Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Young guns ready to fire

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Asafo Aumua is one of three remarkable players from the NZ U20s to look out for in the Mitre 10 champs this year. Photo: YouTube

Asafo Aumua, Caleb Clarke and Will Jordon are three classy superstars from the world champion NZ Under 20 rugby team capable of making a huge impact in this year’s Mitre 10 championship.

All have the x-factor that distinguishes the exhilarating play of Dane Coles, Rieko Ioane and Barrett brothers, Beauden and Jordie.

At 1.77m tall and 108kg, former St Pat’s Silverstream juggernaut hooker Aumua has explosive speed and strength which he demonstrated in scoring three tries for Wellington against Northland last year.

This year he proved he is even better when scoring a swag more in this year’s U20 World Cup triumph in Georgia, including another hat-trick in the devastating 64-17 final win against England.

With Ricky Riccitelli deservedly included in the All Blacks squad this week following another head injury to Coles, Wellington are incredibly well served for hookers.

When fit and free from his concussion, Coles is the world’s best. But with more experience and improvement with his throwing, expect Aumua to seriously challenge him. He’s that good.

Son of a gun Caleb Clarke looks set to make a huge impact for Auckland in what promises to be an intriguing Mitre 10 championship.

Fast and strong, Clarke is a prolific try-scorer and sprint champion whose style mirrors that of father, Eroni, who was a star for Graham Henry’s Auckland Colts team before he graduated to All Black honours.

Caleb captained Mt Albert Grammar to the national secondary schools title last year and, like fellow Mt. Albert Old Boys Bryan Williams and Rieko Ioane, is equally proficient at centre and wing.

Classy fullback Jordan is a product of Christchurch Boys High and scored 19 tries in 11 games for the First XV last year.

This year the 19-year-old added four tries for Christchurch against his school’s Old Boys at senior level and has signed a two-year Mitre 10 contract with Tasman, the province of David Havili, who this week joined the All Black squad after Jordie Barrett was side-lined for the season with a shoulder injury.

Although Havili reserved his best games for the champion Crusaders as a fullback, he was named as a midfielder in the Tasman squad, presumably to make way for Jordan.

With Ben Smith planning to limit his test appearances this season after suffering concussion and inner ear problems, Jordie Barrett will miss a great opportunity to further consolidate his place as fullback.

However there are still plenty of options other than Smith and Havili with Israel Dagg, Beauden Barrett, Damian McKenzie and Nehe Milner-Skudder all having shown form at fullback.

Meanwhile, dissatisfied with their performance in tying the series against the British and Irish Lions, the All Blacks will seek to improve against an Australian team they have repeatedly whipped in recent years.

However the Aussies have made a smart move in promoting the impressive Michael Hooper to skipper and they have had a lot longer to prepare as a squad.

Having had limited game time since rupturing his Achilles tendon at the Rio Olympics and serving suspension for being sent off against the Lions, Sonny Bill Williams needs to silence his critics with a strong performance akin to that he showed in the Blues triumph against the Lions.

With strong competition for midfield berths, he still has something to prove.

* Ivan Agnew is an award-winning sports writer and author


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