New Zealand Under 20 coach Mark Anscombe has unveiled the group of players he hopes can claim a fourth successive IRB Junior World Championship crown, including two players who picked up winners’ medal in 2010 in Luke Whitelock and Glen Robertson.
Whitelock – the younger brother of the Crusaders trio George, Adam and Sam – played in four matches in 2010 and will hope to better Sam’s record of one JWC title, while Robertson was a try scorer against Fiji, one of his two matches for the Baby Blacks in Argentina.
Anscombe, who takes over from three-time winning coach Dave Rennie, also has three players with Super Rugby squad experience in Highlanders’ Lima Sopoaga, Chiefs loose forward Sam Cane and Hurricanes full back Beauden Barrett.
Barrett has previously played for New Zealand on the Sevens World Series and like half of the Under 20 squad was involved in the recent IRB Pacific Rugby Cup, playing for either the Hurricanes, Chiefs or Crusaders development teams against the A sides of Fiji, Samoa and Tonga.
“Once again the selection process was thorough,” explained Anscombe, who was Rennie’s assistant in 2009 and 2010 and will have his son, fly half Gareth, in the squad travelling to Italy for the 10-26 June tournament.
“We are really fortunate to have good depth in New Zealand rugby in all areas.
“One of the biggest challenges for us was to get the balance right throughout the team as the format of the competition is such that we play five games in 17 days. It is also vital that we have versatile players that allow us to spread the workload throughout the team.
“As in previous years, we had an initial group of 47 players vying for 26 spots. A feature of the team is that we have three players with experience in Super Rugby environments and a number of players who have played in the ITM Cup.
"There is not doubt that the team will benefit from their experience.”
Anscombe, like his predecessor Rennie, is also keen to deflect talk of pressure with New Zealand having been the dominant force on the IRB Junior World Championship stage, winning all 15 of the matches they have played to date and producing a scintillating performance to beat Australia 62-17 in the 2010 final.
“While we acknowledge our previous success at this tournament, this is a new teams with only two members of the 2010 year returning. The challenge for us is to continue to perform on the international stage and showcase New Zealand’s growing talent.
“With any new group there are always challenges facing the team but we are very excited about the tournament.”
Anscombe has been able to tap into some of New Zealand’s top resource coaches over the last five months with the likes of specialist scrum coach Mike Cron, former All Black wing Jeff Wilson and 2008 Junior World Championship winning coach Russell Hilton-Jones attending camps to work with the players.
The squad will remain in camp at the Sport and Rugby Institute in Palmerston North until Sunday and will then re-assemble at the Millennium Institute in North Harbour on 31 May for a final camp before they travel to Italy on 4 June.
New Zealand will then open the quest for a fourth successive title against Junior World Championship hosts Italy on 10 June with matches against Wales and Argentina to follow with only the Pool A winner guaranteed a place in the semi finals on 22 June.
New Zealand Under 20 squad:
Forwards: Carl Axtens ( Bay of Plenty), Dominic Bird (Canterbury), Heiden Bedwell-Curtis (Taranaki), Sam Cane (Bay of Plenty), Michael Kainga (Wellington), Steven Luatua (Auckland), Greg Pleasants-Tate (North Harbour), Brodie Rettalick (Hawke’s Bay), Solomona Sakalia (Wellington), Sefo Setefano (Waikato), Brad Shields (Wellington), Ben Tameifuna (Hawke’s Bay), Codie Taylor (Canterbury), Luke Whitelock^ (Canterbury).
Backs: Gareth Anscombe ( Auckland), Beauden Barrett (Taranaki), Nathan George (Waikato), Rhys Llewellyn (Canterbury), Waisake Naholo (Taranaki), TJ Perenara ( Wellington), Charles Piutau (Auckland), Glen Robertson^ (Waikato), Francis Saili (Auckland), Mitchell Scott (Tasman), Lima Sopoaga (Wellington), Brad Weber (Otago).
^ denotes member of the 2010 New Zealand Under 20 team.