The New Zealand Under-20 rugby team have missed out on a place in the IRB Junior World Championship final, but halfback Mitchell Drummond says it has still been a special few weeks representing his country.
The former Nelson College first XV captain started in three matches at the tournament, including Sunday night’s 32-25 semi-final loss to South Africa.
Even though the Baby Blacks won’t be playing in the final, Mitchell was encouraged by the team’s performance, having been beaten in most facets of the game when New Zealand first played South Africa in pool play.
On Sunday they found themselves in front for most of the game, only for the big South African team to claw their way back, scoring the killer blow in the 76th minute.
“Every one of our guys gave it everything. We can all look ourselves in the mirror and know that. I thought we outplayed them but we just couldn’t finish it off at crucial times,” he says. “We learnt a lot from when we played them in pool play. We had a good game plan and I thought we executed it quite well.”
Mitchell, who was one of four Super Rugby players in the New Zealand team, relished his first opportunity to play for his country, and was happy with his own performances. “When I got my first jersey presented to me it was pretty emotional and pretty special. I’m just grateful to be starting and getting some good minutes.”
New Zealand lost their captain Simon Hickey to an injury in their final pool game. He was replaced by Nelson fullback David Havili, who was an unused substitute in the semi-final and is a chance to make his New Zealand debut in the third-fourth playoff against Ireland. Mitchell says it was good to have his former school mate in the squad. “I was stoked when I heard he was coming up. It was awesome for him to be named in the team and I hope he gets a crack against Ireland on Friday.”
The third-fourth playoff will be played at Eden Park before the final.