Forty-eight hopefuls for the New Zealand Under 20s are being put through their paces this week at a development camp in Palmerston North.
The full camp, which finishes on Monday, is preceded by a specialist coaching clinic for the tight five which finishes today. This is another important time in the build-up to the World Rugby Under 20 Championship to be held in Georgia from May 25-June 18.
The tight five clinic is being led by All Blacks scrum coach Mike Cron, New Zealand Under 20 and Hawke's Bay head coach Craig Philpott, New Zealand Under 20 scrum coach and former All Blacks and Crusaders prop Dave Hewett, and former Crusaders hooker and New Zealand Rugby talent identification manager Matt Sexton.
"Playing for New Zealand Under 20 can be the launch pad to a professional rugby career, and this development camp is an integral component of the player development system in this country," says Philpott.
"This programme is a great breeding ground for new talent to put their hand up for higher honours. Ten players from last year's Under 20 team have been selected for Super Rugby squads this year and 23 of the players on last year's All Blacks end of year tour have previously been part of the Under 20 programme."
Furthermore, 12 of the 48 appeared for their province in 2016, with Wellington and Waikato having the highest representation with three each. Barring injury, space will need to be made in May for Super Rugby reps Jordie Barrett and Stephen Perofeta. With potentially 14 returning from the 2016 squad that placed fifth at the world champs, New Zealand should be well placed for a decent tilt at a sixth title in 10 years.
As ever, there is no shortage of talent, and the continuity with the NZ Schools programme is clear. Five of the trialists, including the captain Brayden Iose of Manawatu, appeared for the 2016 NZ Schools, while two were in the NZ Barbarians Schools squad - St Kentigern captain and midfielder Tanielu Telea and towering St Peter's College lock Cameron Suafoa. Vilimoni Koroi was also in that NZ Schools squad, but is a 'year young' and is showing his wares for the All Blacks Sevens on the World Series circuit.
There will be a further camp next month before a squad is chosen for the Oceania series on the Gold Coast, the last major hitout before Georgia.
Players selected to attend the development camp are:
Forwards: Asafo Aumua, Ben Power (Wellington), JP Sauni (Auckland), Chris Cairns (Manawatu), Pouri Rakete-Stones (Hawke's Bay), Alex Fidow (Wellington), Jerry Samania (Auckland, Ezekiel Lindinmuth (Auckland), Harrison Allan (Canterbury), Sam Caird (Waikato), Jacob Pierce (Auckland), Isaia Walker-Leawere (Wellington), Shiniel Singh (Waikato), Sam Slade (Auckland), Luke Jacobson (Waikato), Sione Tuipulotu (Counties Manukau), Tom Christie (Canterbury), Slade McDowall (Otago), Adrian Choat (Auckland), Du Plessis Kirifi (Waikato), Brayden Iose (Manawatu), Josh Brown (Wellington), Dylan Lam (North Harbour), Marino Mikaele-Tu'u (Hawke's Bay), Laghlan McWhannell (Waikato), Dalton Papali'i (Auckland), Cameron Suafoa (Auckland), Ryan Coxon (Waikato)
Backs: Lewis Gjaltema (North Harbour), Kemara Hauiti-Parapara, Carlos Price (Wellington), Tiaan Falcon (Hawke's Bay), Matt Lansdown (Waikato), Orbyn Leger (Counties Manukau), Braydon Ennor (Canterbury), Tamati Tua (Northland), Nikolai Foliaki (Auckland), Tima Faingaanuuku (Tasman), Josh McKay (Canterbury), Caleb Clarke, TJ Vaega (Auckland), Tyler Campbell (Waikato), Will Jordan (Canterbury), James Little (North Harbour), Otu Mausia, Tanielu Telea (Auckland), Jonah Nareki (Otago), Billy Proctor (Wellington), Ere Enari (Canterbury)
Not considered due to Super Rugby commitments are: Jordie Barrett, Peter Umaga-Jensen (Hurricanes), Stephen Perofeta (Blues)
Not considered due to injury are: Thomas Umaga-Jensen (Otago), Sheldon Tovio (Waikato), Alex Fidow, Lester Maulolo (Wellington)
Note: further front row players will be selected following the tight-five clinic.