The New Zealand Universities have named a solid-looking squad for their two-match internal tour later this month.
Under the coaching again of former representative Otago and Canterbury footballers, respectively, Brendon Timmins and Simon Forrest, the NZU will face the Bay of Plenty Wasps in Mt Maunganui on Anzac Day and then regular Japanese opponents Kanto on April 29 as curtainraiser to the Chiefs-Sunwolves clash in Hamilton.
The NZU is an important stepping stone for many young careers. In the last two seasons, the likes of Matt Faddes and Whetu Douglas have made pleasing impacts in Super Rugby off the back of good performances for NZU. A large portion of this squad have played Mitre 10 Cup to some degree. A good core of some 15 return from the 2016 squad, which crushed Poverty Bay 64-0 in its sole fixture.
Lincoln University halfback Jack Stratton, who has played for Canterbury and trained with the Crusaders, is captain, and will be assisted by vice-captains Te Wehi Wright of Wellington's Old Boys-University and Sinclair Dominikovich-Murray of Auckland.
Auckland front-rower Marcel Renata, a Maori All Black, returns to the side, while 2016 New Zealand Under 20s outside back Caleb Makene, who studies at Lincoln University and plays for the LU Rams, is also in the mix.
All players must be current or just graduated varsity students and play for a university club, of which there are seven through New Zealand.
The squad assembles in Mt Maunganui on April 23, meaning disruption to club teams will be minimal, with players missing just one round of action.
NZ Universities squad for internal tour: Jason Robertson (Waikato), Sam Healy (Massey), Te Wehi Wright (Old Boys-University, Wellington, vc), Harrison Groundwater (Lincoln), Hamish Northcott (Massey), Sam Malcolm (Massey), Marius Tonu'u (Auckland), Jack Stratton (Lincoln, c), Kirk Tufuga (Massey), Sinclair Dominikovich-Murray (Auckland, vc), Sam Godwin (Canterbury), Will Mangos (OBU, Wellington), Angus Williams (Otago), Finnbarr Kerr-Newell (OBU, Wellington), Nick Grogan (Massey), Chris Gawler (Lincoln), Nigel Gibb (Canterbury), Tom Hardy (Otago), Caleb Makene (Lincoln), Jono Osbourne (Lincoln), Marcel Renata (Auckland), Damien Scott (Auckland), Jack Sherratt (Otago)