The Tasman Rugby Union will be represented at the IRB Junior World Championship after all, following prop Reuben Northover's surprise call up to South Africa this week.
The 20-year-old Marist prop had been getting ready for bed at about 10.20pm on Wednesday when he was shocked to receive a phone call from New Zealand under-20 team manager Paul McLaughlan, inviting him to join the team in South Africa as cover for an injured front rower. Northover is a tighthead specialist who can also cover loosehead.
He'd been one of three Tasman players, along with Huia's Mike Wells and Waimea Old Boys' James Lowe, initially disappointed to miss the cut when the official squad was announced around six weeks ago.
It appeared to have ended Tasman's impressive record of having contributed players to each of New Zealand's previous four championship-winning teams. Quentin MacDonald and Kade Poki were part of the inaugural 2008 success in Wales and Hamish Cochrane was a member of the 2009 team in Japan. Tom Marshall and Sam Prattley helped New Zealand to the 2010 title in Argentina and Mitchell Scott was part of last year's winning side in Italy.
The stunned Northover's reprieve meant he left Nelson yesterday just after 11am bound for Cape Town via Wellington, Melbourne, Perth and Johannesburg to join the New Zealand team prior to Monday's semifinal against Wales at Newlands.
Northover said, just moments before departing Nelson Airport, that his head was still spinning following a frantic previous 12 hours.
"I'm just super rapt, I'm crazy surprised," said Northover. "I couldn't really sleep last night when I got told. I was getting ready for bed and I got a call from the under-20s manager asking if I wanted to come to South Africa. I was really overwhelmed and I needed about 10 minutes just to sort myself, it's bloody crazy."
While he felt for the injured player, Northover was excited at the prospect of pulling on a New Zealand jersey once again, having played for the New Zealand under-17s in 2009. And after missing original selection, he was now on cloud nine.
"I was disappointed [at the initial non-selection] but you can't drop your head ... you've just got to keep pushing ahead. I got really lucky and I'm very happy."
Tasman Academy manager Gary Stevens said that Northover's call up was just reward for the 112kg, 1.9m-tall prop's impressive development over the past two seasons.
"He's technically always been very good as a prop and it's just been about learning the game over the last couple of years," said Stevens.
"Through the Tasman Academy programme, he's progressed physically and there's been a lot of technical help with our front row providers and [Tasman Makos coach] Kieran [Keane].
"Being a young man, he's also grown up in the last couple of years and grown into a good, young man who's just keen and eager to get stuck in and develop as a professional footballer."