NAMIBIAN rugby world cup player David Philander is close to joining the Poverty Bay Heartland squad.
The 25-year-old, 1.71-metre, 87-kilogram utility back is expected to arrive in Gisborne within the next two weeks.
“The only issue standing in his way is the work visa stamp in his passport,” Poverty Bay Rugby Football Union chief executive Doug Wilcox said.
“Both the union and David have been communicating with Immigration NZ in Pretoria to set this in place and we are confident he will get here.
“We have David, his wife Leilani and baby Jose booked on flights in two weeks with the freedom to change these if the visa is further delayed.”
Wilcox said that Philander was so keen to get here that he and Leilani resigned from their jobs five weeks ago.
“They have sold all their furniture and moved out of their home, and their families have had a farewell celebration for them.
“They are fully committed to getting to Gisborne.
“David intends to be in New Zealand for two and a half years. If he follows this through, at the end of his work visa, he would have an opportunity to apply for residency. It’s his dream to play rugby in New Zealand.
Bay coach Grainger Heikell said that getting a player of the calibre of Philander was a huge boost for the squad.
“Traditionally we have tried to give local players the chance to play rep rugby but when a player like David wants to come here, you don’t say no,” Heikell said.
“The fact that he can play fullback, wing or centre adds to the value he brings to the squad.
“Financially we are not in the same position as some of the bigger unions so we have to import wisely.
“We have a good core of senior players but there are one or two gaps that might need filling between now and the start of the championship.”
Philander, who made his international debut against Senegal in 2008, has played 11 times for his country,
Barring injury, his first match for the Bay will be against the New Zealand Army at Rugby Park on August 19.
“New Zealand Army head coach Tim Kareko wanted a warm-up match against a Heartland provincial union to assist in their build-up for the NZ Defence Forces national tournament,” Heikell said.
“Tim will make his selection following a trial tournament, and this will be their first match after that.
“We’re expecting a tough game.”
“The New Zealand Army team have played in transtasman Defence Force tournaments in the past and won,” Poverty Bay coach Grainger Heikell said.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to test ourselves a week before we start the Heartland Championships. The week before the Army game we play Wairarapa Bush here in the annual Jeremy David Memorial match.
“Last year we had only one pre-season game and were underdone going into the competition.”
The Bay — who won the Lochore Cup (bottom six) last year — start their Heartland campaign with an away match against Horowhenua Kapiti.
“They finished bottom last year but have a new coaching staff and a pro-active executive officer so we’re not sure what to expect,” Heikell said.
“Then we’re at home to Wairarapa Bush before we go away to Wanganui (Meads Cup, top-six champions).
“We’ve got West Coast at home the following week and with Nathan Mauger in charge down there I’m sure they’ll have a few Canterbury players in their squad.”
Another tough away trip — the longest in the competition — to Oamaru is next on the agenda.
“We play North Otago, traditionally one of the top sides, before a home game against South Canterbury.
“We’re away to Thames Valley and then finish with a home game against the East Coast.
“It’s a tough draw but there’s no point in moaning about it. It is what it is.”
Heikell has had his squad training twice a week since they beat the Coast on Queen’s Birthday weekend.
“We get a good core group turning up on Monday and Wednesday nights and when I watch the club games I can see players who have been putting the work in at training — Sione Tupa, Jason Tuapawa and Campbell Chrisp, in particular.”
Unfortunately for Heikell, he could lose Ngatapa second five-eighth Josh McAtamney, who has been a revelation this season, his first in the district.
McAtamney, who made his debut for the Bay against the Coast, has a possible collarbone fracture.
“Josh will see a specialist this week and we’ll know more then, fingers crossed.”