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An U23 All Blacks XV: Monster tight five, lacking midfield

By Ned Lester
Peter Lakai and Macca Springer representing the New Zealand U20 side. (Photos by World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

New Zealand’s long been a force in the international age grade rugby scene, but since winning seven world U20 titles between 2008 and 2017, the trophy cabinet has been lacking new additions.

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With a generation of talent coming through with no world-beating experience, is there cause for further concern over the All Blacks‘ ailing world dominance?

Well, the correlation between U20 success and World Cup success isn’t all that direct. In between New Zealand’s titles, South Africa have won just once at U20 level while England have won three times, with France currently enjoying a back-to-back-to-back run. South Africa have however been very consistent with nine third placed finishes.

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In terms of trends, New Zealand’s recent drop off stands out like a sore thumb.

From perennial champions to consecutive seventh placed finishes – on either side of a three year Covid hiatus – it’s worth investigating what kind of talent the Kiwis have got up their sleeve, ready to blossom for the incoming era.

To begin with the strengths, the deepest position in regards to talent stocks has got to be at lock.

Despite concerns over basketball steeling New Zealand’s tallest young athletes, there’s more quality coming through the ranks in the second row than there is at any other position.

The depth is such that names like the Crusaders’ Zach Gallagher and Jamie Hannah haven’t made this 23-man team, despite the latter dominating the carry so far in 2024, boasting a game-high number of carries in each of the defending champions’ opening two games of the season – while coming off the bench.

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Two of the selected locks stand comfortably over two metres tall, and combined with two 140kg+ props starting in the team, it shapes up to be a monster tight five.

In fact, two of the tallest three locks and two of the three heaviest props in New Zealand’s Super Rugby Pacific teams would be eligible for U23 honours.

Perhaps the position lacking depth, or at least lacking the most proven depth, is centre.

There are very few youngsters currently pushing for more minutes at centre in Super Rugby Pacific, while in other positions there are bonafide starting quality options.

One player who promises quality at that position but is yet to see real game time in Super Rugby is Gideon Wrampling. The 22-year-old made his Chiefs debut in 2021 but suffered a knee injury in 2022 and has been biding his time behind a number of talented midfielders at the club.

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Gauging what the future of the black 13 jersey looks like is a murky task as it stands.

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A position to keep an eye on given the number of specialty options without a clear cut favourite is first five-eighth. With names like Josh Jacomb, Aidan Morgan, Taha Kemara, Cameron Millar and Ajay Faleafaga all prospects who may inherit a starting 10 jersey in the future.

Beyond that, there is plenty of depth throughout the different positions, including three All Blacks in the XV.

The players selected also come from a relatively even spread across the competition; The Blues lead the way with four starters and two reserves, then the Highlanders with three starters and three reserves, the Hurricanes have four starters and one reserve, the Crusaders have three starters and one reserve and the Chiefs have the least selections with one starter and one reserve.

A hypothetical New Zealand U23 team:

  1. Tamaiti Williams (23 y.o., Crusaders)
  2. George Bell (22, Crusaders)
  3. Saula Ma’u (23, Highlanders)
  4. Josh Lord (23, Chiefs)
  5. Sam Darry (23, Blues)
  6. Sean Withy (23, Highlanders)
  7. Anton Segner (22, Blues)
  8. Peter Lakai (21, Hurricanes)
  9. Cam Roigard  (23, Hurricanes)
  10. Ruben Love (22, Hurricanes)
  11. Macca Springer (20, Crusaders)
  12. Riley Higgins (21, Hurricanes)
  13. Corey Evans (23, Blues)
  14. Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens (22, Highlanders)
  15. Zarn Sullivan (23, Blues)

    Reserves

  1. Jack Taylor (20, Highlanders)
  2. Josh Fusitu’a (22, Blues)
  3. Seb Calder (22, Crusaders)
  4. Fabian Holland (21, Highlanders)
  5. Dominic Gardiner (22, Crusaders)
  6. Cortez Ratima (22, Chiefs)
  7. Cam Millar (21, Highlanders)
  8. Chay Fihaki (23, Crusaders)

Honourable Mentions: Caleb Tangitau (Blues), Gideon Wrampling (Chiefs), Josh Jacomb (Chiefs), Daniel Rona (Chiefs), Tyrone Thompson (Chiefs)  Aidan Morgan (Hurricanes), Harry Godfrey (Hurricanes), Noah Hotham (Crusaders),  Jamie Hannah (Crusaders), Zach Gallagher (Crusaders), Nikora Broughton (Highlanders), Ajay Faleafaga (Highlanders).

