Sam Nock can be forgiven for almost jumping out of his skin at the prospect of suiting up for the New Zealand Under 20s.
The 19-year-old Blues and Northland halfback has seen just six minutes of action for his franchise in the first two months of Super Rugby, otherwise surviving off a diet of two games for his Kerikeri club and the odd run for the Blues A team. But now he is set for a prime role as the Under 20s seek to retain the Oceania Series title next week and the June world championship in England.
A frustrating first half of 2015 put the kybosh on Nock's hopes of making last season's Under 20s. A hip injury, partly aggravated by goalkicking, led to surgery, and though he returned in time to play 10 games for the Northland Taniwha in the ITM Cup, he showcased little of his vaunted running game close to the fringes of the ruck. It did not help playing behind a beaten pack, nor the fact he was nearly a stone heavier than his ideal weight of around 84kg.
"I was struggling, really. They wanted size on me, but that's not really my game. I'm happier now at around 84-85kg," said Nock, just after getting through 50 solid minutes for the Blues Emerging Players against the New Zealand Under 20s on Thursday. He had trained with the Blues all week, and had played for the As and Emerging Players, so knew their systems. But he liked what he saw from his new Under 20s teammates, who won a tight contest.
"I had to make a decision between going to South Africa (tomorrow, with the Blues) or going to Australia with the Under 20s. I wanted to go with the 20s because I know I will get game time," said Nock. He will, though, be winging his way to South Africa if either Bryn Hall or Billy Guyton go down. Tana Umaga has decided to take the 'softly, softly' approach with Nock, which is fair enough given his youth, but long-term he appeals as the starting No 9.
Nock should be the No 1 halfback for the 20s, his competition being Counties Manukau's Jonathan Taumateine, one of a clutch of fine goalkicking options, and Nock's 2014 St Kentigern First XV teammate Ere Enari.
There's something about St Kentigern skippers and the Under 20s. Blake Gibson (2013) starred in the 2015 campaign, Nock led the private school in 2014 and flanker Dalton Papali'i, also in the mix, the class of 2015.
"They've got a professional environment. There's a lot of mockery around Super Rugby about St Kent's being like a Blues development (side), but it's good to see those boys come through," Nock says.
New Zealand play the Australian Under 20s on Tuesday night on the Gold Coast. The second international is next Saturday.