Rugby: NZ U-20 side dripping with talent

The announcement of the New Zealand Under 20 rugby side for the IRB Junior World Championship in June will be made today and you can be sure it will be a squad dripping with talent.


That is perennially the case, but New Zealand will be extra keen to reclaim the trophy it held with a vice-like grip from 2008-11.


The last two annual tournaments have ended in disappointment after high expectation, but judging by the pedigree of some of the 41 players who appeared in the final trial on Monday in Palmerston North, coach Chris Boyd and assistants Scott Robertson and Leon MacDonald will have plenty to work with.


A compelling mix of 2013 New Zealand Schools talent was blended with those who have seen their share of ITM Cup action and even the likely inclusion of a trio currently on Super Rugby duty – Simon Hickey and Tevita Li of the Blues and Anton Lienert-Brown of the Chiefs.


Perhaps the biggest headache for the selectors will come at first five-eighth, where there are no less than four prime candidates – Hickey, who was on the team in 2013 and who has indicated his availability, the 2013 NZ Schools pivot Damian McKenzie of Waikato, Richie Mo’unga of Canterbury, who scored 27 points on his ITM starting debut last season, and Jackson Garden-Bachop, son of former All Blacks and Manu Samoa No 10 Stephen Bachop, who appeared once off the bench for Wellington in 2013.


The latter can also play one position out in the backline.


Others who were in action on Monday included 2013 NZ Schools players Blake Gibson, Mitchell Jacobson, Atu Moli and Wesley Goosen, plus ITM Cup reps So’otala Fa’aso’o and Vince Aso of Auckland, Josh Renton of Otago, Trinity Spooner-Neera (already a NZ Sevens rep) of Hawke’s Bay and the Bay of Plenty duo of Beau Williams and Elijah Nicholas. A quintet were injured for the final trial, including Taranaki’s back-up pivot Beaudein Waaka and 2013 NZ Schools midfielder TJ Faiane of Auckland.


Five games will be packed into 19 days, with New Zealand’s first two pool games at QBE (North Harbour) Stadium against Samoa (June 2) and South Africa (June 6), rounding off with Scotland in Pukekohe before the June 15 playoffs and June 20 final.


The New Zealand squad will face the Hurricanes Development XV this Friday in Palmerston North before reconvening in Mt Maunganui on May 20.

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