The black jersey awaits: Five Whanganui players in NZ Heartland XV

By Jared Smith

Steelform Whanganui continues their tradition of strong representation in the NZ Heartland XV with five players named in the 23-man squad to play NZ Barbarians on December 5.

In addition, two more are currently in the group of seven players on standby as non-travelling reserves.

Whanganui skipper Campbell Hart, halfback Lindsay Horrocks, first-five Craig Clare, and midfielder Timoci Seruwalu all played in the 2019 NZ Heartland XV, with no games in 2020 due to Covid.

TAUPO, NEW ZEALAND – NOVEMBER 01: Craig Clare of Heartland XV is tackled during the match between Heartland XV and Fiji XV on November 1, 2018 in Taupo, New Zealand. (Photo by Kerry Marshall/Getty Images)

Prop Hadlee Hay-Horton is in line to make his debut should his knee recover.

Lock Josh Lane and first-five Dane Whale are in the standby group.

New head coach Nigel Walsh, his Whanganui assistant Jason Hamlin and the selectors have chosen a side weighted towards the six teams who made trophy games this weekend, with only three players (two East Coast, one Horowhenua-Kapiti) not taking part.

After their unbeaten season to host the Meads Cup final, the highest represented union is from Walsh’s own team South Canterbury with six, while Mid Canterbury have four, Meads finalists Thames Valley two, Lochore finalists North Otago two, and Poverty Bay one.

With physical games expected, Whanganui coach Jason Caskey hoped circumstances might yet allow Lane and Whale to pull on the black jumper.

“Hopefully, might ease them into the squad. They’re both two guys that really deserve a crack at it.

“Dane’s been pretty consistent for most of the year.

“It’s a pity that Jamie [Hughes] didn’t make it.”

Hughes played his 50th game for Whanganui in the win over Thames Valley, but the selectors have gone with South Canterbury’s Nick Strachan as the specialist open side flanker.

Unless Covid-19 restricted, the squad will assemble in Tāupo on December 2 for a five-day camp.

Walsh said the build-up will have an off field focus to allow the players to come together.

“We obviously don’t have a lot of time to prepare so it’ll be about building culture, morale and team atmosphere.

“Apart from that we’ll focus on our connection work and getting our phase plays and structures right.”

The game will be at Owen Delany Park on December 5 at 2pm, live on Sky Sport.

The squad is:

Forwards: Stefan Destounis (Poverty Bay), Tokomaata Fakatava (South Canterbury), Hone Haerewa (East Coast), Campbell Hart (Whanganui), Hadlee Hay-Horton (Whanganui), Seta Koroitamana (Mid Canterbury), Connor McVerry (Thames Valley), Manasa Bari Samo (Mid Canterbury), Nick Strachan (South Canterbury), Sam Sturgess (North Otago), Vaka Taelega (South Canterbury), Sam Van der Valk (Thames Valley), Adam Williamson (Mid Canterbury).

Backs: Sireli Buliruarua (South Canterbury), Craig Clare (Whanganui), Paula Fifita (South Canterbury), Te Rangi Fraser (East Coast), Lindsay Horrocks (Whanganui), Timoci Seruwalu (Whanganui), Hayden Todd (North Otago), Lennix Tovo (Horowhenua Kapiti), Raitube Vasurakuta (Mid Canterbury), William Wright (South Canterbury).

Non-travelling reserves – Forwards: Callum Burrell (Mid Canterbury), Te Huia Kutia (Thames Valley), Josh Lane (Whanganui), Loni Toumohuni (South Canterbury). Backs: Sam Parkes (East Coast), Zac Saunders (South Canterbury), Dane Whale (Whanganui).