Flan­ders flagged as fu­ture All Black

Hawke's Bay Today - - DIGEST - Mad­di­son Tro­phy Pre­mier Rugby

I re­mem­ber the first day I watched Michael Jones and Zin­zan Brooke strut their stuff on a rugby field.

It was the 1983 North­ern Re­gion un­der-18 tour­na­ment at Rugby Park, Dar­gav­ille. Jones was open­side flanker and Brooke switched be­tween lock and No 8 for the ti­tle-win­ning Auck­land team.

I said to my fel­low scribes at the back of the grand­stand the pair had “fu­ture All Blacks” writ­ten all over them. They nod­ded in agree­ment and Brooke and Jones backed up my pre­dic­tion by go­ing on to play 100 and 74 games re­spec­tively for the ABs.

Hav­ing watched Pro­gres­sive Meats Have­lock North loosie De­van Flan­ders reg­u­larly for the past three sea­sons, it has been easy to com­pare his ex­ploits with those of Brooke and Jones at the same age. Multi-tal­ented with plenty of speed, su­perb cover de­fence and out­stand­ing aerial skills, Baby Black Flan­ders also has the nec­es­sary X-fac­tor and po­ten­tial to play for the All Blacks.

Flan­ders, 18, has been named as a sub­sti­tute for the vil­lagers in their do-or-die ninth round Tui Mad­di­son Tro­phy clash against North­fu­els Cen­tral at Anderson Park to­day.

Spec­ta­tors shouldn’t be sur­prised if some­thing spe­cial from Flan­ders proves the dif­fer­ence dur­ing the final quar­ter if it is a close clash.

It will be his first out­ing since re­turn­ing from the un­der-20 world cham­pi­onship in France last month. He had hoped to play for Have­lock North against Taradale Rugby and Sports last week­end, but a shoul­der in­jury col­lected in France de­layed his re­turn and to­day’s match will be his se­cond for the vil­lagers af­ter a stint off the pine in the sea­son opener against Ta­matea.

“While our fourth plac­ing in France wasn’t the re­sult we wanted, it was a fan­tas­tic tour­na­ment to be at and we had a fun en­vi­ron­ment. There were some big boys over there and the French and South African teams we lost to were the most phys­i­cal and hard­est op­po­nents we came up against,” Flan­ders re­called.

While he has yet to have his one-on-one fol­low-up with Baby Blacks head coach and for­mer Mag­pies men­tor Craig Philpott, Flan­ders said he has fair idea what his work-ons will be.

“I have to be more phys­i­cal in the col­li­sion area . . . with my tack­les and my car­ries.

“I’ll still be el­i­gi­ble for next year’s un­der-20 world cham­pi­onship in Ar­gentina. Hope­fully I’ll get an­other crack,” Flan­ders said.

The 2017 New Zealand Sec­ondary Schools rep­re­sen­ta­tive and na­tional top-four ti­tle win­ner with Hast­ings Boys’ High School is hop­ing to play for the Mag­pies in pre-sea­son games against Waikato on Au­gust 4 in Taupo and Manawatu on Au­gust 10 in Napier and earn a Mitre 10 Cup squad con­tract.

“I want to get a feel of what it is like at that level. I want to be pre­pared and play­ing for Have­lock North will help me do that,” Flan­ders said.

Last week­end Flan­ders ran the water for the vil­lagers dur­ing their 28-24 loss to Taradale.

“We were un­lucky to lose but it was a good game to watch. The boys have looked pretty sharp this week and I’m con­fi­dent we can do it.”

Have­lock North man­ager Gary Rev­ell said the hosts are thrilled to have Flan­ders avail­able for such a cru­cial game. They are also rapt to have the Pae­wai twins, Kalin and Jesse, avail­able af­ter winger Jesse bounced back from what was orig­i­nally be­lieved to be a sea­son-end­ing knee in­jury.

The vil­lagers will miss the ser­vices of in­jured Mag­pies train­ing squad lock Sam Ulu­fonua and in­spi­ra­tional cap­tain and No 8 Phil McRoberts. In McRoberts’ ab­sence, worka­holic lock Bron­son Prim­mer will cap­tain the side.

“If we can con­tinue on from last week, I’m sure we will do it,” Rev­ell added.

Cen­tral man­ager Ian Large said apart from in­jured Mag­pies lock Tom Parsons his side will be close to full strength.

“Tak­ing the way we have se­cured some cru­cial wins dur­ing the se­cond round to move into semi­fi­nal con­tention into ac­count, we have to go up there with con­fi­dence. I can’t re­mem­ber the last time we won at Anderson Park but we’re not go­ing up there to lose.

“If we can play con­sis­tent rugby and re­tain pos­ses­sion, we can do it. Ob­vi­ously we have to dom­i­nate up front first and that’s where they’re vul­ner­a­ble,” Large added.

Cen­tral, K9 Pet­foods Clive and Have­lock North all have a chance of se­cur­ing the fourth semi­fi­nal spot to­day. With Clive ex­pected to bag the max­i­mum five com­pe­ti­tion points when they host bot­tom-of-the-ta­ble Jarks Ta­matea at Farn­don Park, Cen­tral will need max­i­mum points to earn a semi­fi­nal.

Should Have­lock North win, and they should by at least seven points, they will also rely on Ta­matea up­set­ting Clive be­fore book­ing a semi­fi­nal. While there is plenty of in­ter­est in the bat­tle for the fourth spot, there is just as much in the tus­sle of un­beaten teams Auto Su­per Shoppe Hast­ings Rugby and Sports and Taradale Rugby and Sports at El­wood Park.

With both teams guar­an­teed a semi­fi­nal berth, it will be in­ter­est­ing to see if they main­tain the high in­ten­sity lev­els they have dis­played in re­cent weeks or save petrol for the semi­fi­nals and keep a few cards hid­den in case they meet in the July 28 final. This clash has the po­ten­tial to be as good as Hast­ings’ 40-27 win against de­fend­ing champions WIT Napier Old Boys Marist six weeks ago.

In other games, NOBM should pip Altherm Win­dow Sys­tems Napier Tech­ni­cal at Park Is­land and the MAC-Tanalised Napier Pi­rate Rugby and Sports clash at Flaxmere Park could go ei­ther way but by no more than four.

PHOTO / PHOTOSPORT

Have­lock North loosie De­van Flan­ders scores his try for the Baby Blacks against Aus­tralia at the un­der 20 world cham­pi­onship in France last month.

Shane Hurn­dell shane.hurn­dell@hbto­day.co.nz

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