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Heartland XV returns with Walsh leading the way

New Zealand’s best players from Heartland rugby will have the opportunity to don the black jersey for Heartland XV under the leadership of Nigel Walsh and newly appointed Assistant Coach Miah Nikora.

Walsh will make his third-straight appearance as Heartland XV Head Coach (2021, 2022 and 2023), following his success as Head Coach for South Canterbury, with back-to-back titles of the Bunnings Warehouse Heartland Championship.

Nikora proudly hails from Poverty Bay Rugby Football Union where his coaching journey began as Assistant Coach in 2019. He was then exposed to the Heartland XV environment as a coach observer in 2021 and since 2022 has been Head Coach of the Poverty Bay side.  

Walsh expressed his excitement towards his reappointment as Heartland XV Head Coach. 

“It’s another great privilege to represent the Heartland provinces and I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve had a bit to do with Miah over the past couple of years, particularly when he was onboard as a coach observer. Miah brought a lot to the table and brings a lot to the game. I’m looking forward to working with him and on our relationship going forward,” Walsh said.

Nikora saw Hearltand XV as a chance to challenge himself and progress further in coaching.

“I thought I’d put my hat in the ring again this year and I’m really proud to get the nod as Assistant Coach. Nigel is a guy that has a lot of mana and respect within the Heartland unions. I love the way he operates, he’s personable, and I can’t wait to work with and under him in this campaign,” Nikora said.

The Heartland XV will see a two-game series played against Canterbury Development on November 1 in Methven, followed by the NZ Barbarians on November 4 in Oamaru with both kick-off times to be confirmed at a later date.

Pete White, NZ Barbarians Club Captain, said the NZ Barbarians are proud supporters of grassroots rugby and see this as an opportunity to provide Heartland XV a match against a quality opposition.

“It’s also an awesome development opportunity for our NPC players to be seen and considered for higher honours including Super Rugby contracts,” White said.

“We’ve got a nice mix of Super Rugby and NPC coaches from the South Island headed by Tom Donnelly and we look to build a great team culture. We’re excited to see another free-running game and to watch some good rugby from both Heartland XV and the Barbarians.”

Tony Smail, Canterbury Rugby Football Union Chief Executive Officer, is pleased to provide an opposition for the Heartland XV in a development form.

“This campaign provides a great opportunity for our players and coaching staff to experience another level of representative rugby against players of quality, and experience from the Heartland Provincial Unions.”

Mike Hester, NZR’s Participation Development Manager, said after the disrutpion of COVID-19 in previous years it’s great to continue rebuildling the Heartland XV programme.

“It has been challenging trying to re-establish the programme over the past few years but with the support of Canterbury Rugby Football Union and the NZ Barbarians, we have been able to construct a meaningful domestic campaign in 2023,” Hester said.

The Heartland XV playing squad will be announced following Round 8 of the Bunnings Heartland Championship 2023.

Hearltand XV Management
Head Coach: Nigel Walsh
Assistant Coach: Miah Nikora
Team Manager: Thomas Zimmerman 

Heartland XV Schedule (Kick-off times to be confirmed)
Heartland XV v Canterbury Development, Wednesday 1 November, Methven
Heartland XV v NZ Barbarians, Saturday 4 November, Oamaru