IRB juniors take the field in France
Auckland’s young rugby stars are invading France.
New Zealand’s IRB Junior World Championship campaign begins in Vannes on the west coast of France today against Fiji, with a very strong Auckland contingent in the squad to challenge for the cup.
Patrick Tuipulotu from Ponsonby and Simon Hickey from Grammar Carlton will be looking to keep up the history of strong New Zealand performances at the tournament.
New Zealand has held the title since its inception in 2008, winning four straight titles before losing 22-16 to South Africa in last year’s final.
The 2013 side will be looking to create its own legacy, while avenging last year’s defeat.
‘‘The cup belongs in New Zealand. Our expectation is that we are the best team in the world,’’ Tuipulotu says.
‘‘There is huge pressure on the New Zealand Under 20s as we are an awesome rugby nation,’’ Hickey says.
‘‘Every year has a different side so we are looking forward rather than looking back at past results.’’
Auckland Rugby Union player development manager Ant Strachan says these two players have benefited from the ARU High Performance Academy Programme.
‘‘Patrick is an outstanding young man who has continued to grow within the ARU High Performance Programme. He is technically and tactically very proficient as well as displaying massive potential as a leader in the future.’’
Tuipulotu has been a rock in the Ponsonby forward pack, controlling the lineout in a position previously held by Andy Hayden, Troy Flavell, and Ali Williams at Ponsonby.
Hickey has already had a successful start to his rugby career, winning last year’s Gallaher Shield with Grammar Carlton and playing for Auckland in the ITM Cup.
‘‘Simon is a gifted athlete who plays the game with maturity beyond his years – a post-school player who has progressed rapidly and now has a great opportunity to lead his country to a world title,’’ Strachan says.
The New Zealand Under 20s environment is a proven stepping stone for developing young players into future All Blacks, with 16 of the 38-man All Blacks 2013 training squad being former New Zealand under 20s representatives since 2008.
The current crop of players will be looking to emulate the feats of the previous All Black graduates.
‘‘There is a strong focus from the NZRU, and it should help us all improve as players,’’ Hickey says.
‘‘It means a lot to be in this team – it is reward for years of hard work but is a stepping stone for us to gain higher honours,’’ Tuipulotu says.
Charging on: Patrick Tuipulotu is a member of New Zealand’s IRB Junior World Championship team.
Taking off: Simon Hickey and his New Zealand IRB Junior World Championship team-mates take on Fiji today.