Preview: Junior All Blacks V Samoa
James Mortimer - allblacks.com 13 Jun 2009 Getty Images
Fiji (ranked ninth), Samoa (ranked eleventh), Tonga (fourteenth) and Japan (sixteenth) will all field full strength teams, with most of the worlds domestic competitions now over and players available to the respective teams.
One only has to look at last year’s results of these teams against both the NZ Maori (who the Junior All Blacks replaced for this 2009’s tournament) and Australia A to know that the proverbial gap is closing.
Both Samoa and Tonga only lost to the NZ Maori by 11 points, and Fiji nearly pulled off the upset, going down to the same team by 7-11. Samoa only lost to Australia A by 5 points, and Japan managed to put 21 points on the “Junior Wallabies” in a losing effort.
But, while speculation has continued all week about the All Blacks unveiling what has been regarded as a first team hamstrung by injury, there is little doubt that the Junior All Blacks – or New Zealand A – is a team that would compete well against any other side in world rugby.
There are former All Blacks throughout the side, with 2008 test players Anthony Tuitavake, Hosea Gear, Jason Eaton and Hikawera Elliot in the team.
Equally, there are standout performers from this year’s Rebel Sport Super 14, including up and coming prodigy Israel Dagg and Blues winger Rene Ranger.
With the national team suffering such a horror injury toll, the function of the Junior All Blacks in the New Zealand rugby landscape becomes even more prominent. Not only does it provide the second tier of player’s international rugby exposure, but allows for members of the team to be promoted into the All Blacks side in case of injuries or withdrawals.
The Pacific Nations Cup kicks off this weekend with the Junior All Blacks playing Samoa in Apia, with Tonga playing Fiji in Nuku’alofa.
Samoa will look to continue their solid form from last year, where they came third in the competition, behind the NZ Maori and Australia A.
They will want to continue that form, after being left behind by Fiji on the world stage two years ago at the World Cup, where Manu Samoa could only manage the one victory in the pool stages.
Still, they will be glad to catch the strongest team in the competition in the first round, as traditionally the New Zealand teams have been slow starters in the Pacific Nations Cup.
The teams have clashed twice in the last three years.
In 2006, the Samoans lost to the Junior All Blacks 56-14 in North Harbour. However, that year the Samoans finished runners up, inflicted a 53-9 pummelling to Japan, and a 36-0 victory over traditional rivals Tonga.
In 2007 Samoa played the Junior All Blacks in the first round, in front of an impressive 15,000 at Apia. The New Zealanders won 31-10, with current All Black John Afoa scoring a try, and starting first five eighth against France Stephen Donald playing at number ten.
Samoa will be captained by George Stowers, who plays for London Irish alongside Seilala Mapusua, the former Highlander who recently played for the Barbarians and will line up in the side.
Gavin Williams vice captains the side, son of former All Black Bryan Williams.
It will be a potent attacking Manu Samoa, with Henry Fa’afili, a former New Zealand Warrior league player, and Alesana Tuilagi, the Leicester Tigers attacking spearhead, in the backline.
JUNIOR ALL BLACK TEAM
15. Israel Dagg (Hawke’s Bay)
14. Rene Ranger (Northland)
13. Anthony Tuitavake (North Harbour)
12. Tamati Ellison (captain) (Wellington)
11. Hosea Gear (Wellington)
10. Colin Slade (Canterbury)
9. Chris Smylie (North Harbour)
8. Victor Vito (Wellington)
7. George Whitelock (Canterbury)
6. Jason Eaton (Taranaki)
5. Tom Donnelly (Otago)
4. Jeremy Thrush (Wellington)
3. Ben Franks (Tasman)
2. Aled De Malmanche (Waikato)
1. Jacob Ellison (Wellington)
Reserves: Hikawera Elliot, John Schwalger, Craig Clarke, Alando Soakai, Stephen Brett, Ryan Crotty. The last reserve is yet to be confirmed.
MANU SAMOA SQUAD
Backs: Junior Poluleuligaga, Notise Tauafao, Angelo Lani Malifa, Ki Anufe, Eliota Sapolu, Seilala Mapusua, Gavin Williams (V/Capt), Henry Faafili, Alesana Tuilagi, Esera Lauina, Reupena Levasa, Lolo Lui, Uale Mai
Forwards: Andrew Williams, Mahonri Schwalger, Fosi Palaamo, Census Johnston, Ernest Skelton, Justin Va’a, Filipo Levi, Joe Tekori, Jonathan Faamatuainu, Daniel Leo, Ofisa Treviranus, Misioka Timoteo, William Brame, Semo Sititi, George Stowers (Capt)
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