Rugby: Gang of six will be ready for next step

By Cameron Leslie

You have only to look back to last season to understand how potentially important Northland's six rugby players selected in the Blues Development team could be, where the entire Blues wider training squad was exhausted through injury.

Taniwha players Cam Goodhue, Matt Wallace, Jack Whetton, William Whetton and Derek Carpenter join Auckland-based Northlander Jake Heenan in the 20-man squad.

Also joining Northland players who have been given a second bite at the Super Rugby cherry is Northland ITM Cup assistant coach, and former Blues hooker, Derren Witcombe.

Witcombe will be part of the coaching team with Bevan Cadwallader and Paul Feeney. Witcombe admits Northland's players could be called into the top team at any time.

"That's the nature of the competition, I guess," said Witcombe. "There's a lot of rugby being played. [Blues coach Sir John Kirwan] is going to pick from that team [Blues Development] when injuries take a toll, that's what we've been told."

Witcombe expected Goodhue and Wallace to really make the most of the environment and demand the attention of Kirwan.

"DC [Carpenter] would be great to see him have a good crack. He's been working hard on fitness and putting some meat on his bones to take the bigger hits."

Witcombe added that the Blues Development team was also a chance for him to progress his coaching skills and learn from the environment before returning to the Taniwha for the ITM Cup.

"It's a good opportunity to work with the next level of athletes and be involved with the next level of coaching.

"It'll be great for learning new stuff and finding my own style as a coach."

Cadwallader said the majority of the players come into the squad with ITM Cup experience and their involvement will be an important step in their rugby development.

"The focus for this team is to bring the next best talent from the Blues region together and give them the opportunity to push for higher honours," said Cadwallader.

The team will come together once a week for training and Cadwallader said the rest of the time the onus will be on the players to keep up their own training routines amidst existing commitments.

The team will prepare for matches against the Crusader Knights, Chiefs Development, Samoa A, Fiji A and Japan A during February and March.

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE

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