Mix and match for Oceania-bound Under 20s

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Sunday, April 21, 2019    Campbell Burnes    Getty Images

Third-year head coach Craig Philpott, along with his assistants David Hill, Tom Donnelly and Aaron Good, has had to ring some changes in the backline due to Super Rugby call-ups and injuries, but his 30-man squad for Oceania looks a talented group from which to finalise his selections for Argentina.

“Oceania is always great for us because it mirrors pool play at the World Cup with the short turnarounds. They’ll take in a lot of information in a short period of time. Taking a group away for a couple of weeks is always lot of fun too. It’s like a young family,” says Philpott.


His 17 forwards look settled, out of which Hawke’s Bay hooker Kianu Kereru-Symes will be skipper. He is one of nine from this squad who played Mitre 10 Cup in 2018, while four appeared for the Under 20s in 2018, a side which won Oceania but placed fourth in the World Cup after dropping the semifinal to France and the bronze playoff to South Africa.

The backline is bursting with talent and versatility. Last season’s NZ Schools captain Isaiah Punivai, a midfielder/wing, has been called in after injury to Crusaders wing Leicester Faingaanuku, but the latter is expected to be available for the World Cup. The Hurricanes’ Billy Proctor and the Blues’ Caleb Clarke have yet to be released by their franchises, but Proctor, in particular is a likely starter for the World Cup. Etene Nanai-Seturo was originally released by the Chiefs, but depletion of their outside back reserves means he was recalled. The former All Blacks Sevens rep is another who may yet play a part in Argentina.

Scott Gregory is back from injury, but will likely not be considered until the second game in Australia. With the depth of riches in midfield, Gregory could suit up at either fullback or wing. There are no specialist wings, but Philpott knows several of his charges can do a job on the flanks.

After France exposed New Zealand in the scrum last year, it is no secret that set-piece has been a key plank of the planning for this 2019 campaign.

“Especially given our pool at the World Cup (Georgia, Scotland and South Africa). We’ll be pretty good at defending the lineout drive after that. They are very set-piece focused teams, but we have probably one of the biggest packs we’ve selected for a while, especially in the tight five,” says Philpott.

“In the past, New Zealand rugby has been about our big boys having soft skillsets, being able to catch, pass and run like backs, but we find that is essential they can scrum first and do their core tasks at set-piece.”
As ever, while the NZ Schools and NZ Barbarians Schools teams offer well-established pathways into the Under 20s, the Jock Hobbs Memorial National Under 19 tournament is a vital step in the selection process.

“A lot of these guys impressed in that 2018 tournament. One that springs to mind is (lock) Samipeni Finau for Waikato. He was the first player I saw on the first day. He made a break and we thought ‘Wow.’ We kept an eye on him. We’ve also got a lot of Bay of Plenty guys in our team from the side that won the tournament, like Lalomilo Lalomilo, Leroy Carter and Cole Forbes. That’s where they come to the fore, so that tournament is invaluable for us,” says Philpott.

New Zealand will play Fiji on Friday, Japan on April 30 and Australia, which should act as the tournament final, on May 4.

All matches will be live streamed on Friday’s New Zealand-Fiji clash kicks off at 7pm (NZT).

New Zealand Under 20s squad for Oceania tournament:
Naitoa Ah Kuoi (Wellington), Kaylum Boshier (Taranaki, vc), George Dyer (Waikato), Samipeni Finau (Waikato), Devan Flanders (Hawke’s Bay), Cullen Grace (Canterbury), Kohan Herbert (Bay of Plenty), Kianu Kereru Symes (Hawke’s Bay, c), Shilo Klein (Canterbury), Jeriah Mua (Bay of Plenty), Fletcher Newell (Canterbury), Ollie Norris (Waikato), Simon Parker (Waikato), Taine Plumtree (Wellington), Kaliopasi Uluilakepa (Wellington), Tupou Vaa’i (Taranaki), Tamaiti Williams (Canterbury)

Backs: Fergus Burke (Canterbury), Leroy Carter (Bay of Plenty), Chay Fihaki (Canterbury), Cole Forbes (Bay of Plenty), Taufa Funaki (Auckland), Sam Gilbert (Canterbury), Scott Gregory (Northland), Lalomilo Lalomilo (Bay of Plenty), Dallas McLeod (Canterbury, vc), Isaiah Punivai (Canterbury), Rivez Reihana (Waikato), Danny Toala (Hawke’s Bay), Quinn Tupaea (Waikato)