Two promising young Northland players who took the field in junior rugby within the Mangonui sub-union in the Far North have been selected for the national under-20 squad, the Junior All Blacks.
Te Paea Cook-Savage has played for Kaitaia/Pirates/Awanui, and Corey Evans for Waipapakauri.
Cook-Savage is now playing in the Waikato, where he was the leading points-scorer in last year's premier competition. He played for the Chiefs in this year's Super Rugby Under-20 competition in Taupō, with a standout player of the day performance against the Crusaders, scoring two tries.
Evans played for the Blues at the same tournament, and produced another player of the day performance against the Hurricanes, also scoring two tries.
Under-20 head coach Tabai Matson named 30 players for the squad, featuring several with Super Rugby experience, and more than half of whom were graduates of the New Zealand Schools programme.
The talent on display at the Bunnings Super Rugby Aotearoa Under-20 tournament meant selectors had some tough decisions to make.
"The talent we saw in Taupō was outstanding," Matson said.
"We have a real range of players; for some guys this will be their first black jersey and the culmination of a lot of years of hard work, and then there are guys like Ruben Love, who has been starting at first five for the Hurricanes.
"There are also some who went close but have missed out, and I have no doubt will go on to be very good rugby players."
The Under-20 schedule for 2021 had yet to be confirmed, but Matson was hopeful of taking on Australia.
"The aim is twofold. I have a clear remit to develop professional rugby players, and our group of coaches need to provide a platform for these players to go to the next level, but also whenever you put on a black jersey there is expectation that you perform well, so we really want to do that," he said.
Selection for the Junior All Blacks is recognised as one of the premier pathways to Bunnings NPC, Super Rugby and All Blacks selection. Almost half of New Zealand's 2015 Rugby World Cup squad had played for the national under-20 side.
The team won the first four World Rugby Under-20 Championships from 2008-2011, before falling short in 2012, 2013 and 2014. They won again in 2015 and 2017, England taking out the 2016 event.
Globally more than 100 players who have featured in that competition have played test rugby, including more than 30 recent or current All Blacks.