Eight players from the successful Ganellen Blues Under-20 squad have been selected for the New Zealand Under-20 squad announced today.
They include Blues Super Rugby pair of hooker Soane Vikena (Auckland) and outside back Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens (Taranaki).
The other six players were also part of the Ganellen Blues Under-20 side that competed in the national tournament in Taupo, comprising Sione Ahio (prop, Waitemata Rugby Club, Liston College), Vaiolini Ekuasi (No 8, Eden RC, St Peters Cambridge), Corey Evans (Midfield, Grammar TEC, Auckland Grammar), Josh Fusitua (prop, Grammar TEC, Auckland Grammar), Meihana Grindlay (midfield, College Rifles, Kings College), Manu Paea (halfback, Eden RC, Rotorua BHS).
More than half of the squad feature players who have graduated from the New Zealand Schools programme, and were on display at the Bunnings Super Rugby Aotearoa Under 20 tournament in Taupo recently.
“The talent we saw in Taupō was outstanding. We have a real range of players; for some guys this will be their first black jersey and the culmination of a lot of years of hard work and then there’s guys like Ruben Love who has been starting for the Hurricanes,” said New Zealdn Under-20 head coach, Tabai Matson.
“There are some very good rugby players that went close but have missed out and I have no doubt will go on to be very good rugby players,” said Matson.
The Under 20 schedule for 2021 is yet to be confirmed but Matson said they are hopeful for matches against Australia.
“The aim is two-fold, I have a clear remit to develop professional rugby players and our group of coaches need to provide a platform for these players to go to the next level, but also whenever you put on a black jersey there is expectation that you perform well so we really want to do that.”
Among the 30 players selected are five who have featured in Super Rugby Aotearoa, and 12 with NPC credentials including the Blues pairing of Vikena and Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens, who had a storming season on the wing for Taranaki.
Blues Talent Identification and Development Manager, Shane King, said the selections were a combination of the talent and hard work of the players and also the combined development work between the provincial unions of Northland, North Harbour and Auckland, and the Ganellen Under-20 Blues Under-20 coaches led by head coach Steven Bates.
“Steven is also our first Wilsher Scholarship recipient, with the generous funding from Brian Wilsher allowing us to fund a coach during the season, who not only works with the Under-20 team but is part of the Blues coaching group headed by Leon MacDonald.
“We are thrilled that the hard work by a group of coaches, generous support from key sponsors and backing from the provincial unions has already showing dividends,” said King.