The bye week has come at the perfect time, as far as two of the Blues’ most promising young stars will be concerned.
From Sunday, the Blues Under 20s side will compete with other age-grade representative teams from across the country for the inaugural Super Rugby Aotearoa Under 20s trophy and the Auckland-based side will be bolstered by the inclusion of outside back Jacob Ratumaituvuki-Kneepkens and hooker Soane Vikena.
The pair will be available for just the Blues’ opening match of the competition but it will grant the two youngsters the opportunity to finally amass some minutes this year, having not yet had a run around for the full squad.
Vikena was named the Blues development player of the year in 2020 but suffered a pec injury when representing Auckland in the Mitre 10 Cup and has only just returned to full fitness.
Meanwhile, Ratumaituvuki-Kneepkens was a stand-out for Taranaki in last year’s provincial competition and has featured for the New Zealand national sevens side.
Former Saint Kentigerns loose forward Cam Church will lead the side but he’ll be well supported by the team’s many former high school captains.
Hooker Ray Sua (Kelston Boys), prop Leandro Vakatini (Kings College) and loosies Chlayton Frans (Westlake Boys) and Church all captained their schools’ First XVs.
A number of players have previously earned national selection for either NZ Secondary Schools or Under 18s squads, including hookers Viken and Hanz Leota, locks James Brown and Allan Craig, loose forwards Church and Dayto Iobu Vaiolini Ekuasi, halfback Manu Paea, first five Christian Stenhouse, and midfielder Meihana Grindlay. Corey Evans was also selected in the wider national Under 20 squad for 2020.
There are players with strong family links to sporting success including Auckland prop Josh Fusitua, a brother of Warriors player David Fusitua and loose forward Wallace Sititi, whose father Semo played in the Rugby World Cup for Manu Samoa.
The Blues Under 20 squad warmed up with a 26-12 win over the Chiefs last weekend and will play the Crusaders at 3pm on Sunday 11 April; the Barbarians at 11.30am on Wednesday 14 April and the Hurricanes at 3pm on Saturday 17 April.
Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens hardly let the ink on his final high school exam dry before his professional rugby career took off, but it could have taken a drastically different turn had an NRL club had its way.https://t.co/JpUBE22EOn
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) January 19, 2021
Blues Under 20 Squad:
Hooker: Soane Vikena (Blues), Ray Sua (Auckland), Hanz Leota (Auckland)
Prop: Leandro Vakatini (Auckland), Josh Fusitua (Auckland), Esile Fono (Northland), Sione Ahio (Auckland), Ryan Mead (North Harbour)
Lock: James Brown (Auckland), Allan Craig (Northland), Josh Beehre (Auckland)
Loose forwards: Wallace Sititi (Auckland), Chlayton Frans (North Harbour), Cam Church (Auckland, Captain), Will Bason (Auckland), Jordan Hutchings (Auckland), Vaiolini Ekuasi (Auckland)
Halfback: Manu Paea (Auckland), Dayton Iobu (Auckland)
First five: Christian Stenhouse (Auckland), Jock McKenzie (Auckland)
Midfield: Meihana Grindlay (Auckland), Corey Evans (Auckland), Sage Shaw-Tait (Auckland)
Outside backs: Joel Cobb (Auckland), Ryan Nankivell (Auckland), Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens (Blues), Sofai Maka (Auckland).
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