Where are they now: The 2015 New Zealand U20 world champions
After years of domination in the opening four tournaments of the World Rugby U20 Championships, it took New Zealand a further four years to win their fifth crown at the 2015 event in Italy.
A Baby Blacks side lathered in talent dispatched England 21-16 in the final in Cremona, with many players throughout the squad going on to feature prominently in Super Rugby, as well as for the All Blacks.
However, not everyone from this championship-winning side has had such an easy ride into professionalism, so find out below where the class of 2015 have landed up at present day.
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A returning member of the 2014 side that fell at the semi-final stage, Tau Koloamatangi has forged a different pathway to many of his former national teammates.
After playing in six games for the New Zealand U20 side in 2015, he spent two seasons with Waikato before jetting off to Hong Kong in 2017.
Playing in the local premiership competition there has led to an opportunity to return to professionalism, with Koloamatangi turning out for the South China Tigers in Global Rapid Rugby since last year.
Captain of this squad, Atu Moli was one of the headline names in this team after shining at secondary school level and playing at the 2014 tournament.
Injury has hampered his rise over the years, but some promising showings for the Chiefs since 2016 led to a maiden All Blacks appearance in 2017 against the French XV in Lyon.
Ross is yet to make his international debut, but he represented the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians against the British and Irish Lions three years ago, and is the partner of two-time World Rugby women’s sevens player of the year Michaela Blyde.
The younger brother of All Blacks star Ofa, Isi Tu’ungafasi made his provincial debut for Auckland just months after his title-winning exploits in Italy.
He made 18 appearances over three seasons before shifting up to Northland in 2018.
It’s a move that has paid dividends, as the Tongan-born prop has since joined the Super Rugby ranks with the Crusaders, who he helped to the 2019 championship.
In a journeyman-like provincial career, Steven Misa has struggled to hold down a spot in New Zealand since his days in the national U20 squad.
The hooker made his provincial debut for Waikato in 2016 and made six appearances for the Mooloos before relocating to North Harbour the year after.
An emerging prospect for both the Chiefs and Bay of Plenty, Liam Polwart called an extremely premature end to his career late last year due to ongoing concussion issues.
The former Bay of Plenty skipper missed his province’s title-winning campaign in 2019, and ended his career with 25 matches for the Chiefs and two appearances for the Maori All Blacks.
While he may have established himself in the national pecking order as a hooker, Ricky Riccitelli was also used as a prop in the U20 squad, starting the final in the No. 1 jersey.
His aggressive ball-carrying and tidy footwork has seen him flourish at both domestic and Super Rugby level since 2015 for Hawke’s Bay, Taranaki and the Hurricanes.
A Super Rugby winner four years ago, the South African-born Riccitelli has toured with the All Blacks without ever playing for them, although he has played once for the World XV in 2018.
That positional versatility has been rarely seen in the Mitre 10 Cup and Super Rugby, but he has nonetheless made himself a mainstay at both levels in the second row.
After years of toiling away in the background, the 2017 Mitre 10 Cup Championship winner became a regular starter for the Hurricanes last year amid a competitive group of locks.
Perhaps one of most unfortunate Kiwi players in recent times, Geoff Cridge currently finds himself without a Super Rugby contract after five seasons with the Hurricanes.
In that time, he only played eight minutes off the bench against the Southern Kings in 2016 due to a long run of injuries, including two ACL ruptures, a fractured femur and shoulder surgery.
Whether Cridge will turn out for Hawke’s Bay again this season remains to be seen, but it’s a cruel blow for someone who started his career in such high regard.
Two more consecutive domestic crowns followed, and a further hat-trick of Super Rugby championship with the Crusaders came after that.
After starting in last year’s final against the Jaguares, 2020 looked to be a coming of age season for Dunshea in the absence of Sam Whitelock and Quinten Strange, but he will now have to bide his time to push for further national honours.
The twin brother of Jack, Josh Goodhue hasn’t attained the same level of success as his sibling, although he remains a prominent member within the Blues and Northland set-up.
A provincial debut with the Taniwha came shortly after his successful spell with the New Zealand U20 group, where he is closing in on half a century of matches.
A Blues debut followed in 2017, the same year he faced the British and Irish Lions as part of the Provincial Barbarians with Ross and Dunshea.
A star at schoolboy level, Blake Gibson was once touted as the next Richie McCaw after an explosive performance for the Blues in their first match after the former All Blacks captain’s retirement.
Hindsight has proven those assertions to be severely premature, but the openside flanker has been impressive since his first-class debut in 2014.
After first playing for Auckland and the Blues as a teenager, Gibson remains a fringe All Blacks contender, although injury issues over the years have restricted his ambitions.
Arguably the most highly-anticipated prospect in this entire squad, that long-awaited test debut is still evading Akira Ioane.
Like his younger brother of Rieko, Akira burst onto the professional scene on the World Sevens Series as a teenager in 2014, with provincial and Super Rugby debuts following a year later.
13 caps for the Maori All Blacks, a Mitre 10 Cup title, an Olympic Games appearance and an All Blacks debut against the French XV have since passed, but a lack of fitness and poor work ethic have prevented Ioane from fully gracing the test arena.
The older brother of All Blacks flanker Luke, Mitch Jacobson is yet to reach the same heights as his younger brother.
Nevertheless, he has established himself as a regular selection in the Waikato set-up since his first provincial campaign five years ago, helping them to Ranfurly Shield and Mitre 10 Cup Championship successes.
It took a while for a Super Rugby breakthrough, but two matches for the Chiefs last year have been followed up by multiple appearances for the Sunwolves in 2020.
Hard not to notice with his mop of bright blonde hair, Mitch Karpik has featured regularly in the New Zealand professional scene since he first played for Auckland in 2015.
