Matt Vant Leven will captain a young Waikato side in this year's national provincial championship.
Vant Leven, who has been outstanding for the Chiefs at No8 since breaking through from that team's wider training group to be a regular starter, takes over from retired No8 Alex Bradley as skipper.
Blues midfielder Jackson Willison will be the vice-captain.
New coaches John Walters and Carl Hoeft named their ITM Cup squad yesterday after deciding not to wait until after the two early-season Ranfurly Shield defences against Heartland Championship teams Horowhenua-Kapiti and East Coast.
"We thought that the earlier we could get the team named the better in terms of being able to bring the group together and get on with our work," Walters said.
They have named a 34-man squad that includes All Blacks Liam Messam and Tawera Kerr-Barlow and have left one spot open for another back who is likely to be a halfback, particularly if Kerr-Barlow is selected for the Rugby Championship.
Walters said the squad, with 13 uncapped players, had an average age of about 23 and included 19-year-old University forwards in lock Brian Alainu'uese and hooker Hame Faiva, as well as 20-year-olds Whetu Douglas (flanker/lock), Marnus Hanley (midfield back) and Joe Webber (fullback/wing). There are also five 21-year-olds.
"It's pretty exciting and we've got some really good experience to complement the young fellas who are coming through and who are going to be top-class players if they are not already in terms of making New Zealand teams.
"Our feeling is that if they are good enough they are old enough," he said.
With 12 squad members still tied up with Super Rugby squads a number of young players would get a chance to gain experience in the early Ranfurly Shield matches.
The coaches have also named a six-man wider training group that includes experienced former Waikato lock Sean Hohneck, who has been back playing club rugby here since quitting professional rugby in England, as well as last year's Waikato squad members Joe Perawiti and Glen Robertson.
Another hugely experienced former Waikato player Marty Holah, who will be 37 in September but is still playing top level club rugby, has been named in a group of five players to cover for the two early shield matches.
Walters said Waikato had done a lot of their contracting of players early before the likes of Hohneck and Holah were featuring so strongly for their clubs, but their massive experience would be tapped into where possible.
Two Australia-based players have been selected - last year's Waikato first-five Sam Christie, who has been with the Force in Perth this season, and New Zealand-born Rebels tigh茂thead prop Paul Alo-Emile.
Halfback Brendon Leonard is heading to Italy at the end of the Super Rugby season but will play for Waikato next Wednesday in their Ranfurly Shield defence against Horowhenua-Kapiti on his Morrinsville home ground, Campbell Park.
Others gone from last year's squad include Marcel Cummings-Toone, Ben May and Bradley, while others such as Ted Tauroa are on a long list of players not considered due to injury. Save Tokula (France) and Toby Smith (Rebels) will play for Waikato this season and then head overseas.
Waikato 2013 ITM Cup squad:
Loose forwards: Jono Armstrong, Adam Burn, Whetu Douglas, Rory Grice, Zak Hohneck, Jack Lam, Liam Messam, Matt Vant Leven (captain).
Locks: Brian Alainu'uese, Romana Graham, Sam Kilgour, Chris Middleton, Nick Ross.
Props: Paul Alo-Emile, Fraser Armstrong, Toby Smith, Latu Talakai, Ben Tameifuna.
Hookers: Vance Elliott, Hame Faiva, Brayden Mitchell.
Outside backs: Trent Renata, Joe Webber, Semisi Masirewa, Tim Mikkelson.
Midfield: Dylan Collier, Marnus Hanley, Save Tokula, Watene Waenga, Jackson Willison (vice-captain).
Five-eighths: Sam Christie, Wharenui Hawera.
Halfbacks: Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Kylem O'Donnell.
One more back to be added.
Wider training group: Sean Hohneck, Jimmy Horsford, Kane Jacobsen, Jono Malo, Joe Perawiti, Glen Robertson.
Players to cover for first two Ranfurly Shield games: Marty Holah, Brendon Leonard, John Tu'ungafasi, Lionel Wairau, Joe Walsh.
Not considered due to injury: Josh Davey, Rohan Kamo, Anton Leinert-Brown, Atu Masirewa, Declan O'Donnell, Alex Suttie, Ted Tauroa, James Tucker, Loni Uhila, Regan Ware.
- Waikato Times
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