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Heartland pair ready to take on NZ Barbarians

RUGBY by Ben O’Brien-Leaf
2020 PLAYER OF THE YEAR: On loan from North Harbour Ngarohi McGarvey-Black (left) takes a high ball. He has been nominated for the Richard Crawshaw Memorial Sevens Player of the Year. File picture.
CAPTAIN FANTASTIC: Ngati Porou East Coast skipper Hone Haerewa (with ball) is in the Heartland team starting 15 for tomorrow's clash with the NZ Barbarians. He is also a finalist for Heartland Player of the Year at the 2021 NZ Rugby Awards, alongside Poverty Bay's Stefan Destounis.

Tomorrow will be big and this Wednesday even bigger.

Ngati Porou East Coast captain Hone Haerewa has been named to start at blindside flanker for the New Zealand Heartland 15 against the NZ Barbarians under Wales and British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland at Owen Delany Park in Taupo tomorrow.

Openside flanker Stefan Destounis and his Poverty Bay Weka teammate and tighthead prop James Higgins will come off the reserves bench.

Haerewa and Destounis have also been nominated to be the Heartland Championship Player of the Year at the New Zealand Rugby Awards on Wednesday.

NPEC’s North Harbour loan player Ngarohi McGarvey-Black — an Olympian and the NZ Rugby Players Association Players’ Player of the Year in 2020 — has been nominated for the Richard Crawshaw Memorial All Black Sevens Player of the Year.

Former All Black and NPEC head coach Hosea Gear respects his second-year Coast skipper Haerewa mightily as a man and a player.

“Hone’s been outstanding as a player for at least two years now,” Gear said. “He’s only getting better and he’s a great man and leader. He has a solid foundation in his values and that transfers to his play on the field. It’s hard to find any faults in his game.”

Gear also extolled Destounis’ virtues.

“Stefan too deserves his nomination. He’s been one of the stand-out players in the Heartland Championship all season and he’s by far the best fetcher in the competition. He’s a good man and a great guy off the field.

“It’s awesome that three players from East Coast and Poverty Bay were nominated.”

South Canterbury halfback Willie Wright is the third finalist for Heartland Player of the Year.

Haerewa’s humility is typical of the Coast and Bay finalists.

“I’m very excited to go up against quality players in the NZ Barbarians team. It’s an awesome opportunity for us to test ourselves and play in front of prestigious coaches. I’m looking forward to the occasion.”

Poverty Bay co-coach Miah Nikora spoke about what Destounis and Higgins brought to the Bay set-up.

“Co-coach Tom Cairns and I had plenty of dialogue with the Heartland 15 management during the season and while they hadn’t heard much of Stefan previously, his exceptional performances and consistency week-in, week-out caught their attention, and couldn’t be ignored when it came to selecting the squad.

This is a massive achievement for Stefan. His contribution for us this season was huge. He often led the tackle count, turnover count and on attack had a never-say-die attitude with ball in hand. The standard he played at week-in, week-out was outstanding.”

James grew as a player as the Heartland season went on. In the last four games, his performances really caught the eye. His scrummaging was excellent and he also carried the ball powerfully.”

“I’m super proud to represent the Heartland 15. From playing little to no rugby before the start of the competition, to now being selected for this squad is definitely a surprise but I’m really grateful for all of the opportunities I’ve been given this year.”

Nigel Walsh, head coach of both the Heartland 15 and Meads Cup champions South Canterbury, knows he has three gold nuggets in Haerewa, Destounis and Higgins.

“They’ve been fantastic and contributed a lot on and off the field. Hone’s been here before, has that experience and knows what it’s about, what’s required. He’s s a leader in our group and brings a lot of mana with him.

Stefan’s learning a lot and pushing hard, in everything we do, to make sure he’s on target for the team,” said former front-rower Walsh, who has also enjoyed scrum anchor Higgins’ input by example hugely.

“He is one very quiet man but he’s fitted in with the boys and he’s going well.”

Live coverage of the Heartland 15-NZ Barbarians game starts at 2pm tomorrow on Sky Sport 1. Coverage of the ASB Rugby Awards is from 8pm on Sky Sport 1 on Wednesday, December 15.