Top level age-grade international rugby returns to the Gold Coast in Australia this weekend with the Oceania Rugby U20 Championship kicking off on Friday.
The tournament, now in its fifth year, will continue to provide key game time and preparation for defending champions New Zealand, Australia and Fiji ahead of the World Rugby U20 Championship 2019 in Argentina in just over a month’s time.
Japan complete the four-team line-up and will play in the World Rugby U20 Trophy in Brazil in July.
New Zealand have been the dominant force since the tournament’s inception in 2015, winning all four titles on offer with only one defeat to their name in 11 matches.
And with a handful of players returning from last year’s World Rugby U20 Championship campaign and Mitre 10 Cup experience littered throughout the squad, coach Craig Philpott has his sights set on nothing less than victory.
“We have a few goals, but first and foremost we want to perform well in the black jersey and win that tournament.”
New Zealand begin their campaign against a Fiji side looking to impress ahead of their return to the World Rugby U20 Championship after a five-year absence.
Fiji coach Kele Leawere has selected a strong match-day squad featuring eight players who recently won the World Rugby Pacific Challenge with Fiji Warriors.
These players include captain and hooker Tevita Ikanivere, props Livai Natave and Joseva Nasaroa, flanker Alivereti Loaloa, scrum-half Simione Kuruvoli, fly-half Caleb Muntz, centre Veresa Romototabua and full-back Osea Waqa.
“With the sheer determination and commitment shown by all the players in the squad, it was tough to select the best players for the match against New Zealand,” said former Fiji international Leawere. “We know New Zealand will always be a tough team to beat but we will give our 100 per cent to go and create an upset.”
Junior Wallabies coach Jason Gilmore has included nine debutants in his squad of 28 for the opening match against Japan and is looking forward to seeing how all the new combinations fare.
“It’s really exciting to get to this stage of the campaign now,” he said. “We are looking forward to the challenge ahead, the team has prepared well and we’re eager to take on the tough opposition that Japan will be.”
Queensland Reds openside Fraser McReight, the Junior Wallabies Player of the Year in 2018, has been named captain of the side.