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Exciting change . . . Southern Field Days Days head rugby organiser Simon Vallely (left) and chairman Warren Ross are looking forward to the rugby match between a Southland Invitational side and Nadroga, a provincial team from Fiji which will be played at the event next February. PHOTO: KAYLA HODGE

The Highlanders are out but Fiji is in.

Fijian provincial rugby team Nadroga will play a Rugby Southland invitational side at Southern Field Days next year.

Nadroga is Fiji’s most successful provincial team, winning the premier Farebrother-Sullivan Cup, the equivalent of the Ranfurly Shield, a record 81 times.

Rugby Southland’s team would be made up of contracted Stags players, high-performance players and up-and-coming players.

The match replaces the Highlanders and Crusaders pre-season game from the last two events.

Field Days chairman Warren Ross said they were unable to play due to Super Rugby starting earlier.

“The contract was only for two years and then it was up for negotiation but because of the earlier start .. we got our thinking caps on,” Ross said.

The idea was sparked through a conversation with friend Jay Whyte two years ago.

“He’s associated with Nadroga and said if the opportunity ever arose that they could bring a team out, to let him know.”

Head rugby organiser Simon Vallely said Rugby Southland was “keen as anything to play”.

“I’m excited about grass-roots rugby, family orientated.

“Fiji will be playing a different style of rugby from what we’re used to here and they’re also physically really big,” Vallely said.

Nadroga players and support staff would be in the region for five days and intend to visit schools and rugby clubs during their visit.

Rugby Southland marketing co-ordinator Jack King said it was a “no-brainer” to field a team.

“It was quite a nice surprise for them to come to us and give us the opportunity to play.

“That time of the year we struggle for pre season and this is a good opportunity for us to find where we are at.”

Southland Stags coaching staff, including new coach Dale MacLeod, would be at the helm of the team, he said.

He believed it was the first proper match Southland had played against an island team.

Rugby Southland has strong connections with Fijian rugby, which would benefit from this game.

“We have a big community, lots of players have relations and a few of them have come to play for clubs – it’s a close association.”

He hoped the Southland community supports the match-up.

“I know there’s been Super Rugby before but people should embrace it.”

  • Tickets to the game go on sale online on December 16. Adults can bring one child under 16 for free, with their ticket.