A switch to Bay of Plenty followed a year later, and in 2017, he signed with the Chiefs, who he has played for more than 20 times.
A five-time Maori All Black, Karpik’s potential as a quality ball-fetcher may see him earn All Blacks selection in future, but with the likes of Sam Cane and Ardie Savea standing in his way, he has a challenge on his hands.
The No. 8 then moved on to play for Bay of Plenty in 2016 and 2017 before signing with the Western Force ahead of the first-ever Global Rapid Rugby showcase series.
It’s in Perth where Stowers remains, with his performances in Western Australia earning him two test caps for Samoa before the World Cup last year.
The halfback played for Waikato as a teenager a year before he made the New Zealand U20 squad, but he’s been forced to move across the country in search of more fruitful opportunities.
A stint with North Harbour came after his four-season spell with Waikato, but he’s now on Northland’s books leading into the 2020 domestic season.
Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi
By contrast, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi is thriving within the New Zealand professional scene.
Described by The Guardian as a “mini Sonny Bill Williams” in the lead-up to the 2015 final, Tahuriorangi has gone on to star for Taranaki and the Chiefs after moving north from the Hurricanes in 2018.
It was that year where he made his All Blacks debut, playing in three tests against Argentina, Japan and Italy, although he has found himself lower in the national pecking order in recent times.
The starting first-five in the 2015 final, Otere Black was one of the stars of the squad after having already played for the Hurricanes at that point in time.
The Manawatu pivot stayed in Wellington until 2017 before moving to Auckland in search of more opportunities with the Blues after being starved of game time by Beauden Barrett.
Injury ruled Black out of the entire 2018 campaign, but the Maori All Black has since made the No. 10 jersey his own to guide Leon MacDonald’s side to a play-offs position before the competition was suspended a fortnight ago.
Although he started at fullback in that same final, Mitch Hunt has risen to prominence as a first-five in the ensuing years.
A one-season stint with Auckland came months after the world-beating title tilt, but the playmaker returned to his home in Tasman after signing with the Mako and Crusaders in 2016.
A hat-trick of Super Rugby championships and a Mitre 10 Cup crown later, Hunt now finds himself as the starting Highlanders pivot after dislodging one-test All Blacks star Josh Ioane following his move south.
One of the members of the 2014 New Zealand U20 side, TJ Faiane left the age-grade set-up as a highly promising prospect and is slowly but surely realising his potential.
An Auckland debutant at the age of 18, the St Kentigern College product had to overcome two season-ending injuries before breaking his Super Rugby duck with the Blues in 2017.
Over time, Faiane has become one of the most important figures in the franchise’s backline, with his leadership proving crucial in Auckland’s title-winning Mitre 10 Cup effort two years ago.
It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Jack Goodhue has blossomed the brightest out of all his U20 teammates since graduating from the set-up.
The 13-test All Black started on the wing in the 2015 final, but has well and truly made his name as a midfielder through his showings with Canterbury, Northland and the Crusaders.
With a hat-trick of Super Rugby titles, over 50 Super Rugby matches and World Cup experience to his name already, Goodhue has the ability one day go down as a great of the game in New Zealand.
If there is anyone in this side to challenge Goodhue for the title as the most accomplished graduate in this side, it would probably be Anton Lienert-Brown.
Before running out for Waikato or the New Zealand U20 side, Lienert-Brown cracked the first-class scene with a Chiefs debut as an 18-year-old early in 2014.
Things have seemingly been a breeze since then for the 43-test All Black, who will create half of a formidable midfield combination with Goodhue for New Zealand in the coming years.
Another schoolboy sensation, things haven’t gone so smoothly in recent times for Nathaniel Apa.
The Samoan-born utility back played for his nation of birth at the 2014 U20 World Championships, the same year he debuted for Canterbury in the Mitre 10 Cup.
However, following failed stints with Waikato and the Crusaders, a year-long lay-off saw him return to domestic action last year with Counties Manukau.
Plenty of hype has followed Vince Aso since he scored four tries in seven outings for Auckland in his maiden provincial campaign in 2013 at the age of just 18.
Such anticipation yielded back-to-back New Zealand U20 selections in the ensuing years, which preceded a Super Rugby call-up to the Hurricanes in their title-winning season.
It’s in Wellington where Aso has made himself at home, with the explosive utility back shining in his 51-match Super Rugby career to keep him on the edge of All Blacks contention.
There are many players who exemplify the benefits of developing in the Canterbury and Crusaders academy system, and George Bridge is one of them.
The Gisborne native moved to Christchurch in his first year out of school in 2014 with minimal acclaim at schoolboy level, only to earn national U20 selection a year later.
Bridge’s stocks have sky-rocketed since then, as he’s helped Canterbury and the Crusaders to a multitude of titles, all while plying his trade on the wing in nine tests for the All Blacks.
The younger brother of All Blacks duo Casey and Nepo, Luteru Laulala is yet to emulate the feats of his older siblings.
A Samoan U20 representative in 2014, the Wesley College product struggled to capitalise on the success of 2015 after a three-season spell with Canterbury.
A move to Counties Manukau in 2017 hasn’t yielded much fortune as of yet, although Laulala played against the British and Irish Lions twice for the Provincial Barbarians and Chiefs, and has spent time with NTT Communications Shining Arcs in Japan.
For someone who played for North Harbour, the Blues and the All Blacks Sevens while still in school, you could be excused for expecting big things out of Tevita Li.
Across two U20 World Championships, he scored 13 tries in 10 matches, and was a handful for North Harbour over six season, but just couldn’t replicate his devastating finishing in Super Rugby.
In two three-season spells with the Blues and Highlanders, Li managed only 19 tries in 66 matches, and is now in Japan playing for Top League giants Suntory Sungoliath.
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