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Six New Zealand players to watch at the World U20 Championships

By Adam Julian
New Zealand line up for the national anthemduring the match between New Zealand U20 and the Junior Wallabies at NZCIS on May 29, 2023 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

The World Rugby Under 20 Championships start in South Africa later this month. New Zealand is historically the most dominant team in the tournament with six wins stretching back to 2008.


New Zealand sport an overall record of 65-14 in all Under 20s internationals and have beaten 15 countries.

But they haven’t won the World title since 2017 and struggled in a recent series against Australia with honours shared 1-all.

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The backline looks stacked with several Super Rugby players and All Blacks Sevens representation, but the microscope will be put on the tight forwards who were bullied at times by the Junior Wallabies.

Here are six players to keep an eye on for New Zealand.

Gabe Robinson (Prop)

New Zealand really struggled in the scrums against Australia and in recent history set-piece has been an achilles-heel. New Zealand didn’t settle upon a tighthead in the Aussie series, but Robinson might be the best bet. Yet another product of Hamilton Boys’ High School he was rarely bettered in that winning environment predominantly playing tighthead. Robinson is aligned with the Marist club in Hamilton who won their first nine games of 2023.

Hunter Morrison (Lock)

The busy, skillful, no-nonsense lock has by his own admission matured. Initially, at Whanganui Collegiate he left the school and was driving to Palmerston North Boys’ High School over an hour away. A crash into a truck one morning was the trigger for a more serious attitude to school and rugby. In 2021 he was selected for the New Zealand Under 18 Barbarians out of the Te Kawau club. His ambitions of cracking the New Zealand Under 20s for the Oceania Championship in 2022 were ruined by a broken jaw. He recovered from that setback and flourished on the unbeaten New Zealand U19 tour of South Africa and featured prominently in the recent Australian series.

Peter Lakai (Loose forward & Co-Captain) – The No 8 out of St Patrick’s College, Silverstream, in Wellington exploded onto the New Zealand first-class scene in 2022 helping the Lions win the NPC Premiership for the first time since 2000. He made more carries (147) than any player in the competition and was third in the tackle count with 139. Following an embarrassing loss to Northland in round three Lakai scored a hat-trick in a 31-25 victory over Taranaki in the fourth round. Wellington won their next ten games in a row. Lakai has played seven matches (269 minutes) for the Hurricanes in Super Rugby this year. He played the entire 80 minutes against Moana Pasifkia (59-12) and the Blues (19-25).


Noah Hotham (Halfback & Co-Captain)

Staggeringly, Hotham was unwanted by Otago for the NPC in 2022 so he was snapped up by Tasman and was named Young Player of the Year by the New Zealand Rugby Players Association. The halfback is an incisive runner with a quick pass and sound clearances from the boot. In 2022 he was exceptional for the ‘Baby Blacks’ who cleaned up the Oceania Championships against Fiji (74-5), Argentina (32-9), and Australia (69-12). Hotham scored tries in the Fiji and Aussie wins. Hotham has played seven times for the Crusaders earning 264 minutes and six wins. He is the son of Nigel Hotham who has coached the Hamilton Boys’ High School First XV for two decades. Hamilton has won five National championships in that tenure.

Harry Godfrey (Fullback)

With the ability to cover first five-eighth or fullback, the calculated attacking flair of Godfrey can hurt opposition in multiple ways. On Saturday Godfrey had a hand in all three tries in the 19-18 victory over Australia. In March, Godfrey won the Sir John Graham Memorial Medal as the player of the Super Rugby Under 20 tournament. With multiple injuries in the senior ranks Godfrey has appeared eight times for the Hurricanes this season amassing 194 mostly effective minutes. Godfrey is more likely to play fullback with the Crusaders Taha Kemara an option at first five-eighth beside Noah Hotham.

Macca Springer (Winger)

Returns for his second season with the U20s and will almost certainly start after his outstanding form in the Oceania Championship on the Gold Coast in 2022. Springer scored tries in the 32-9 win over Argentina and the record 69-12 obliteration of Australia. Though Tasman failed to make the semi-finals of the NPC for the first time since 2011, it was no fault of Springer. He scored a team-leading eight tries in nine games including doubles against Canterbury, Manawatu, and Auckland. Springer has featured four times for the Crusaders in 2023 and already scored four tries in his brief Super Rugby career to date.


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Massive 403 days ago

Look like boys compared to the Boks

Peter 404 days ago

Totally agree Andrew. Our U20s seem t o be undersized and out muscled in the forwards, year after year.

Andrew 404 days ago

If our tighties dont perform, we are toast.. That 2 match series v Aus was embarrassing. Aus was one missed conversion from taking it 2-0

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Nickers 1 hours ago
'One of the poorest All Blacks performances I've seen in a long time'

Extreme hyperbole from Biggar. NZ have played far, far worse than that. The 20/21 team was by far the worst of the professional era. Losses to Argentina, shambolic game against Japan and hapless NH tour of 2021. But even that dreadful team were able to put 50 points on Wales and beat them by 38. Much easier to “tear them to pieces” from the commentary box apparently. Ignored by virtually everyone is how good the ABs defence was. That is why England didn’t win, they simply could not score enough points against that defence. The ABs attack was very average, but their defence was world class and that’s what won them the game. Any Wales team that Biggar has ever played for would have found themselves in the same situation and would definitely not have scored tries from those cross kicks. That ABs team beats Biggar’s best Wales team 31 - 13. England’s attack was as good as it was allowed to be by a superior defence. Hats off to Hansen, he has picked up where MacLeod finally got the ABs to last year and not missed a step. England’s attack will be a big worry for Borthwick. They have not established a reliable, repeatable way to break teams down and score points. They were held to some very low scores by average teams in the 6N, and again here didn’t cross 20 points on either occasion. If I was an England fan I would be crying out for a new attack coach. Borthwick would do well to cast his net now, a poor home winter with a faltering attack will start the calls for his job.

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Thomas 1 hours ago
'Champions get up when they can't': Matt Williams weighs in on Ireland's win over Boks

While both teams have their particular positives, I think neither team should rest on their laurels. South Africa managed to tie a series against an uncomfortable opponent, that has had their numbers for a couple of years, while trial-running a completely new attack system, that still doesn’t work properly. But one aspect of “it doesn’t work yet” is a transition from attack to defense in broken play, as the Boks leaked three tries in two matches this way, and lost the second match as a result. Ireland avoided a series loss in a hostile environment, and in spite of many key player injuries, while managing to significantly improve and tighten their defense in game 2 (which demonstrates the breadth of their squad as well as their ability to adjust and recalibrate). At the same time, their own attack hadn’t amounted to much, either (save from exploiting the gaps in the Boks’ new system, gaps that won’t be there anymore in a few months’ time), and they haven’t found an answer to the Boks scrum, which almost costed them the 2nd match, if it hadn’t been for pretty much unrepeatable Frawley heroics. In the end, there isn’t much that separates those two sides … which is exactly what we knew before the series already. Back to the drawing board for both teams, the work only just begins for two teams with the highest ambition. Start of a cycle alright.

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