Heartland Championship Explained
The Pink Batts Heartland Championship is the second tier (after the ITM Cup) of New Zealand's domestic competition, featuring 12 provincial unions.
In 2006 the competition was founded along with the ITM Cup to replace the three divisions in the National Provincial Championship.
Prior to 2011 the tournament was played over three rounds, but the first two rounds of play were merged into one to allow for New Zealand's hosting of the Rugby World Cup, and that format will enter it's third year in 2013.
The first of two rounds (the competition progresses over weeks, not rounds) sees each team plays eight of the other 11 teams in the first round over an eight week period (originally, the sides would be split into two groups based on seedings from the previous year's competition).
The top eight then progress to the second round of the Pink Batts Heartland Championship, where teams ranked one to four play for the Meads Cup - named after Sir Colin Earl Meads, rated as New Zealand's player of the century, with 'Pinetree' playing 55 Tests over a legendary international career from 1957 to 1971.
Sides ranked five to eight contest the Lochore Cup - in honour of Sir Brian James Lochore, who was All Blacks captain for 18 of his 25 Tests, and coach of New Zealand when they went on to win the inaugural World Cup in 1987.
All competition points from Round One carry over to Round Two, and the competition points earned in both rounds determine the teams that advance to the semifinals of each Cup, with the top four teams in the Meads and Lochore Cup competitions advancing to the semifinals.
Outside of the competition the provinces are granted the opportunity to take part in the first Ranfurly Shield Challenges, taking on the current holder of the Log o'Wood before the ITM Cup and Pink Batts Heartland Championship kicks off.
This year Waikato, the holders, defeated Horowhenua-Kapiti 85-0 and East Coast 65-10.