Rugby: Taniwha six in Blues Development squad

By Cameron Leslie

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Tane Takulua has been named as one of seven Northlanders in the Blues Development squad. Photo/File
Tane Takulua has been named as one of seven Northlanders in the Blues Development squad. Photo/File

A handful of Taniwha ITM Cup players have made the cut for the Blues Development side, who embark on a four-month campaign.

Jone Macalai, Tane Takulua, Matt Moulds, Dan Hawkins, Dan Pryor, and Nalu Tuigamala have all made the cut for the 30-man side which opens its account next week against the Chiefs Development side.

Joining the ITM Cup players mentioned, Kaikohe loose forward Dillon Wihongi has also made the cut.

Wihongi, who is schooled in Auckland at St Kentigern College, made the cut last year for the New Zealand Secondary Schools' squad - who played Fiji, Australia A, and Australia.

Northland and Mid Northern halfback Takulua, who is already contracted for this season's ITM Cup, is in good stead to feature for the side after undertaking a Blues 'apprenticeship' in their pre-season matches.

The apprenticeship-type scheme saw provincial players invited into the Blues environment to learn about Super Rugby, with Takulua getting game time from the bench in two pre-season matches.

Headed by new high performance manager Tony Hanks, the team will be coached by Steve Jackson with assistants Paul Feeney and Bevan Cadwallader.

The programme will see the Blues Development team compete in a three match series against their Chiefs counterparts and two matches against the New Zealand Under-20s and the Cook Island international team.

"The programme has been spread out this year across four months which allows us to integrate their development objectives with the players' provincial union and club rugby programmes," said Hanks.

"It also presents the possibility of bringing players into the squad who have been performing well at club level."

Hanks believed the apprenticeship programme run by the Blues will hopefully bode well for the new development guys as expectation levels had already been set. "A number of these guys have been exposed to the Blues culture and expectations already, and the Development XV programme provides the players with another opportunity to impress the Blues coaches."

The development team features 17 players who have ITM Cup experience, nine have trained with the Blues in the pre-season under the apprenticeship programme, and on top of this, four players in the squad are also members of the 2014 New Zealand Under-20 squad. Of the squad, seven are from Northland, nine from North Harbour, and 14 from Auckland.

The squad assembled for their first training on Monday, with a team named for their first match on March 11.

FIXTURES

March 13: v Chiefs Dev.

April 2: v Chiefs Dev.

May 1: v Chiefs Dev.

May 23: v NZ U20.

June 18: v Cook Islands.

- Northern Advocate

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