New Zealand Under 20 coach Rob Penney has unveiled the 28-man squad charged with preserving the Baby Blacks’ impressive IRB Junior World Championship record and winning a fifth successive title in South Africa this June.
Penney, the hugely successful Canterbury coach, has been denied the services of two members of the 2011 winning team in Waikato Chiefs flanker Sam Cane and Wellington Hurricanes scrum half TJ Perenara for the Baby Blacks due to their Super Rugby commitments.
Both have caught the eye in Super Rugby this year, particularly IRB Junior Player of the Year 2011 nominee Cane with the table-topping Chiefs, and means for the first time New Zealand will go into a Junior World Championship without any players returning for a second tilt at the title.
Even given this statistic, no-one will underestimate the threat of a team from a country that has dominated the four previous editions of the Under 20 tournament, the 33-22 final victory over England in Italy last year the closest any team has come to beating the Baby Blacks.
“All the boys put in a really good effort, and the trial game held yesterday gave us a lot to think about,” explained Penney. “I’m really happy with the squad we have selected with a lot of young men putting their hands up for national team honours.
“We’re really excited about heading to South Africa now to defend our title.”
New Zealand will open their campaign against IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy 2010 champions Samoa at the Danie Craven Stadium in Stellenbosch on 4 June, before facing Wales – a side they crushed 92-0 in 2011 – four days later at the same venue.
The Baby Blacks, who have won 20 consecutive JWC matches, will then conclude their Pool A campaign against Fiji at the University of Western Cape Stadium in Cape Town on 12 June, with only the pool winner guaranteed a semi-final place.
New Zealand Under 20 squad
Forwards: Fraser Armstrong (Waikato), Hugh Blake (Otago), Nathan Harris (Bay of Plenty), Jake Heenan (Auckland), Joe Latta (Wellington), Christian Lloyd (Wellington), Taniela Manu (Canterbury), Rhys Marshall (Hawke’s Bay), Glenn Preston (North Harbour), Tuki Raimona (Southland), Nick Ross (Canterbury), Eric Sione (Wellington), Jordan Taufua (Canterbury), Jimmy Tupou (Countries Manukau), Ofa Tuungafasi (Auckland).
Backs: Pita Ahki (North Harbour), Ambrose Curtis (Wellington), Jason Emery (Manawatu), Scott Eade (Southland), Bryn Hall (North Harbour), Marnus Hanley (Waikato), Milford Keresoma (Auckland), Jono Kitto (Canterbury), Martin McKenzie (Soutland), Opetera Peleseuma (Wellington), Matt Proctor (Wellington), Junior Vaa Tofa (Auckland), Ihaia West (Hawke’s Bay).