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Comments

65 Comments
R
Rugby 116 days ago

I need a research assistant.
If the Pacific Lions over last 30 years have 10-20% Non NZ players in their team
What is it for Super Rugby
What is it for Regional Rugby
What is it for club rugby
What is it for first XV? (St Kents would be high?)

P
Phillip 120 days ago

My concern is the selection of so called elite young players in previous failed NZ u20 teams who have continued to be promoted to the higher levels of the game in NZ super rugby teams because they are in the NZ rugby system. The SR franchises and NZ rugby do not really look outside of these players as late bloomers and some club youngsters are also brilliant but because they are not in the system, they are over looked for higher honours! The AB’s future could look bleak as we have continued to slide after the Rugby WC victory in 2015! Are we seeing a trend here?
Maybe our new coach may change the way things are done to put the AB’s back where we belong🤔

R
Rugby 121 days ago

Not sure how much thought to give this, as there is no u23 team it is all *hypothetical. *Only one non NZ born PI so that is a good sign. Now, If only the Pacific Lions can follow suite.

R
Roy 121 days ago

Looks quite encouraging this team in terms of more talent for Razor to pick from. Will be very interested to see how that forward pack go against those big boys in the Northern hemisphere. Seeing our smaller forwards bullied that past few seasons did not sit well.

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Jon 4 hours ago
Six starters from the Drua named in Fiji team to take on the All Blacks

*Fiji team to play New Zealand:* 1. Eroni Nawa 28-year-old 1.89 m 131 kg - Rugby World Cup starter - 350minutes for Saracens back up to Mako Vunipola but has much better carry stats this year 2. Tevita Ikanivere 24 y/o 1.82 m 114 kg - RWC impact to Northampton Saints starter Sam Matavasi but won the starting spot for knockout qf match - Drua rake and much more lively stats on the carry that Matavasi but maybe more raw than the Saints veteran. Behind Asafo Aumua still in all stats (still very impressive). Got the starting spot over Asafo Aumua in Alun Wyn Jones testimonial 3. Mesake Doge 31 y/o 1.80 m 122 kg - RWC impact to Bayonnes starter Luke Tagi 4. Isoa Nasilasila 24 y/o 1.97 m117 kg - RWC and Drua starter 5. Temo Mayanavanua 26 y/o 1.97 m 120 kg - RWC impact to Drua Kiwi Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta - more dominant tackler and impact player for Northampton Saints behind Top 14 bound Alex Moon 6. Lekima Tagitagivalu 28 y/o 1.95 m 110 kg - RWC starter at both openside and blindside but has spent half his career locking - Pau everywhere man, started in their euro knockout loss 7. Kitione Salawa 23 y/o 1.92 m 95 kg - Drua’s new boy tearaway, one of the leading, if not the best per 80minutes turnover mechants in Super Rugby 8. Viliame Mata 32 y/o 1.96 m 116 kg - Fiji and European star 9. Frank Lomani 28 y/o 1.80 m 81 kg - RWC test 9 - Best try involvements 9 in SR for the Drua behind Ratima and TJP 10. Isaiah Armstrong-Ravula 20 y/o 1.75 m 86 kg - Test rookie comes in in place of Test and Drua star Ilaisa Droasese who might have had flight or visa issues I suppose.* * 11. Semi Radradra - enough said 12. Inia Tabuavou 21 y/o 1.85 m 101 kg - Youngster has had some good minutes and stats filling in at Racing 92 13. Waisea Nayacalevu 34 y/o 1.93 m 105 kg - RWC starter and captain - Dominant carrier for Toulon when asked to return early after the WC but injured for the season shortly after which saw Leicester . 14. Jiuta Wainiqolo 25 y/o 1.87 m 97 kg - Has some crunching numbers for Toulon on the wing along side his captain 15. Vilimoni Botitu - Promoted to flyhalf for the RWC quarter finals after injuries - Has mostly had minutes for castres as inside center Reserves 16. Zuriel Togiatama - Drua impact 17. Haereiti Hetet - Drua #1 18. Samu Tawake - Drua impact 19. Albert Tuisue - Fiji and Gloucester impact player 20. Elia Canakaivata - Late 20s in his second pro year (Drua) by the looks must have come through Fiji pathways or 7s 21. Simione Kuruvoli - Test backup and a player many though was best impact at RWC 22. Caleb Muntz - Seen as leader at 10 but regularly injured after coming from English Championship 23. Sireli Maqala - RWC player and Bayonne center Missing players Isefo Masi - Star center of Super Rugby for the Drua at the Olympics playing 7’s I think Josua Tuisova - Fiji’s inside center at RWC got little minutes this Top 14 season so suspect injured still only 30 - Reports about managing his minutes and his body, looks like Toulon have put the hard word on him not to play until November window (back from injury around June) Levani Botia - RWC star but getting on in years and injured toward back of Top14, hopefully not the same as above Vinaya Habosi - Another RWC star winger who finished his Top 14 season recently after having a 3 month (injury?) layoff in the middle. Not scoring any tries. Hopefully partaking in 7VNS and not blocked by Racing 92 as he’s just gone missing to my sluthing Mesake Vocevoce - Breakdown beast of a lock for a young fella in 2024 Drua Selestino Ravutaumada - Probably Drua’s best attacking back and one who I also confuse for his older captain, their RWC wing and at the Olympics as well Meli Derenalagi - Block buster 8 for the Drua Please add a reply if you know better about any of these players (and there wereabouts if not playing)

