The New Zealand Under 20s will break new ground when they become the first Kiwi national team to play in Georgia at next month's world championships.

But before then they have the small matter of an expanded Oceania Under 20 series on the Gold Coast, where they have been based since Saturday. Friday sees them play Fiji, then follows Samoa next Tuesday and Australia on May 6. That will be good, intense preparation for what is always a physically demanding and tight world champs schedule.

"There's two parts to this tour," says head coach Craig Philpott. "We are taking 31 to Australia, but only 28 to Georgia. We are still in selection mode, to a degree, but we also want to embed our systems both on and off the field. We want to ensure that, when we go to Georgia in about four weeks' time, we are a tight group and know what we are about."

There will certainly be changes from the Oceania squad due to injury and Super Rugby, and Stephen Perofeta is said to be ready for a club rugby comeback this weekend before he rejoins the Blues. He would be a versatile option for the world champs, especially if Jordie Barrett is not released. Peter Umaga-Jensen is out for the season after shoulder surgery, while 2016 NZ Schools tighthead prop Rob Cobb, out of the all-conquering MAGS First XV, has replaced the injured Alex Fidow for the Oceania series.


Prop Jerry Samania, son of former Manu Samoa utility back Toa Samania, is with the Samoan Under 20s, and he was one of the unlucky ones to miss the final cut for New Zealand. But playing for another nation's Under 20s side does not capture eligibility. In the past, Charlie Piutau (Tonga), Steven Luatua (Samoa) and now Orbyn Leger (Samoa in 2015) have followed that route into the New Zealand Under 20s.

As ever, there is no shortage of talent in this group, with nine back from the 2016 squad and a clutch out of the 2016 NZ Schools.

"Last year we selected 10 guys a year young. It's proving that our talent ID is really good in that schools' system," Philpott says.

There is versatility galore, especially in the backline, but there has to be. Four can play first five, including Canterbury fullback/wing Josh McKay, and there are no less than six who can kick goals, a similar situation to the class of 2016.

"Versatility is really important in a squad of 28 because generally you go with a 16-12 split. If you only have 12 backs, you need guys who can play in different positions," Philpott says.