NZ schools trio part of U20 squad

Rohan Wingham
Rohan Wingham
The Highlanders under-20 squad set to play in next week’s national tournament comes from far and wide.

Three of the players selected were part of last year’s national secondary schools side.

Prop Rohan Wingham, lock Fabian Holland and halfback Noah Hotham made the national side last year which was only a paper team. Wingham went to King’s High School, Hotham attended Hamilton Boys’ High School and Holland is a former Christchurch Boys’ High School pupil.

Holland is an interesting player as he only arrived in the country from the Netherlands at the start of 2019 and, within two years, had made it all the way to the national schools team. A lock who stands more than 2m tall, he will bring plenty of size to the Highlanders team.

Ned Pene is the son of former Otago and All Black No8 Arran Pene. He is from Hamilton Boys’ High School.

There are two Southland forwards in the squad.

Aleki Saili is from the Marist club and Arese Poliko from Blues.

The team will be captained by University loose forward Sean Withy, who has played at a first-class level for Otago.

The team is coached by Hawke’s Bay coach Mark Ozich who will be assisted by Will Henry and Ryan Bambry, who coached the King’s High School First XV last year.

Ozich said he was contacted by Highlanders chief executive Roger Clark about coaching the side and had jumped at the chance.

Ozich has been with the side for the last six weeks although it had not been easy to get all the players together as they were spread far and wide and had study and work commitments.

The side had a pre-season game against the Crusaders under-20 side in Temuka a couple of weeks ago. It lost 24-22 but Ozich said the team had played well.

The team had good spirit and character and showed plenty of desire in the game so far.

The goal was to win but there was more to look at.

"It’s development, about relationships, it’s about enjoying the environment, coming into trainings and feeling they can walk away having been extended and learning," he said.

Players who impressed there would make a national under-20 squad to be picked at the end of the tournament.

He said the side had a robust forward pack and would look to use the ball and keep it in play.

Ozich, who has links with the South as a former Southland Boys’ High School deputy principal, said he did not consider the position a stepping stone to higher levels.

"I have certainly not had any conversations around that. I have got a Magpies campaign to go back to," he said.

"All I can do is coach and try and do a good job. If other things happen and opportunities arise, then great. If not, well I just love coaching footy."

The Highlanders side takes on a Barbarians side in Taupo on Sunday in the first game of the tournament.

It will then play a Hurricanes team next Wednesday and the Crusaders on April 17.

Highlanders under-20

The squad
Sean Withy (c), Geordie Bean, Oscar Crowley-Andrea, Leroy Ferguson, Joe Devlin, Oliver Haig, Harry Hansen, Nathan Hastie, Fabian Holland, Noah Hotham, Giovanni Leituala, Peceli Malanicagi, Michael Manson, Thomas McKenzie, Cam Millar, Ned Pene, Jermaine Pepe, Tevita Pole, Arese Poliko, Harry Press, Aleki Saili, Naryan Strickland, Harry Taylor, Levi Uluakaihoia, Max Webb, Rohan Wingham.

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