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Brothers in black . . . North Otago rugby players Ralph Darling (left) and Meli Kolinisau on duty with the New Zealand Heartland XV. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

North Otago’s burly boys enjoyed their time with the New Zealand Heartland XV.

Old Golds front-rowers Ralph Darling and Meli Kolinisau helped the Heartland XV to two wins in Taupo recently.

The collection of the best players from the Heartland Championship thumped the Vanua Fijian side 60-0 before posting a record 46-19 win over New Zealand Marist to retain the MacRae Cup.

Darling and Kolinisau were among the reserves for both games, each getting about 35 minutes off the bench.

A third North Otago player, winger Simon Lilicama, was selected in the Heartland squad but had to withdraw after suffering a concussion in the Lochore Cup semifinal.

Kolinisau, who relished tackling his Fijian brothers in the opening game, enjoyed his second taste of life in the black jersey after earning selection for the first time last year.

“It was a really good experience,” the Valley prop told the Oamaru Mail

“The pace of rugby was faster. Playing against experienced rugby players . . . it was awesome.”

Kolinisau said he took inspiration from the regular halftime words during the club season from Valley forwards coach Shane Carter.

“I learned that having the right attitude and mindset . . . you’ll go further with anything in life.

“Another one is you won’t achieve anything great without enthusiasm.”

It was a fourth straight year in the Heartland XV for North Otago centurion Darling, who also earned selection in 2012 and 2013.

“It’s an awesome experience in terms of being able to go into a professional environment and train with top-quality coaches and players,” Darling said.

“One of the best things about it is you get to meet new people and they become close friends.”

Darling had the added honour this time of being a team vice-captain.