4 Go to comments
J
Jon 4 hours ago
All Black Ardie Savea close to joining Moana Pasifika – report

Would be a great move by Ardie, respect. *Fiji team to play New Zealand:* 1. Eroni Nawa 28-year-old 1.89 m 131 kg - Rugby World Cup starter - 350minutes for Saracens back up to Mako Vunipola but has much better carry stats this year 2. Tevita Ikanivere 24 y/o 1.82 m 114 kg - RWC impact to Northampton Saints starter Sam Matavasi but won the starting spot for knockout qf match - Drua rake and much more lively stats on the carry that Matavasi but maybe more raw than the Saints veteran. Behind Asafo Aumua still in all stats (still very impressive). Got the starting spot over Asafo Aumua in Alun Wyn Jones testimonial 3. Mesake Doge 31 y/o 1.80 m 122 kg - RWC impact to Bayonnes starter Luke Tagi 4. Isoa Nasilasila 24 y/o 1.97 m117 kg - RWC and Drua starter 5. Temo Mayanavanua 26 y/o 1.97 m 120 kg - RWC impact to Drua Kiwi Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta - more dominant tackler and impact player for Northampton Saints behind Top 14 bound Alex Moon 6. Lekima Tagitagivalu 28 y/o 1.95 m 110 kg - RWC starter at both openside and blindside but has spent half his career locking - Pau everywhere man, started in their euro knockout loss 7. Kitione Salawa 23 y/o 1.92 m 95 kg - Drua’s new boy tearaway, one of the leading, if not the best per 80minutes turnover mechants in Super Rugby 8. Viliame Mata 32 y/o 1.96 m 116 kg - Fiji and European star 9. Frank Lomani 28 y/o 1.80 m 81 kg - RWC test 9 - Best try involvements 9 in SR for the Drua behind Ratima and TJP 10. Isaiah Armstrong-Ravula 20 y/o 1.75 m 86 kg - Test rookie comes in in place of Test and Drua star Ilaisa Droasese who might have had flight or visa issues I suppose.* * 11. Semi Radradra - enough said 12. Inia Tabuavou 21 y/o 1.85 m 101 kg - Youngster has had some good minutes and stats filling in at Racing 92 13. Waisea Nayacalevu 34 y/o 1.93 m 105 kg - RWC starter and captain - Dominant carrier for Toulon when asked to return early after the WC but injured for the season shortly after which saw Leicester . 14. Jiuta Wainiqolo 25 y/o 1.87 m 97 kg - Has some crunching numbers for Toulon on the wing along side his captain 15. Vilimoni Botitu - Promoted to flyhalf for the RWC quarter finals after injuries - Has mostly had minutes for castres as inside center Reserves 16. Zuriel Togiatama - Drua impact 17. Haereiti Hetet - Drua #1 18. Samu Tawake - Drua impact 19. Albert Tuisue - Fiji and Gloucester impact player 20. Elia Canakaivata - Late 20s in his second pro year (Drua) by the looks must have come through Fiji pathways or 7s 21. Simione Kuruvoli - Test backup and a player many though was best impact at RWC 22. Caleb Muntz - Seen as leader at 10 but regularly injured after coming from English Championship 23. Sireli Maqala - RWC player and Bayonne center Missing players Isefo Masi - Star center of Super Rugby for the Drua at the Olympics playing 7’s I think Josua Tuisova - Fiji’s inside center at RWC got little minutes this Top 14 season so suspect injured still only 30 - Reports about managing his minutes and his body, looks like Toulon have put the hard word on him not to play until November window (back from injury around June) Levani Botia - RWC star but getting on in years and injured toward back of Top14, hopefully not the same as above Vinaya Habosi - Another RWC star winger who finished his Top 14 season recently after having a 3 month (injury?) layoff in the middle. Not scoring any tries. Hopefully partaking in 7VNS and not blocked by Racing 92 as he’s just gone missing to my sluthing Mesake Vocevoce - Breakdown beast of a lock for a young fella in 2024 Drua Selestino Ravutaumada - Probably Drua’s best attacking back and one who I also confuse for his older captain, their RWC wing and at the Olympics as well Meli Derenalagi - Block buster 8 for the Drua Please add a reply if you know better about any of these players (and there wereabouts if not playing)

