Rugby: United Heartland sacrifices for greater good of NZ Rugby

The provinces that make up the Heartland Championship sacrificed themselves for the good of New Zealand Rugby, it's been revealed.

There will be no action for the country's smallest unions this year and it's been a tough pill to swallow for those involved at the grassroots level of the game.

When it looked like his career was done, former All Black Zac Guildford found a lifeline in the regions.

"It's sad," Guildford told Newshub. "I played two years of Heartland myself and I know how much it means to people in those provinces."

The 2011 World Cup winner grew up in rural Greytown and Heartland rugby's always been close to his heart.

"My dad played for Wairarapa… I used to go along to a few of their games and remember them playing against France in '94."

Guildford followed in his father's footsteps, going on to represent Wairarapa Bush in 2016, and when the 31 year-old hurried home from a stint in France, Ngati Porou East Coast came calling.

"It was cool… like a really close-knit family.

"In an actual professional sense, playing for a Super Rugby team, you don't actually become as close as you do with the players."

East Coast is New Zealand's smallest provincial rugby union.

Chief executive Cushla Tangaere-Manuel came up with the big call, suggesting to NZ Rugby that it canned the championship for the year.

"We didn't expect to have to make this call so quickly," Tangaere-Manuel told Newshub.  

"But with the financial announcements New Zealand Rugby are making, obviously we had to have a think about what would go... something had to give."

NZR is saving $20 million by cutting all provincial rugby below the Mitre 10 and Farah Palmer Cups in 2020.

Neither the Lochore or Meads Cups will be contested in 2020.
Neither the Lochore or Meads Cups will be contested in 2020. Photo credit: Photosport

But the money saved by axing the Heartland competition is just a fraction of that.

"We'll save in excess of $2 million across Heartland and that's just our spend," Tangaere-Manuel added. "That's not counting what New Zealand Rugby would spend on flights, officials etc."

And even though Heartland isn't the problem, North Otago boss Colin Jackson's happy to be part of the solution.

"I think we've all got to pull together in these tough times and this is Heartland's way of doing it," said Jackson.

With an attitude like that, you won't count Heartland rugby out for long.

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