The Heartland XV proved too strong for the New Zealand Defence Forces in a 60-34 in Methven on Tuesday.
The squad features a good cross-section of players from across the Heartland Championship with representatives from nine sides including three players, Ralph Darling, Lemi Masoe and Eric Duff from Meads Cup Finalists North Otago, and three players from winners Mid Canterbury. The squad also features 10 debutants in the Heartland XV black jersey.
Chris Talanoa was not available for selection following an injury picked up before the final but the North Otago contingent more than held their own.
The Heartland XV took an 11-point advantage in to the break before the Defence Forces clawed their way back into contention at 34-34 with just over 20 minutes from full time.
The Forces’ comeback was eventually smothered with tries from Jon Dampney, Lasa Ulukuta, TK Moeke and Dwayne Burrows.
Head coach Kurt McQuilkin (King Country) said his team would now be looking forward to locking horns with New Zealand Marist in Timaru on Saturday and praised the North Otago players for their impressive displays.
“Ralph performed really well. He had a really good tidy game,” he said.
“We performed well in the first 20 minutes and the last 20 but they came back in the middle.
“Lemi (Masoe) came on late in the second half at 13 and played really well. He’s more than likely to play a part on Saturday.
“We just went off the boil a little bit but came back. I think we scored four tries in the last 20 minutes but we’re really looking forward to it (Saturday). Marist will be a tough game, no disrespect to the Defence Forces but Marist will be our big test but the guys are up for it.”
New Zealand Rugby chairman Mike Eagle said donning the Heartland jersey was an honour and expected both fixtures to prove highly competitive.
“For many players, pulling on the coveted Heartland XV black jersey is a huge achievement in their rugby careers and a truly special experience.
“Traditionally, matches against New Zealand Defence and New Zealand Marist sides have been very competitive, providing a great showcase for some of the most impressive players of the Heartland Championship.”
NZ Heartland XV 60 (Riki Waitoa, Ralph Darling, Waimotu Craft-Chemis 2, Jon Dampney, Lasa Ulukuta, TK Moeke, Dwayne Burrows tries; Tim Priest 2 pen 4 con, Glen Walters 3 con) NZ Defence Forces 34 (Tainui Woodmass, Cam Wright, Rupert Magele, Dane Edge, Grant Robson tries; Marcus Speck 1 pen 3 con). HT: 31-20.
NZ Heartland XV v NZ Marist, Timaru, Alpine Energy Stadium, kick-off 2.30pm.