If you look closely enough, you will always find the odd gem out of the NZ Barbarians Area Schools team.

It is one of the country's lesser known national sides, but forms an important stepping stone for young talent out of smaller, often rural-based, secondary schools.

The 23-man squad for 2016 was recently named out of the national regional tournament, held in Lawrence, Central Otago, earlier this month. They will play their annual fixture against the Harlequins Under 18s on September 3 at Hamilton's St Paul's Collegiate.

"The standard wasn't too bad. The Central North Island won the tournament, and hopefully we have got the sparkling diamonds from that rock," says team manager and former Thames Valley and Northland prop Mike Smith.


The new head coach is King Country's Justin Marsh, who was assistant to Bob Telfer for several years. In turn, Marsh will be assisted by Steve Beck, principal of North Canterbury's Hurunui College. That school has two players named, including lock Flynn Crean, who was MVP from the regional tournament.

"Flynn is big, tall and good aerially. He's also a bit of a man-mover, which is a good combination," enthuses Smith.

The captain will be openside flanker Jonty McKinnel, of Roxburgh Area School, who is one of 10 returning from the 2015 group.

"He shows a lot of resilience in that company. He stood out (against the Harlequins) and he's a natural leader," says Smith.

Several of the players come from league backgrounds, but they all love playing for this national team, which will run out in the scarlet jerseys of the Barbarians, who took over from the Rugby Foundation as major sponsors in 2013.

Watch out for centre Roera Hartley, who scored the sole try for the side in last year's match, while Jayden Tegg is also a rugged midfielder. Prop Ethyn Brear does his core tasks well.

There are five returning from East Coast, showing that the small province, in numbers, is still capable of producing raw talent. Prop Atonio Walker-Leawere is the younger brother of New Zealand Under 20s lock Isaia Walker-Leawere and is said to be a big unit. He comes from impeccable Fijian-Maori rugby genes, the son of former Poverty Bay lock Kele Leawere. Gisborne Boys' High School are apparently chasing the younger Walker-Leawere.
Wing Nathan Hawley was one of the standouts for the South in the regional tournament. He hails from Buller's Murchison Area School.

The squad will assemble on August 30 and are aiming for a September 1 hitout, possibly against King Country Under 18s. A prominent member of the Barbarians will likely present the jerseys on the September 3 match day.

The Harlequins prevailed 43-7 in the 2015 fixture. The last win for the Area Schools was the 12-6 result in 2013. The Harlequins are usually well drilled and represent some of the top Waikato juniors.

"We hope to get that mix to compete at the standard the Harlequins will throw at us," says Smith. "But we always go out with the mindset that we're going to have a crack at these guys. We have the big W in mind."

NZ Barbarians Area Schools squad for 2016:

North Island:
Cyrus Broughton, Bradley Lanigan (Taipa Area School, Northland), John Henry Martin, Ilai Arona (Abundant Christian Life, Northland), Jordan Walden (Onewhero Area School, Counties Manukau), Reiki Ruawai (Raglan Area School, Waikato), Jayden Tegg, Ethyn Brear (Mercury Bay Area School, Thames Valley), Zane Taikato Whangamata Area School, Thames Valley), Atonio Walker-Leawere, Fabyan Kahaki (Ngata Memorial College, East Coast), Tanira Tamanui (Tolaga Bay Area School, East Coast), Charles Ngamoki, Manaia Nyman (Te Whanau a Apanui, East Coast), Roera Hartley (Tongariro Area School, King Country), Aaron Chapman (Taihape Area School, Wanganui), Mehaka Moses (Murupara Area School, Wellington)

South Island:
Nathan Hawley (Murchison Area School, Buller) Jarod Bryant (Rai Valley Area School, Tasman), Jonty McKinnel (captain, Roxburgh Area School, Otago), Flynn Crean, Caleb Beck (Hurunui College, Canterbury), Henry Leef (Cheviot Area School, Canterbury)