Former England scrumhalf Willi Heinz makes his NPC return

Former England scrumhalf Willi Heinz makes his NPC return

Former England scrumhalf Willi Heinz makes his return to provincial rugby this weekend after being named on the Canterbury bench to face Manawatu in their NPC season opener.

Heinz left the Crusaders in 2015 and last featured in the NPC the year prior. He joined Gloucester in 2015 and spent six years at the club making over 100 appearances for the Club, he made the switch to Worcester Warriors in 2020 before returning to New Zealand this year.

He earned selection for England in 2019 and made his test debut against Wales ahead of the World Cup in starting line up. He went onto making his 9 appearances for England and featured in the semi-final victory over New Zealand before an injury ruled him out of the final.

Also making his return to NPC rugby is All Black test centurion Owen Franks. A double World Cup winning All Black Franks will don the Canterbury jersey for the first time in three years.

 WHANGAREI, NEW ZEALAND - SEPTEMBER 13: Owen Franks of Canterbury in action during the round 6 Mitre 10 Cup match between Northland and Canterbury at Semenoff Stadium on September 13, 2019 in Whangarei, New Zealand. (Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

The 108-test prop is back in the red-and-black front row after leaving for English club Northampton Saints in 2019.

Canterbury’s new head coach Marty Bourke welcomed the return of Franks.

“With Fletcher[(Newell] called into the ABs and a couple of injuries, we were on the lookout for another prop, so to have a guy like Owey available is fantastic,’’ Bourke said.

“He still has ambitions of his own, so if we’re able to provide that opportunity, then that’s really exciting.’’

After sitting out last year’s campaign with injuries, Tom Christie and Cullen Grace are both looking to go up a gear following strong Super Rugby seasons with the Crusaders, reconnecting to form the loose forward trio with New Brighton’s Billy Harmon (Highlanders}, who will captain the side on Friday.

 AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - JUNE 18: Cullen Grace of the Crusaders attempts to evade AJ Lam of the Blues during the 2022 Super Rugby Pacific Final match between the Blues and the Crusaders at Eden Park on June 18, 2022 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Former Christ College captains Sam Darry and Zach Gallagher form the base of the engine room, with Brodie McAlister, Finlay Brewis and Owen Franks up front.

In the back three George Bridge, Manasa Mataele and Chay Fihaki re-connecting in the back three to take on the Turbos

Mitchell Drummond partners Fergus Burke in the halfbacks and Alex Harford will come off the bench along with Heinz.

Continuing their progression through the Canterbury rugby pathway, St Andrew’s Old Boy Seb Calder and Lincoln High’s Wil Gualter are the two debutants in Round 1, making their first NPC appearances for their home province.

Team to play Manawatu on Friday.


  1. Finlay Brewis 

  1. Brodie McAlister 

  1. Owen Franks 

  1. Sam Darry 

  1. Zach Gallagher 

  1. Billy Harmon © 

  1. Tom Christie 

  1. Cullen Grace 

  1. Mitchell Drummond 

  1. Fergus Burke 

  1. George Bridge 

  1. Rameka Poihipi 

  1. Dallas McLeod 

  1. Manasa Mataele 

  1. Chay Fihaki 

  1. Shilo Klein 

  1. Daniel Lienert-Brown 

  1. Seb Calder* 

  1. Dominic Gardiner 

  1. Corey Kellow 

  1. Willi Heinz 

  1. Alex Harford 

  1. Wil Gualter* 

*denotes Canterbury debut 

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