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'Oh bugger’: Why Blues U20 captain thought he'd missed New Zealand call-up

By Finn Morton
Tristyn Cook from New Zealand U20 speaks with RugbyPass. (Picture: RugbyPass/Ned Lester)

“Oh bugger.” That’s what Blues U20 captain Tristyn Cook thought after believing he’d missed out on the opportunity to wear the black jersey at the inaugural Rugby Championship U20 tournament on Australia’s Sunshine Coast.

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But sometimes, being wrong can be both a relief and a second chance of sorts. Cook expected any good news about selection for the New Zealand U20 squad to come on the Friday but it doesn’t seem that was the plan.

That Friday came and went, and so did the Saturday that followed. Instead, it was on Sunday that Cook’s phone rang. In the car with his younger brother at 9 am in the morning, the backrower answered the call he probably wasn’t expecting.

Baby Blacks assistant coach Jarrad Hohepa, who also played a few matches for the All Blacks during his playing days, was on the other end. Hohepa then informed Cook he’d been selected as one of 31 players in the prestigious squad.

“I thought we were getting the call on the Friday so I was like, ‘Oh bugger I’ve missed out.’ Then got a call from Hoey and found out which was a pretty unreal buzz,” Cook told RugbyPass.

“Yeah, it was pretty cool, you sort of get this real weird tingle. It’s pretty unexplainable – you sort of have to experience it to know it.”

The New Zealand squad was picked after some training camps late in 2023 but also the all-important Super Rugby U20 Tournament in Taupo. Cook led the Blues into battle during that entertaining competition a couple of months ago.

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Blues U20 head coach Steven Bates described Cook as “a man of action” who “expects others to do the same” in a statement after the franchise unveiled their impressive young squad on March 11.

The Blues defeated Moana Pasifika 42-16 in their quarter-final clash before falling to eventual champions the Crusaders 22-26 in a thrilling semi-final. That left the Blues to battle it out with north island rivals the Hurricanes for the bronze medal.

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“We had a real good crew, we all had a lot of respect for each other, especially within the senior players on that team,” Cook said when asked about the Blues U20.

“It was a really good crew to captain. There wasn’t anyone that caused heaps of trouble or was a real difficult person to deal with.

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“it was a real honour but it was also the boys who made it a really easy job.”

The Westlake Boys High School product clearly did enough to impress New Zealand selectors at that competition – even if he didn’t think so before the call eventually came – and was rewarded with the opportunity to represent his country on the international stage.

Cook didn’t take the field during New Zealand’s 13-all draw with South Africa or their 43-20 win over Argentina, but the loose forward will be unleashed against an Australian side that has a renewed sense of confidence.

For the 23 players selected to represent the Baby Blacks in any match, there’s a sense of expectation that follows them. Not only have All Blacks coaches Jason Ryan and Leon MacDonald been in camp, but the youngsters are representing a rugby-mad nation.

But nobody has to tell them that.

“There’s a lot of weight on your shoulders when you step into that black jersey,” Cook explained. “You’re representing your country at this level so it’s just upholding that and wearing it with pride.

“We’ve got a competitive forward pack which I think is really healthy,” he added later. “It means no one gets complacent which is really healthy for a team.

“We set our standard from that South Africa game with how we fought back but that’s just another game,” he added.

“We’ve moved on from that. We’ve got another game ahead of us in a couple of days so that’s our new target.”

But away from the rugby, the New Zealand U20 squad is just a group of Kiwis who have “come together to play some good code.” They seem to be enjoying each other’s company offthe field at the Sunshine Coast, and that shows on the field with their chemistry.

There were a few players playing ping pong and just generally having a laugh before the interview with Cook, and the backrower also commented on how the squad have been spending time together away from the training pitch.

This is a group of young men who seem to be making the most of their opportunity.

“It’s been pretty unreal. It’s a real buzz to be here with the boys, with some of the best in the country at our age.

“It’s one of those teams that you always look up to, especially after leaving high school, it’s where you want to be in a couple of years’ time.

“It’s pretty cool to be able to step into those shoes and live up to it.

“Everyone has the same mindset. You’re enemies when you’re playing against each other but when you come together on the same team, everyone seems to gel pretty well.

“At the end of the day, we’re all just Kiwis who come together to play some good code so it’s pretty cool to see that. No one has any past tensions with each other.”

New Zealand U20 to take on Australia

1. Will Martin

2. Vernon Bason (c)

3. Joshua Smith

4. Tom Allen

5. Liam Jack

6. Tristyn Cook

7. Johnny Lee

8. Malachi Wrampling

9. Dylan Pledger

10. Rico Simpson

11. Stanley Solomon

12. Tofuka Paongo

13. Xavi Taele

14. King Maxwell

15. Isaac Hutchinson

Replacements:

16. Manumaua Letiu

17. Sika Pole

18. Kurene Luamanuvae

19. Andrew Smith

20. Jeremiah Avei-Collins

21. Ben O’Donovan

22. Sam Coles

23. Aki Tuivailala

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flyinginsectshrimp 64 days ago

Who's Jarrad Hohepa?

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