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Rearranged Heartland fixtures set out

RUGBY

It’s on.

The Bunnings Warehouse Heartland Championship will start on Saturday next week and rugby fans nationwide won’t miss a game.

New Zealand Rugby has confirmed that the round robin will run in full from September 18, picking up from Week 5 of the original draw.

Games 1 to 4 are to follow Game 8, with the finals of both the Meads Cup and Lochore Cup to follow.

Ngati Porou East Coast’s opening game pits their Sky Blues against North Otago in Oamaru on September 18.

A week later, the Coast will host Thames Valley at Enterprise Cars Whakarua Park in Ruatoria, then take on Horowhenua-Kapiti at Otaki Domain before what was originally to have been Game 8 — the clash with South Canterbury in Ruatoria.

On October 16, the Coast will play Buller at Ruatoria, and the following Saturday, West Coast in Greymouth.

On October 30, NPEC face Civil Project Solutions Poverty Bay in Gisborne. They last met on Queen’s Birthday Weekend, when the Coast won 28-21 at Whakarua Park. It was the Sky Blues’ first win in the local derby for five years.

The Hosea Gear-coached Coast’s last round-robin game is against Wairarapa-Bush in Masterton on November 6. All Black No. 1079 and his charges are raring to go in nine days’ time.

“We’re all excited and the boys have worked pretty hard,” second-year coach Gear said.

“I’ll see just how hard when we do our fitness test this Saturday.

“My immediate priority is to get the boys used to contact again, and brush up on their understanding of our structures.”

Tuned in to Gear’s requirements will be the Coast’s captain and leader by example, 2019 Heartland 15 back-row forward Hone Haerewa.

“It’s been a bit hard not knowing where we were heading in terms of our competition, but awesome to look to a start date,” Haerewa said.

“The result we were all hoping for was to get back on the field and play rugby again.

“At a personal level, I can’t wait. I was battling with a few niggles, but lockdown gave me the time to get my body right. I’m fizzing to get out there.”

New East Coast chairman Val Morrison said New Zealand Rugby’s confirmation of play generated a huge lift in community spirit.

“Here we have an overwhelming feeling of relief that some semblance of normality has returned,” Morrison said.

“Being able to watch or take part in some sort of live activity with other people — for example, play or watch rugby — beats live feeds and zooms any day. And I think the older people will be over the moon that the kids are now able to get out of the house.”

• Poverty Bay will start their Heartland campaign with a game against Whanganui at Cooks Gardens on September 18.

The Bay will then be at home for the following two games, against Buller and West Coast.

Game 4 will be against North Otago in Oamaru. In Week 5 the Bay will host King Country, then play Mid-Canterbury in Ashburton.

Next comes the local derby with Ngati Porou East Coast, in Gisborne on October 30.

Poverty Bay will conclude their round-robin commitments against Horowhenua-Kapiti in Gisborne on November 6.