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New Zealand U20 begin quest for drought-breaking title against Wales

By Finn Morton
New Zealand lift the trophy after their victory during The Rugby Championship U20 Round 3 match between Australia and New Zealand at Sunshine Coast Stadium on May 12, 2024 in Sunshine Coast, Australia. (Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

Tournament hosts Australia U20s watched on at Sunshine Coast Stadium earlier this year as New Zealand U20s captain Vernon Bason collected one of the biggest trophies in rugby. The Kiwis had just won the inaugural Rugby Championship U20 title with a 36-25 victory.

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Bason celebrated the moment with the rest of the New Zealand squad by lifting the trophy in triumph, but they also knew the job wasn’t done just yet. This is a group that boasts both potential and skill, and they’ll be hungry to etch their names into the history books in South Africa.

As the captain made a note of after that match way back in May, the New Zealanders haven’t won World Rugby’s U20 Championship since 2017. France have taken hold of that tournament with a run of three titles on the bounce and they’ll be eager to make that four.

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“We’ve got the job done here, we’ll celebrate as a team but we’ll keep in mind we’ve still got a job to do later in the year,” captain Vernon Bason told RugbyPass earlier this year.

“That’s something that… it’s been a long time since New Zealand U20s or the Baby Blacks have won that.

“Looking at this group, I think we’ve got real big potential to be able to break that streak and hopefully come away with it.”

New Zealand get their U20 Championship campaign underway against Wales U20 on Sunday morning (NZST). It’s a must-win matchup for the Kiwis who will also play defending champions France and Spain to round out pool play.

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Coach Jono Gibbes has made seven changes to the starting team that defeated Australia a couple of months ago, which includes a potentially significant omission in the backrow due to a tournament-ending injury.

Loosehead prop Will Martin will pack down in the front row along with captain Vernon Bason at hooker and tighthead Josh Smith. Tom Allen and Liam Jack have also retained their spots in the middle row following the win over Australia in May.

Following the injury to Waikato and Chiefs backrower Malachi Wrampling-Alec, the Baby Blacks have been forced into a bit of a backrow reshuffle with Johnny Lee shifting from openside flanker to No. 8.

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Tai Cribb comes into the run-on side at blindside flanker while Matt Lowe will carry the responsibility of wearing one of the most famous jersey numbers in New Zealand rugby after being name on the other side of the scrum.

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As for the backline, Dylan Pledger was fantastic during the inaugural Rugby Championship U20 which included a couple of tries. The Otago halfback will link up with tall first five-eighth Rico Simpson in the halves once again against the Welsh.

Other than the inclusion of try-scoring machine Stanley Solomon on the left wing, the rest of the backline looks completely different. Vice-captain Xavi Taele moves from outside centre into the No. 12 which sees Aki Tuivailala start in the No. 13 jumper.

Frank Vaenuku has got the nod to start on the right wing while the ever-reliable Sam Coles will line up at fullback. Coles played a starring role in New Zealand’s comeback win over Australia on the Sunshine Coast.

“I’m really pleased we arrived when we did so we could acclimatise, and then having a full contact hit out really blew the cobwebs out,” Jono Gibbes said in a statement.

“We were a bit clunky which was to be expected but it will hold us in good stead.

“We’ve watched (Wales) through the Six Nations and what we’ve seen is a good mix; strong set-piece play but also really strong play through the midfield and speed on the edge.”

This match in Cape Town is set to get underway at 5:00 am NZST on Sunday morning. Kiwis can watch on Sky Sport but the match will also be streamed live and free on RugbyPass TV for those outside of New Zealand and some other regions.

New Zealand U20 to take on Wales U20

  1. Will Martin
  2. Vernon Bason (c)
  3. Josh Smith
  4. Tom Allen
  5. Liam Jack
  6. Tai Cribb
  7. Matt Lowe
  8. Johnny Lee
  9. Dylan Pledger
  10. Rico Simpson
  11. Stanley Solomon
  12. Xavi Taele (vc)
  13. Aki Tuivailala
  14. Frank Vaenuku
  15. Sam Coles

Replacements

  1. A-One Lolofie
  2. Sika Pole
  3. Logan Wallace
  4. Cameron Christie
  5. Jeremiah Avei-Collin
  6. Riley Williams
  7. Cooper Grant
  8. Xavier Tito-Harris

Watch the World Rugby U20s Championship live and for free on RugbyPass TV. Register here now
*Unavailable in Africa, NZ, Fiji, Samoa, Papua NG and Tonga

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