6 Go to comments
J
Jon 4 hours ago
All Blacks name six debutants in team to play Fiji in San Diego

*Fiji team to play New Zealand:* 1. Eroni Nawa 28-year-old 1.89 m 131 kg - Rugby World Cup starter - 350minutes for Saracens back up to Mako Vunipola but has much better carry stats this year 2. Tevita Ikanivere 24 y/o 1.82 m 114 kg - RWC impact to Northampton Saints starter Sam Matavasi but won the starting spot for knockout qf match - Drua rake and much more lively stats on the carry that Matavasi but maybe more raw than the Saints veteran. Behind Asafo Aumua still in all stats (still very impressive). Got the starting spot over Asafo Aumua in Alun Wyn Jones testimonial 3. Mesake Doge 31 y/o 1.80 m 122 kg - RWC impact to Bayonnes starter Luke Tagi 4. Isoa Nasilasila 24 y/o 1.97 m117 kg - RWC and Drua starter 5. Temo Mayanavanua 26 y/o 1.97 m 120 kg - RWC impact to Drua Kiwi Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta - more dominant tackler and impact player for Northampton Saints behind Top 14 bound Alex Moon 6. Lekima Tagitagivalu 28 y/o 1.95 m 110 kg - RWC starter at both openside and blindside but has spent half his career locking - Pau everywhere man, started in their euro knockout loss 7. Kitione Salawa 23 y/o 1.92 m 95 kg - Drua’s new boy tearaway, one of the leading, if not the best per 80minutes turnover mechants in Super Rugby 8. Viliame Mata 32 y/o 1.96 m 116 kg - Fiji and European star 9. Frank Lomani 28 y/o 1.80 m 81 kg - RWC test 9 - Best try involvements 9 in SR for the Drua behind Ratima and TJP 10. Isaiah Armstrong-Ravula 20 y/o 1.75 m 86 kg - Test rookie comes in in place of Test and Drua star Ilaisa Droasese who might have had flight or visa issues I suppose.* * 11. Semi Radradra - enough said 12. Inia Tabuavou 21 y/o 1.85 m 101 kg - Youngster has had some good minutes and stats filling in at Racing 92 13. Waisea Nayacalevu 34 y/o 1.93 m 105 kg - RWC starter and captain - Dominant carrier for Toulon when asked to return early after the WC but injured for the season shortly after which saw Leicester . 14. Jiuta Wainiqolo 25 y/o 1.87 m 97 kg - Has some crunching numbers for Toulon on the wing along side his captain 15. Vilimoni Botitu - Promoted to flyhalf for the RWC quarter finals after injuries - Has mostly had minutes for castres as inside center Reserves 16. Zuriel Togiatama - Drua impact 17. Haereiti Hetet - Drua #1 18. Samu Tawake - Drua impact 19. Albert Tuisue - Fiji and Gloucester impact player 20. Elia Canakaivata - Late 20s in his second pro year (Drua) by the looks must have come through Fiji pathways or 7s 21. Simione Kuruvoli - Test backup and a player many though was best impact at RWC 22. Caleb Muntz - Seen as leader at 10 but regularly injured after coming from English Championship 23. Sireli Maqala - RWC player and Bayonne center Missing players Isefo Masi - Star center of Super Rugby for the Drua at the Olympics playing 7’s I think Josua Tuisova - Fiji’s inside center at RWC got little minutes this Top 14 season so suspect injured still only 30 - Reports about managing his minutes and his body, looks like Toulon have put the hard word on him not to play until November window (back from injury around June) Levani Botia - RWC star but getting on in years and injured toward back of Top14, hopefully not the same as above Vinaya Habosi - Another RWC star winger who finished his Top 14 season recently after having a 3 month (injury?) layoff in the middle. Not scoring any tries. Hopefully partaking in 7VNS and not blocked by Racing 92 as he’s just gone missing to my sluthing Mesake Vocevoce - Breakdown beast of a lock for a young fella in 2024 Drua Selestino Ravutaumada - Probably Drua’s best attacking back and one who I also confuse for his older captain, their RWC wing and at the Olympics as well Meli Derenalagi - Block buster 8 for the Drua Please add a reply if you know better about any of these players (and there wereabouts if not playing)

