The New Zealand Under 20s fly to Australia today to prepare for the looming Oceania Rugby Under 20 Championship. It will serve as a valuable lead-in to their defence of the World Rugby Under 20 Championship in the south of France from late May to June.
In a powerful-looking side laden with talent that permeated the 2016 and 2017 NZ Schools teams, the brilliant Koroi, who should line up in the back three for this team, will clearly not play the final two World Series Sevens tournaments for New Zealand, in London and Paris in early June. However, the situation surrounding Clarke, 19, and Nanai, 18, is not so clearcut.
Clarke is recovering from appendicitis, which removed him from Commonwealth Games sevens calculations, while he is also fully contracted to the ailing Blues in Super Rugby. That franchise’s final match before the June window is the June 2 Blues v Rebels at Eden Park.
Anything can happen, given the Blues already have 18 players out of action.
“Caleb is eligible for the World Cup. We got him to come along on Saturday, just to have lunch with the boys and sit in on some of our meetings. He’s in our selection frame, but there’s a lot of water to go under the bridge on that one, so it’s too hard to comment further,” says NZ Under 20s head coach Craig Philpott.
Nanai, also known as Nanai-Seturo, has had a big year. Originally the subject of an unseemly tug-of- war between New Zealand Rugby and the Warriors, he was cleared for rugby, impressing for the All Blacks Sevens, dropped from the Commonwealth Games squad, then winning a reprieve and clinching a gold medal just eight days ago. He is with the All Blacks Sevens in Singapore, ahead of this week’s tournament.
“We certainly considered him. He’s fulltime in sevens, as is Vili, but Etene is a year young, whereas with Vili, this is his (final opportunity with the U20s). Etene is still in the frame for the World Cup. Historically the sevens programme and our programme have worked quite separately. Now we are trying to see how we can help other. Vili is a great example of that,” says Philpott.
Some of the squad have already been on ITCs (interim training contracts) with Super Rugby franchises, and Philpott has already seen the benefits with several of his young charges. A shoulder operation ruled out 2017 prop Tim Farrell, while Taranaki loose forward Bradley Slater, son of Andy, has a back injury which has precluded him from the Oceania tournament. Others may yet come back into the World Cup frame.
While New Zealand should have little trouble with Tonga and Fiji, Australia may be more cagey in what should be the Oceania decider, as the Junior Wallabies are in the same World Cup pool as the Kiwis.
New Zealand squad for Oceania Rugby Under 20 Championship:
Forwards: Rob Cobb, John Akau’ola-Laula, Waimana Riedlinger-Kapa, Hoskins Sotutu (Auckland), Tevita Mafileo (Bay of Plenty), Tom Christie (c), Will Tucker (Canterbury), Sue Asomua (Counties Manukau), Devan Flanders, Will Tremain (Hawke’s Bay), Sione Asi (Manawatu), Ricky Jackson (Otago), Flynn Thomas (Southland), Tom Florence (Taranaki), Laghlan McWhannell (Waikato), Kaliopasi Uluilakepa (Wellington).
Backs: Harry Plummer, Tanielu Tele’a (Auckland), Kaleb Trask (Bay of Plenty), Ngane Punivai (Canterbury), Vilimoni Koroi (Otago), Jay Renton (Southland), Ciarahn Matoe (Taranaki), Leicester Faingaanuku, Will Jordan (Tasman), Bailyn Sullivan, Xavier Roe (Waikato), Carlos Price, Billy Proctor (Wellington).
Schedule (Bond University, Gold Coast):
Friday April 27: New Zealand v Tonga
Tuesday May 1: New Zealand v Fiji
Saturday May 5: New Zealand v Australia
Sign up to our mailing list here and we’ll keep you up to the minute with weekly updates from the world of rugby.