New Zealand’s famed conveyer belt of talent has been attributed as one of the many reasons the All Blacks and the nation’s five Super Rugby franchises have been so dominant in recent years.
That particularly holds true in the last decade, when the All Blacks claimed two World Cup crowns while the Chiefs, Hurricanes, Crusaders and Highlanders won combined seven Super Rugby titles of the ten on offer between 2010 and 2019.
A large number of players from those championship-winning sides also came through New Zealand’s esteemed schoolboy rugby system in that same period as well.
Over half of last year’s All Blacks World Cup squad played secondary school rugby at some stage over the past ten years, illustrating the efficiency of the development schemes currently in place for youngsters in New Zealand.
Those players include the likes of TJ Perenara, Ofa Tu’ungafasi and Patrick Tuipulotu, all now established All Blacks who featured in the final of the 2010 Regional U18 tournament.
The four-team competition was composed of youth sides from the Blues, Chiefs, Hurricanes and a South Island team made up of players from the Crusaders and Highlanders catchment regions.
Showcasing the best high school talent New Zealand had to offer, the Blues and Hurricanes U18 teams faced off in the tournament final ten years ago, which comes as little surprise given the breadth of talent and potential laden across both teams.
Three future All Blacks – Tu’ungafasi of the Blues and Perenara and future Highlanders lock Jackson Hemopo – were named in their team’s respective starting lineups, while Tuipulotu made an appearance off the bench for the Blues squad.
Other notable names throughout the starting sides include Jordan Taufua and Bryn Hall, both of whom were representing – and, in Hall’s case, captaining – the Blues at the time and have since gone on to be named in All Blacks squads, although neither have a test cap to their name.
Current Worcester Warriors and ex-Hurricanes lock Michael Fatialofa lined up against his future side in Blues colours, and he was joined by an additional six players who went on to play professionally either in Super Rugby or in Europe.
Accompanying Hemopo in a strong Hurricanes forward pack was future Chiefs and Munster hooker Rhys Marshall, NRL player turned one-time Highlanders loose forward Tupou Sopoaga and ex-Highlanders, Gloucester, Bristol and current Suntory Sungoliath lock Joe Latta.
Former Crusaders and Hurricanes props Donald Brighouse and Eric Sione anchored the scrum, while ex-Blues utility back Hamish Northcott started at first-five and former Highlanders and Sunwolves midfielder Jason Emery was named at centre.
In an entertaining affair played at Hamilton’s St Paul’s Collegiate, both halfbacks – Hall and Perenara – proved to be influential figures throughout the contest.
Hall, who has gone on to win three Super Rugby titles with the Crusaders, slotted 13 points from the kicking tee, while 64-test All Black Perenara assisted one of his side’s two tries.
Both tries were scored by second-five Opetema Peleseuma, which handed the Hurricanes a 16-13 lead at the break, but a Blues team inspired by Tu’ungafasi and Tuipulotu fought back staunchly.
The All Blacks duo showed immense power to register on the score sheet, with a late try to replacement player Sam Quinn sealing a 33-16 victory as the Hurricanes were held scoreless in the second half.
Perenara, Tu’ungafasi, Hall, Fatialofa, Sopoaga, Latta and Peleseuma all went on to make that year’s New Zealand Schools squad that defeated Tonga and Australia, while Tuipulotu and Emery were selected for the national side the following season.
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