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Jock Hobbs Under 19 tourney vital for NZ20s

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Campbell Burnes     04 Sep 2018     Getty Images

The Jock Hobbs Memorial National Under 19 tournament is still very much an integral part of the talent scouting process.

Just ask New Zealand Under 20 head coach Craig Philpott, who has been in the role since 2017. The 2018 edition, kicking off on Sunday at Taupo’s Owen Delany Park, and with further match days on September 12 and 15, will be the third tournament he has watched closely. It will be the fifth in all, after it was inaugurated in 2014.

“This is a step on the ladder to Argentina next June (for the World Rugby Under 20 Championship). The whole concept of the tournament is fantastic in the sense that we corral 95 percent of the talent that is eligible in one spot for the week to watch them first-hand,” says Philpott, who guided the New Zealand Under 20s to the world title in 2017.

“It’s a massive undertaking to get something like this up and running. You are talking about 400 players and, on top of that coaches, support staff and referees. NZR has designed it really well in that, while you have the match days, you have programmes in place to help educate players and coaches too."  
QUICK TAP: HEARTLAND TEAM NAMED FOR JOCK HOBBS TOURNEY 

Those are the seminar days on non-match days in which there will be instruction on areas like drug testing, nutrition and media, some of the knowledge players will need as they head into the professional or semi-professional ranks.

“You get a wide range of experiences with the players and with the coaches. Some are coming out of a schools background, others out of a club background with different life experiences. Most of them are new to the concept of potentially being a professional player or coach,” adds Philpott.

Among those sharing their knowledge at this year’s tournament will be former All Blacks Test centurion Keven Mealamu, 2015 World Cup-winning New Zealand Under 20 captain and 2017 All Blacks prop Atu Moli and 2016 NZ Schools captain and 2017 Manawatu loose forward at this tournament Brayden Iose.

Just four of the 2018 New Zealand Under 20 squad did not play in the 2017 Taupo tournament, and two of those were involved in the Mitre 10 Cup, outside backs Bailyn Sullivan of Waikato and Vilimoni Koroi of Otago.
“The provincial unions come first normally, but all coaches understand the importance of this tournament, the long-term development of the athlete and being involved in the Under 20s programme, so it makes sense to be involved in the Under 19 tournament. We generally get a fair crack at those guys coming through,” says Philpott.

Out of this tournament and his viewing of Mitre 10 Cup, Philpott and his selectors will name around 50 to attend the first (of three) Under 20s training camp in December.

The format of the U19 tournament is simple enough. The 14 Mitre 10 Cup unions enter teams, plus a national Heartland Under 19 side, plus a second team out of Auckland, which has the largest number of registered players. Based on seedings determined with pre-tournament play, the sides are split into Premiership and Championship divisions and play knockout-based playoffs through to finals day.

Check out the tournament Facebook page at www.facebook.com/NationalUnder19s.