Powerful under 20 squad named for Oceania Cup

By Campbell Burnes

Blues and Northland halfback Sam Nock. Photo / John Stone
Blues and Northland halfback Sam Nock. Photo / John Stone

New Zealand Rugby have named a powerful-looking Under 20 squad to defend their Oceania Cup on the Gold Coast next month.

The main feature of the 31-man group, with one to be added later this month, is the inclusion of five players from Super Rugby rosters - hooker Leni Apisai, and first five TJ Va'a, both at the Hurricanes, midfielder/wing Sio Tomkinson from the Highlanders, fullback/wing/ accurate goalkicker Jordan Trainor from the Blues, and Sam Nock, who seems to be pegged as the Blues No 3 No 9, but who has more talent than either Bryn Hall or Billy Guyton.

A trio who appeared for the New Zealand Under 20 in 2015 are back, including Apisai, who joins third year Waikato flanker Mitch Jacobson and Canterbury lock Hamish Dalzell. Waikato halfback Harrison Levien is injured.

Worryingly for New Zealand Rugby, which has targeted Auckland as a strategically important rugby area for growth, there is just one selected out of that province - 2015 NZ Schools loose forward Dalton Papali'i.

In fairness, others are injured and no less than five others played their First XV rugby in Auckland's 1A competition.

Conversely, the development pathway from NZ Schools to NZ Under 20s is still functioning smoothly, with six from the 2015 NZ Schools included, including the brilliant utility back and captain Peter Umaga-Jensen, nephew of Tana Umaga. Last year's Bronze Boot winner, burly prop Alex Fidow, also fresh out of Scots College, has made the cut.

The talented first five Stephen Perofeta, now at Taranaki, but in his first year out of Wanganui Collegiate, from where he played for Wanganui and the national Heartland XV, wins promotion after being in the 2015 NZ Barbarians Schools.

New Zealand Under 20 head coach Scott Robertson said he was pleased with the talent available for the tournament, which will see them play two test matches against Australia early next month.

"The trial matches that we held last month were incredibly valuable for us as selectors and we got to see the players in that intense game environment, and we got to see how they responded to the pressure of playing and competing for places.

"While there are only the two countries, we have two tough test matches against a strong Australian team in this Oceania tournament. These will also provide us with a valuable sense of how they cope with playing intense matches in a compact window," he said.

Hurricanes hooker Apisai has been named captain of the side.

"Leni is just an impressive young man who leads a pack well on the field. He has already shown a maturity beyond his years, in the way he has stepped up to starting for the Hurricanes when veteran hookers Dane Coles and Motu Matu'u were ruled out injured at the start of the season."

The New Zealand Under 20 squad to compete in the June World Rugby Under 20 Championship in England will be named in May after the Oceania squad returns to New Zealand.

The squad assembles in Auckland on April 24 and will play a match against the Blues Development XV on April 28, before travelling to the Gold Coast for matches against Australia on May 3 and 7.

The squad is:

Forwards: Ayden Johnstone (Waikato), Mason Kean (Hawke's Bay), Shaun Stodart (Otago), Sean Paranihi (Canterbury), Alex Fidow (Wellington), Pouri Rakete-Stones (Hawke's Bay), Leni Apisai (c, Wellington/Hurricanes), Asafo Aumua (Wellington), Hamish Dalzell (Canterbury), Quinten Strange (Tasman), Sam Caird (Waikato), Isaia Walker-Leawere (Wellington), Fin Hoeata (Taranaki), Mitch Jacobson (Waikato), Luke Jacobson (Waikato), Dalton Papali'i (Auckland), Hapakuki Moala-Liava'a (North Harbour), Marino Mikaele-Tu'u (Hawke's Bay)

Backs: Jonathan Taumateine (Counties Manukau), Sam Nock (Northland/Blues), TJ Va'a (Wellington/Hurricanes), Stephen Perofeta (Taranaki), Jordie Barrett (Canterbury), Sio Tomkinson (Otago/Highlanders), Orbyn Leger (Counties Manukau), Jonah Lowe (Hawke's Bay), Malo Tuitama (Wellington), Peter Umaga-Jensen (Wellington), Mason Emerson (Hawke's Bay), Jordan Trainor (Waikato/Blues), Caleb Makene (Canterbury)

Waikato's Shaun Stevenson was not considered as the Chiefs require him in Super Rugby.
Players not considered due to injury: are: Matthew Lansdown (Waikato), Jahrome Brown (Waikato), Hugh Renton (Hawke's Bay), Ere Enari (Canterbury), Harrison Levien (Waikato), Lisati Milo-Harris (Auckland)

- NZ Herald

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