Heartland Championship fans will be in for a treat this upcoming season with a number of big names set to turn out alongside provincial stalwarts for another exciting edition of the competition.
Former All Blacks Piri Weepu, Alby Mathewson and Regan King have been named to play for Wairarapa Bush, King Country and Mid Canterbury respectively, bringing international experience to the Heartland Championship.
New Zealand Rugby’s Head of Provincial Union Rugby Steve Lancaster said the inclusion of these players will add another layer of interest to a competition that holds a special place in the rugby calendar.
“The Mitre 10 Cup Heartland Championship continues to be a great competition that showcases the depth and breadth of rugby in our country. Year in and year out we are treated to fantastic rugby from these teams and 2017 will be no different,” said Lancaster.
“It’s the passion and dedication of these players, coaches, management teams and supporters that speaks volumes about our game. I love watching this rugby,” he said.
Wanganui will be out to defend their Meads Cup title and are coming off the back of a record breaking season; going unbeaten in 2016 and scoring the most points in one season in the history of the competition.
They’ll kick off their title defence by hosting their 2016 semi-final opponents Wairarapa Bush.
The 2016 Lochore Cup winners North Otago will travel up to Horowhenua-Kapiti for their opening match, the two teams settling for a draw in their last encounter.
Other first round fixtures see East Coast host Thames Valley, King Country play West Coast, Mid Canterbury up against Poverty Bay and a South Island battle between Buller and South Canterbury.
All first round matches will see a moments silence observed to honour the passing of Heartland Rugby’s most prolific export and trophy name-sake Sir Colin Meads.
Players will be vying to impress selectors to earn a place in the New Zealand Heartland XV, who will be playing their traditional fixture against New Zealand Marist on 5th November.
The Heartland XV, in their quest to retain the MacCrae Cup, will again be coached by South Canterbury’s Barry Matthews with Craig Scanlon, co-Coach of the Buller team who played in last year’s Meads Cup final, appointed as Assistant Coach.
Week One Preview
BULLER V SOUTH CANTERBURY
Played: 32, 1925-2016 | Buller wins: 9 | South Canterbury wins: 23
|EAST COAST v THAMES VALLEY
Saturday 26 August, 2.30pm at Whakarua Park, Ruatoria
Played: 43, 1931-2016 | East Coast wins: 14 | Thames Valley wins: 25 | Draws: 4
|HOROWHENUA KAPITI v NORTH OTAGO
Saturday 26 August, 2.30pm at Levin Domain, Levin
Played: 31, 1955-2016 | Horowhenua Kapiti wins: 16 | North Otago wins: 14 | Draws: 1
|KING COUNTRY v WEST COAST
Saturday 26 August, 2.30pm at Owen Delany Park, Taupo
Played: 14, 1985-2015 | King Country wins: 8 | West Coast wins: 6
|MID CANTERBURY v POVERTY BAY
Saturday 26 August, 2.30pm at Ashburton Showground, Ashburton
Played: 16, 1988-2015 | Mid Canterbury wins: 8 | Poverty Bay wins: 8
|WANGANUI v WAIRARAPA BUSH
Saturday 26 August, 2.30pm at Cooks Gardens, Wanganui
Played: 40 ,1971-2016 | Wanganui wins: 24 | Wairarapa Bush wins: 16
Roll of Honour
Meads Cup ~ Lochore Cup
2006 Wairarapa Bush ~ Poverty Bay
2007 North Otago ~ Poverty Bay
2008 Wanganui ~ Poverty Bay
2009 Wanganui ~ North Otago
2010 North Otago ~ Wairarapa Bush
2011 Wanganui ~ Poverty Bay
2012 East Coast ~ Buller
2013 Mid Canterbury ~ South Canterbury
2014 Mid Canterbury ~ Wanganui
2015 Wanganui ~ King Country
2016 Wanganui ~ North Otago