Some good players have missed the cut in what shapes as a powerful-looking New Zealand Under 20s named today for next month's World Rugby Under 20 championships in Italy.
Eight were omitted from those who were originally named or played a part in the recent Oceania Junior Championship, which New Zealand won, beating Australia 46-29 in the final match last Saturday. Wellington and Hurricanes hooker Leni Apisai is injured, but the sole top-line player not available to the selectors was Chiefs first five/fullback Damian McKenzie, who will stay with the franchise to help cover for the crocked Aaron Cruden.
Hurricanes No 10 Otere Black, who played against Japan in game one of the Oceania event before being called back to cover for Beauden Barrett, will stay with the Hurricanes for the next two games before joining the Under 20s after the May 23 Blues-Hurricanes clash in Auckland.
Among those who might be considered unlucky were Otago flanker Dillon Hunt, Taranaki wing Sean Wainui and Otago utility Fletcher Smith, who were all amongst the points in Australia. But there are some heavyweights reinforcements in the form of Super Rugby reps Tevita Li, Akira Ioane and Blake Gibson from the Blues. The latter had already joined the team in Australia.
Bay of Plenty prop Aidan Ross was a late call-up, having impressed with the Chiefs Development XV. Wellington lock James Blackwell and Waikato halfback Harrison Levien, both absent injured from the Oceania event, are recalled.
The three matches in Australia marked the best preparation the New Zealand Under 20s have ever enjoyed as they aim to win the world title for the first time since Mark Anscombe's class of 2011, which spawned no less than nine All Blacks.
The class of 2015 counts a whole host with Super Rugby and ITM Cup experience.
"We really got to test our combinations and to put the boys under some pressure in both the tournament environment with short turnarounds between games, and the competition for positions," said coach Scott Robertson.
"Our locks are big, tall and strong with the likes of Geoff Cridge coming out of the Hurricanes. That makes a massive difference for us along with guys who have been really focussed on their core roles and aerial skills.
"Otere will lead our backline, he's a strong leader, he's played ITM Cup, and he's in the Hurricanes wider training group. He'll lead us around the field well.
"We've got a good mix across the backline helped by the power that Nathaniel Apa brings. We've got a bit of pace, guys who can play in different positions and we've got depth in our squad, which is really exciting for us."
New Zealand Under 20s squad: Mitch Hunt, TJ Faiane, Vince Aso, Isi Tu'ungafasi, Liam Polwart, Mitch Karpik, Akira Ioane, Blake Gibson (Auckland), Nathaniel Apa, Jack Goodhue, George Bridge, Luteru Laulala, Mitchell Dunshea, Josh Goodhue (Canterbury), Geoff Cridge, Ricky Riccitelli (Hawke's Bay), Otere Black (Manawatu), Tevita Li (North Harbour), Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi (Taranaki), Harrison Levien, Anton Lienert-Brown, Mitch Jacobson, Steven Misa, Atu Moli (c), Tau Koloamatangi (Waikato), Henry Stowers, James Blackwell (Wellington), Aidan Ross (Bay of Plenty)