24 Go to comments
J
Jon 4 hours ago
Why Scott Robertson isn't worried about fielding six rookies against Fiji

*Fiji team to play New Zealand:* 1. Eroni Nawa 28-year-old 1.89 m 131 kg - Rugby World Cup starter - 350minutes for Saracens back up to Mako Vunipola but has much better carry stats this year 2. Tevita Ikanivere 24 y/o 1.82 m 114 kg - RWC impact to Northampton Saints starter Sam Matavasi but won the starting spot for knockout qf match - Drua rake and much more lively stats on the carry that Matavasi but maybe more raw than the Saints veteran. Behind Asafo Aumua still in all stats (still very impressive). Got the starting spot over Asafo Aumua in Alun Wyn Jones testimonial 3. Mesake Doge 31 y/o 1.80 m 122 kg - RWC impact to Bayonnes starter Luke Tagi 4. Isoa Nasilasila 24 y/o 1.97 m117 kg - RWC and Drua starter 5. Temo Mayanavanua 26 y/o 1.97 m 120 kg - RWC impact to Drua Kiwi Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta - more dominant tackler and impact player for Northampton Saints behind Top 14 bound Alex Moon 6. Lekima Tagitagivalu 28 y/o 1.95 m 110 kg - RWC starter at both openside and blindside but has spent half his career locking - Pau everywhere man, started in their euro knockout loss 7. Kitione Salawa 23 y/o 1.92 m 95 kg - Drua’s new boy tearaway, one of the leading, if not the best per 80minutes turnover mechants in Super Rugby 8. Viliame Mata 32 y/o 1.96 m 116 kg - Fiji and European star 9. Frank Lomani 28 y/o 1.80 m 81 kg - RWC test 9 - Best try involvements 9 in SR for the Drua behind Ratima and TJP 10. Isaiah Armstrong-Ravula 20 y/o 1.75 m 86 kg - Test rookie comes in in place of Test and Drua star Ilaisa Droasese who might have had flight or visa issues I suppose.* * 11. Semi Radradra - enough said 12. Inia Tabuavou 21 y/o 1.85 m 101 kg - Youngster has had some good minutes and stats filling in at Racing 92 13. Waisea Nayacalevu 34 y/o 1.93 m 105 kg - RWC starter and captain - Dominant carrier for Toulon when asked to return early after the WC but injured for the season shortly after which saw Leicester . 14. Jiuta Wainiqolo 25 y/o 1.87 m 97 kg - Has some crunching numbers for Toulon on the wing along side his captain 15. Vilimoni Botitu - Promoted to flyhalf for the RWC quarter finals after injuries - Has mostly had minutes for castres as inside center Reserves 16. Zuriel Togiatama - Drua impact 17. Haereiti Hetet - Drua #1 18. Samu Tawake - Drua impact 19. Albert Tuisue - Fiji and Gloucester impact player 20. Elia Canakaivata - Late 20s in his second pro year (Drua) by the looks must have come through Fiji pathways or 7s 21. Simione Kuruvoli - Test backup and a player many though was best impact at RWC 22. Caleb Muntz - Seen as leader at 10 but regularly injured after coming from English Championship 23. Sireli Maqala - RWC player and Bayonne center *Missing players* Isefo Masi - Star center of Super Rugby for the Drua at the Olympics playing 7’s I think Josua Tuisova - Fiji’s inside center at RWC got little minutes this Top 14 season so suspect injured still only 30 - Reports about managing his minutes and his body, looks like Toulon have put the hard word on him not to play until November window (back from injury around June) Levani Botia - RWC star but getting on in years and injured toward back of Top14, hopefully not the same as above Vinaya Habosi - Another RWC star winger who finished his Top 14 season recently after having a 3 month (injury?) layoff in the middle. Not scoring any tries. Hopefully partaking in 7VNS and not blocked by Racing 92 as he’s just gone missing to my sluthing Mesake Vocevoce - Breakdown beast of a lock for a young fella in 2024 Drua Selestino Ravutaumada - Probably Drua’s best attacking back and one who I also confuse for his older captain, their RWC wing and at the Olympics as well Meli Derenalagi - Block buster 8 for the Drua Please add a reply if you know better about any of these players (and there wereabouts if not playing)

6 Go to comments
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