The Heartland Championship is a semi-professional New Zealand provincial rugby competition, known for sponsorship reasons as the Bunnings Warehouse Heartland Championship, it is a domestic rugby union competition in New Zealand.
It was founded in 2006 as one of two successor competitions to the country’s former domestic competition, the National Provincial Championship (NPC).
The country’s 27 provincial teams were split into two separate competitions. Thirteen of the original teams, plus one merged side created from two other teams, entered the new top-level professional competition, the Air New Zealand Cup.
The remaining 12 sides from outside the main centers of New Zealand entered the new Heartland Championship, whose teams contest two distinct trophies, both named after legendary New Zealand players:
- The Meads Cup, the more prestigious trophy, named after Sir Colin Meads.
- The Lochore Cup, named after Sir Brian Lochore.
- Bill Osborne Taonga , named after Bill Osborne.
- Ian Kirkpatrick Medal from 2022
A new challenger trophy for the Bunnings Warehouse Heartland Championship teams will be unveiled in Gisborne this Sunday where Poverty Bay and Mid-Canterbury will contest the Bill Osborne Taonga for the first time during the tournament’s fifth and sixth playoff.
Rugby’s newest taonga, which will be governed by similar rules as the famous Ranfurly Shield, is an acknowledgement of current NZR President Bill Osborne (Te Āti Haunui-a-Pāpārangi), a player who emerged from Whanganui to play 48 matches including 16 Tests and become one of the All Blacks finest midfielders during a career that stretched from 1975-1982.
And from 2022, the Bunnings Warehouse Heartland Championship Player of the Year award will become the Ian Kirkpatrick Medal in recognition of the legendary former All Blacks Captain, loose forward and current NZR Patron.
Kirkpatrick, who played 113 matches including 39 Tests for the All Blacks, leading the team on 43 occasions, also got his representative rugby start with a Heartland Union, for the combined Poverty Bay-Ngāti Porou East Coast side after leaving Auckland’s Kings College.
Both men expressed their pride and gratitude in being recognised by rugby’s Heartland unions.
“You never forget your roots and where it all started,” Kirkpatrick said. “To have my name attached to the Heartland Player of the Year award from 2022 is a great honour and something I am truly humbled by. Heartland rugby remains an integral part of our game, its pathways and its deep connection to rural New Zealand.”
Kirkpatrick will be on hand in Gisborne to watch Poverty Bay play this weekend for the Bill Osborne Taonga, named after his great friend and former All Black teammate, who will be following the match from Europe where he is representing NZR during the All Blacks Tudor Northern Tour.
“It is a great honour to be recognised with a taonga which represents my deep connection with rugby, my province Whanganui, and to all 12 of our Heartland unions,” Osborne said. “It’s a special honour to represent your whēnua and your community in rural New Zealand. I think Jason and Bill have instilled real mana into the design of the taonga and I’m sure it will be fought for and valued in the true spirit of Heartland Championship rugby.”
The Heartland Championship is held annually, and starts in August. Rugby teams from 12 provincial unions compete.
- 4 points for a win
- 2 points for a draw
- 0 points for a loss
- 1 bonus point for scoring 4 or more tries, regardless of the final result
- 1 bonus point for a loss by 7 points or less
Points scored reverted back to normal scoring in 2019 after trialing a different system in 2018
- Try = 5 points
- Penalty Try = 7 points (no conversion attempt required)
- Conversion = 2 points
- Penalty goal = 3 points
- Dropped goal = 3 points
Prior to 2011
Prior to the 2011 Competition, the tournament was conducted in three rounds. This was similar to the structure of the 2006 Air New Zealand Cup, but that competition collapsed its first two phases into one effective in 2007. At the start of Round One, the 12 teams would split into seeded pools of six teams each, Pool A and Pool B. Seedings were also based on positions in the previous year’s competition. During Round One, each team would play the other teams in its pool once. All teams would have either two or three home fixtures, with the three highest seeds in each pool at the start of the season receiving the extra home fixture.
All teams would advance to Round Two. The top three teams in each pool advance to the Meads Cup, while the bottom three teams enter the Lochore Cup.
Round two saw each team in both the Meads and Lochore Cups playing the three teams that it did not play during Round One. The three teams with the most competition points in Round One would play two home fixtures and one away, while the other three teams would play one home fixture and two away.
All competition points from Round One carried over to Round Two, and the competition points earned in both rounds determined the teams that advanced to the semifinals of each Cup in Round Three. The top four teams in the Meads and Lochore Cup competitions at the end of Round Two advanced to the semifinals.
This round sees the 12 teams playing 8 games each. 1st to 4th on the ladder at the end of the 8 weeks will play off for the Meads Cup, while 5th to 8th play off for the Lochore Cup.
The Meads and Lochore Cup winners are both determined in four-team single-elimination tournaments. The semifinal match-ups are seeded 1-4 and 2-3, with the higher seed receiving home field advantage. The highest surviving seed hosts each Cup final.
Heartland Championship teams
A map of current NZRU union boundaries, including teams competing in both the Mitre10 Cup and Heartland Championship
The Heartland Championship is contested by the following teams:
|Province||Investec Super Rugby Partner||Hometown|
Prior to 2006, East Coast, North Otago, Poverty Bay and Wanganui competed in Division Two of the NPC, alongside Counties-Manukau, Hawke’s Bay, Manawatu, Nelson Bays and Marlborough (all promoted to the Air New Zealand Cup, Nelson Bays and Marlborough merging to form Tasman). The remaining teams competed in Division Three of the NPC.
|Year||Meads Cup Winner||Lochore Cup Winner||Bill Osborne Taonga|
|2006||Wairarapa Bush||Poverty Bay||—|
|2007||North Otago||Poverty Bay||—|
|2010||North Otago||Wairarapa Bush||—|
|2013||Mid Canterbury||South Canterbury||—|
|2019||North Otago||South Canterbury||—|
|2020||No Competition||due to Covid-19||—|
|2021||South Canterbury||Wanganui||Poverty Bay|
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