Otago pair have chance on world stage

Otago players Ricky Jackson (left) and Vilimoni Koroi will join the New Zealand U-20 team in...
Otago players Ricky Jackson (left) and Vilimoni Koroi will join the New Zealand U-20 team in France for its title defence this month. Photo: Peter McIntosh
Last year it was powerful hooker Asafo Aumua who set the World Rugby under-20 championships alight.

The Hurricanes front rower scored three tries in the final to help New Zealand demolish England 64-17.

But this year it could be two Otago players who make a name for themselves.

University hooker Ricky Jackson and Alhambra-Union outside back Vilimoni Koroi are part of the New Zealand squad which will look to defend its title in France.

They are keen to help uphold the country's proud record. New Zealand has won the annual event eight times since its inception in 2008.

The tournament has also helped launch careers. The likes of Sam Whitelock, Aaron Smith, Julian Savea and Brodie Retallick came through the New Zealand under-20 team and have gone on to forge wonderful international and Super Rugby careers.

Jackson and Koroi would like to follow in their footsteps. Both were feeling a combination of nerves and excitement.

"It is a bit of both," Koroi said.

"I'm excited to wear the black jersey and play for our country. But with the legacy behind the jersey the challenge for us is just to perform well."

"Hopefully, there will be some future stars playing in this under-20s side."

Jackson felt the same way. His long-term goal is to play professional rugby but he did not want to get ahead of himself,

"It is a big occasion. There is quite a bit of pressure which comes with the legacy but it is important to be in the moment as well.

"Putting on this black jersey is a big thing for me and I'm really looking forward to it."

Southland has also contributed two players to the team in halfback Jay Renton and hooker Flynn Thomas. Dunedin physiotherpist Karl Houltham is the physiotherapist for the New Zealand side.

The team assembles in Tauranga on Sunday and then travels to Spain and then on to France. New Zealand is in pool A with Australia, Wales and Japan.

It opens its campaign against Japan on May 30. Wales is next on June 3 before arguably its greatest challenge against Australia on June 7.

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