By Campbell Burnes
The New Zealand Universities side embark on a mini internal tour this week with the twins aims of winning and enjoying their footy in the best traditions of open ‘scarfie’ rugby.
There are nine returning from the 2013 squad which toured Japan and recorded three comfortable victories. Back in the 23-man team after captaining the side in 2012 is Manawatu flanker Callum Gibbins, the sole player with Super Rugby experience.
“We’re really surprised that Callum hasn’t had more of a run at Super Rugby level. He’s a special player,” says NZU manager Andy Hall, who added that Gibbins was likely to be named captain when the squad assembles in Christchurch today.
The itinerary sees NZU face a Buller-West Coast selection in Westport next Wednesday with the feature game of the tour, and likely to be given first-class status, the May 3 clash against Japan East (Kanto), all of whom are fulltime Japanese professionals. That match will be the curtainraiser to the Crusaders-Brumbies fixture at AMI Stadium. Japan East opened its tour with a 13-7 defeat to Mid Canterbury on Wednesday night.
Other players of note include lock Michael Allardice, who played for Hawke’s Bay last season, Manawatu second five Hamish Northcott, and former Otago hooker Wyatt McKay.
“We also think Te Wihi Wright is a very good winger who is going places,” says Hall of the Old Boys-University speedster.
There was a late injury defection with halfback Nick Annear breaking his thumb, and he was replaced by Auckland’s Sam Marshall.
First five/fullback Broc Hooper, of Lincoln University, played for the 2012 New Zealand Schools side out of the St Kentigern College First XV.
“We’re trying to bring through young talent all the time. We have a clash with the Under 20s this year and we have players with us who were with the Under 20s last year,” says Hall.
Into the latter bracket falls hooker Nick Grogan of Massey, while 2013 NZU rep Tau Koloamatangi has cracked the Under 20s this season.
There is an experienced coaching staff returning and both men are passionate about university rugby. Former All Blacks Steve Surridge (head coach) and Mark Ranby (assistant) both played for NZU and indeed Cambridge University back in the day. Doctor Ian Stewart was in the 1980 NZU side.
The most recent All Black to play for New Zealand Universities was Dominic Bird in 2012. Many All Blacks have started out their national careers with this unique, fully amateur side. ( NZ Herald)