for the tour of Fiji, and Philippa Masoe was the team’s physiotherapist. Josh Clark was also selected to play, but an injury in the Meads Cup final ruled him out.
The Heartland XV played its first game two weeks ago, losing 29-19 to a New Zealand Marist side that featured several professional players, before heading to Fiji to play two games against the Vanua XV.
The New Zealanders won the first game 12-7, but lost the second 15-7 in challenging conditions.
Kolinisau, a regular player in the Heartland XV, said it was an “awesome trip”.
“It was really good actually seeing all the boys from North Otago playing alongside me and Ralphie,” he said.
“Robbie and Patrick played really well, they played awesome.”
Kolinisau is originally from Fiji, and said the tour was a rare chance for his family to see him play – 15 of his relatives made the trip from Suva to Sigatoka to watch.
“It was hard for the Fijian boys on our team, because they were marking up on us trying to put the big hits for their crowd,” he said, laughing.
“There [were] offloads everywhere, it was pretty hard to stop.
“Every time you tried to tackle, if you went high they would bump you off and if you went around the legs the ball was just going everywhere.”
The Heartland XV is made up of the best players from the provinces, and the skill level was high, he said.
“It’s still a challenge, every time you go back to Heartland [XV] you have to work hard to get a spot to start or even to get on the bench.”
And there was a new aspect to front row play now, Kolinisau said, inspired by Darling’s heroics in the Meads Cup final – drop goals.
“We got told to do our individual warm-ups and the whole front row squad was lining up having a go at drop goals.
“We got told off for that, the coach was like ‘have you guys had enough drop goals? Was it a good warm up session?’.
“It was Ralphie’s fault.”
Kolinisau, who works as a plumber at Laser Plumbing and Electrical, arrived back in Oamaru at 2am on Monday morning and was back at work the same day.
He admitted he was pleased to see the end of the rugby season, but said it had been a good one for Meads Cup champion North Otago.
“It was a really good feeling, it still lights up my day, to be honest.
“It’s not going be to far away until the next season starts.”