Junior All Blacks - Pacific Nations Cup preview

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James Mortimer -     02 Jun 2009     Getty Images

A valuable and necessary tournament, it provides the opportunity for players outside of the All Blacks' set up to be exposed to international rugby. But more importantly gives the Pacific Island nations and Japan exposure to consistent top level competition.

This is part of the charter in place by the IRB to allow for high performance competition pathways for Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and Japan.

These benefits are clearly being felt, with Fiji reaching the quarter finals in the 2007 Rugby World Cup and Tonga and Japan producing their best ever Cup results that year.

As a permanent fixture on the global rugby calendar, the announcement of Fiji as the host nation for this year’s tournament will greatly benefit the region, which will enjoy over US$1 million direct funding from the IRB.

It is the first major fifteen game tournament held in the country.
The Junior All Black squad is typically powerful, with Coaches Colin Cooper and Ian Foster also reaping the benefits of adding coaching exposure by taking the reign of what is effectively an international side.

Arguably the most notable player in the squad is the inclusion of former Sale Shark Luke McAlister, who makes his return to New Zealand rugby, having not represented his country since the 2007 World Cup.

It is among the NZRU set conditions that he represents the Junior All Blacks before – form allowing – being eligible for the nation’s elite team.

There are nine players who have represented the All Blacks, including McAlister, in the squad.

Equally, there is strong number of the squad who has represented New Zealand, either at Sevens or age grade level, including Otago prodigy Israel Dagg, Victor Vito, Rene Ranger and Ryan Crotty.

For all of these players, not only will some of them taste top level international rugby for the first time, but can legitimately use it as a path way to higher honours.

Robert Fruean makes his return to top level rugby after recovering from serious health issues, and the 2007 IRB under 19 player of the year will be excited to make his return to a senior side.

It is a squad blended with experienced players and the next tier of New Zealand rugby playing talent, and expectations will be high for success in the Cup.

The two opening rounds of the tournament will be played in Samoa, before moving to Fiji for nearly three weeks of what promises to be a festival of international rugby.

Matches will be played at the National Stadium in Suva, Churchill Park in Lautoka and Lawaqa Park in Sigatoka.

The Junior All Blacks will convene in Auckland on the 8th of June, before departing for Samoa three days later. The championship opens with Samoa hosting the Junior All Blacks in Apia.

The 2009 Junior All Blacks

Ryan Crotty, Canterbury,
Israel Dagg, Hawke’s Bay
Aled de Malmanche, Waikato
Tom Donnelly, Otago
Jason Eaton, Taranaki
Hikawera Elliot, Hawke’s Bay
Jacob Ellison, Wellington
Tamati Ellison, Wellington
Bryn Evans, Hawke’s Bay
Ben Franks, Tasman
Owen Franks, Canterbury
Robert Fruean, Wellington
Hosea Gear, Wellington
Sione Lauaki, Waikato
Karl Lowe, Hawke’s Bay
Luke McAlister, North Harbour
Jamie Mackintosh, Southland
Lelia Masaga, Counties Manukau
Alby Mathewson, Wellington
Rene Ranger, Northland
Colin Slade, Canterbury
Chris Smylie, North Harbour
Jeremy Thrush, Wellington
Anthony Tuitavake, North Harbour
George Whitelock, Canterbury
Victor Vito, Wellington

Squad cover

John Schwalger, Wellington
Craig Clarke, Taranaki

Match schedule

Samoa V Junior All Blacks @ Apia, 12th June 2009
Tonga V Fiji @ Nuku’alofa, 13th June 2009
Japan V Samoa @ Sigatoka, 18th June 2009
Junior All Blacks V Fiji @ Lautoka, 18th June 2009
Samoa V Tonga @ Lautoka, 23rd June 2009
Japan V Junior All Blacks @ Lautoka, 23rd June 2009
Tonga V Japan @ Lautoka, 27th June 2009
Tonga V Junior All Blacks @ Suva, 2nd July 2009
Fiji V Japan @ Suva, 3rd July 2009