Sorting the game plan and sifting the most suitable combinations will be the priorities for the New Zealand Under 20s when they face the Blues Development XV today at Mt Maunganui's Blake Park.

Twenty-six of the 28-strong squad are on deck, with just captain Simon Hickey and Tevita Li absent on full Blues' duty.

Chiefs utility Anton Lienert-Brown was released by his franchise and will captain New Zealand today.

The squad gathered this week bent on putting New Zealand back on the winning rung at the IRB Junior World Championship, the last triumph coming in 2011.


Assistant coach and former All Black Leon MacDonald said there had been a lot of information to process in the first few days of camp.

"It's really been about cementing our game. We had very basic stuff [at the last camp] because we only had two days together, so we've built up a game plan and are starting to put some more detail and polish on it.

"A lot of it's been getting the basics and game understanding right and getting to know what our potential starting XV will look like," said MacDonald, who will resume his role as the Tasman Makos assistant coach after the tournament.

As someone who was not averse to playing in several positions during a long first-class career, he likes the versatility in the New Zealand back division, down to 11 players until Hickey and Li rejoin the squad.

"Our whole backline is full of versatile players," he said. "Damian McKenzie is a perfect example. He's able to play fullback, first five or wing. It's a matter of finding what combinations work best, given they can play multiple positions."

The Blues Development XV should offer an ideal stern challenge, as their Hurricanes counterparts did at the first camp last month.

"We did take a bit of a hiding then, but they had seven Hurricanes-contracted players in the pack, so that was the next level up and gave these guys a good gauge of where they need to be. Same again for the Blues. They'll have a lot of experienced players who have been in the gym for five or six years," said MacDonald.

Kickoff today is 2pm. They play the Chiefs Development XV at the same venue on Wednesday.


New Zealand begin their JWC campaign on Queen's Birthday Monday (June 2) at QBE (North Harbour) Stadium against Samoa.

There are five games in 19 days with the final set for Eden Park on June 20.