Opportunity for top school leavers

Talented young South Canterbury rugby players will get a chance to represent the New Zealand Heartland unions with the introduction of an under 19 side.

New Zealand Rugby have confirmed an inaugural 2014 National Under 19 Rugby Tournament would be held in Taupo from late September.

The tournament will include 16 seeded teams, one made up from the 12 Heartland unions.

The teams' seeding will be determined from regional qualifying tournaments and they will feature one team from each ITM Cup provincial union plus a second team from the Auckland Rugby Union, due to their strong player numbers.

Secondary school players are not eligible for selection.

New Zealand Rugby's Neil Sorensen said the tournament would feature the nation's best under-19 school leavers competing against each other in a week-long event.

''Following hot on the heels of hosting the IRB Under 20 Junior World Championships in June, the Taupo tournament will showcase some of country's best young rugby talent, many of whom will no doubt go on to play rugby at the highest level.'' 

NZR general manger of community and provincial rugby Brent Anderson said it was an exciting development.

A key driver was to keep young men in rugby after finishing secondary school. he said.

Anderson said when they put the draw together it became apparent that ''a Heartland XV was a good way to go''.

''We were keen for the Heartland Unions to be involved and compete against the ITM Cup provinces.''

School-age players had been excluded because most First XVs had well established programmes, including competitions within Super Rugby franchises.

Anderson said no final decision had been made, but they were looking provisionally at a May cut off  to have left school so there was no ''double dipping''.

The selection process was likely to follow that of the New Zealand Heartland XV, with provinces nominating their best players for consideration.

South Canterbury Rugby Union chairman Brent Isbister said the union was very supportive of  a Heartland side in the competition.  

''It will allow players who have left school but are remaining in the Heartland provinces the opportunity to play in a national competition and display their talent to national selectors. 

''This further strengthens the pathway for those players into the professional game.'' 

South Canterbury have contributed strongly to the Heartland XV over the seasons since it has been established, with Fa'aitu Tuamoheloa, Nathan Tubb and Matt Fetu making the 2013 side, with Chester Scott the assistant coach. 

The Timaru Herald