Top level age-grade international rugby returns to the Gold Coast in Australia this weekend with the Oceania Rugby U20 Championship kicking off this Friday.
The Championship, now in its fourth year, will continue to provide key game time and preparation for both Australia and New Zealand ahead of World Rugby U20 Championship 2018 in France in just over a month’s time.
Fiji will also stand to gain invaluable on-field experience during the Championship ahead of their World Rugby U20 Trophy campaign later this year. Tonga complete the four-team line-up after replacing Samoa.
Last year New Zealand took the title after winning all three games and scoring 186 points with only 36 conceded. And the momentum gained from that regional success carried over into the World Rugby U20 Championship in Georgia where they smashed all manner of records and emphatically won back their world crown by beating defending champions England 64-17 in the final.
New Zealand captain Tom Christie knows the current crop of New Zealand U20 players have a lot to live up. “The boys are excited, and we are hoping that this Oceania Rugby tournament will enable us to build for the World Rugby U20 Championship, just by finding out some things about each other and what works best for us as a team,” he said.
"We know that there are expectations and the team last year did really well but for us it’s about focusing on us and how we can perform better."
New Zealand begin their campaign against tournament newcomers Tonga, while hosts Australia take on Fiji. Last year Fiji gave Australia a real fright, pushing them all the way before eventually losing 32-24.
Junior Wallabies coach Jason Gilmore is aware of the threat posed by the Pacific Islanders. “Fiji will present a strong challenge first up for us and we know that they can attack from anywhere,” he said. “The team has prepared well for this tournament and there is excitement to start our 2018 season on the Gold Coast.
“Ryan Lonergan will lead the team out as captain, he’s an excellent rugby player both physically and mentally and he will lead us well throughout the Oceania campaign.”
Fiji, who lost all three games in the 2017 edition of the tournament, will be captained by Raikabula Momedonu. He said: “The boys are working hard and we’ve been looking forward to this tournament. We are also aiming to do our best as we play the host nation tomorrow and the other respective teams over the next few days.”
For the full Oceania Rugby U20 Championship 2018 fixture list click here.
Photo: Tim Marsden