Peter is a sports writer at the Bay of Plenty Times

Rugby: NZ U20 put to test by local reps

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BOP Emerging Players first-five Dan Hollinshead takes a tackle against the NZ Under-20 squad at Blake Park yesterday. Photo / John Borren
BOP Emerging Players first-five Dan Hollinshead takes a tackle against the NZ Under-20 squad at Blake Park yesterday. Photo / John Borren

The New Zealand Under-20 squad will leave for England tonight in good heart after a competitive tussle with an Emerging Bay of Plenty XV at Blake Park yesterday.

The match was the culmination of a five-day camp at Mount Maunganui before they fly out of Auckland en route to Manchester to try to defend their World Rugby Under-20 World Championship title.

The 35-21 victory was satisfying for New Zealand coach Scott Robertson, particularly after an excellent first half performance from the young Bay players had the game tied up 14-14 at the break.

"They put out a pretty tough squad with a good mix from Super to Mitre 10 level to some club players," Robertson said.

"With the rain it probably evened the contest for openness and we certainly found out about the scrums. There were about 1000 of them."

Robertson, who grew up in Tay St and is one of Mount Maunganui College's two All Blacks, said the annual camp in his home town was the ideal lead-in before the world championships.

"It is just two-and-a-half hours up the road to Auckland and the Mount is getting a name for hosting international teams and everyone does a great job here. It gives us ideal prep."

Robertson said this year's squad was different in make-up to the team he coached to win the title in Italy last year.

"From the last two years I have been involved with this it is different again. We have some young men and a sprinkling of experience all through the group. I think they balance themselves out well.

"The strength is definitely in our whole squad of 28. There is going to be some really good competition for places."

Spending time at Mount Maunganui was always special for Robertson who said he spent more time at Blake Park than any other kid.

"I was here for hours and hours. All I wanted to do when I grew up was play for the Marlins and I managed to do that with a couple of my best friends.

"One of my tick-offs is to get a blazer for the Mount. It is not going to happen as I am about 14 games short. I am still very proud of where I am from."

Bay of Plenty Steamers assistant coach Rodney Gibbs was pleased so many of his players stepped up against the well-drilled New Zealand side.

"I think both teams would have got a hell of a lot out of it actually. We saw in the second half they had some real quality players come on but some of our younger boys went very well," Gibbs said.

"I think our boys probably noticed a step up in level of pace of the game and physicality and that is the challenge for them.

"Now they will understand where it is at for them at a level certainly above club rugby."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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