Late start no problem
FERGUS Burke grew up playing football in Gisborne, switched his focus to rugby at high school and now he’s preparing for the under-20 world championship with the Baby Blacks.
New Zealand’s under-20 squad of 28 will have a four-day training camp at Mount Maunganui before they fly to Argentina for the tournament, which starts early next month.
Burke, 19, is a first five-eighth now living in Canterbury, although he regards Gisborne as home.
He attended Makauri School and Gisborne Intermediate and his parents and grandparents live in the region.
His father, Richard Burke, said he and wife Jools would go to Argentina to watch their son play.
“We’re immensely proud of what he’s achieved,” Richard Burke said.
“The hard work’s paid off.”
Fergus Burke said he really got into rugby at St Paul’s Collegiate in Hamilton.
He was also picked for the Poverty Bay under-13 and u16 teams and played rippa rugby and touch for Ngatapa when he was “five or six”.
But he was devoted to football before he went to boarding school.
Central Football development officer Blake Mulrooney was a big influence, Burke said.
“He taught me quite a bit about football and sport in general.”
His background in football helped his rugby, he said.
Burke sees himself as a specialist first-five who can also play fullback.
He has been likened to All Black first-five Beauden Barrett — a comparison Burke said was positive, as he looks up to Barrett — but he is happy to be himself.
He also spent last summer with the Crusaders, so has had the opportunity to learn from their All Black No.10, Richie Mo’unga.
Burke was offered a place in the Crusaders’ academy during his last year at school, 2017, and said Canterbury was an ideal place to “learn the trade”.
He began studying commerce at the University of Canterbury last year, while also spending time at the academy.
New Zealand’s preparations for the u20 world championship had a hiccup when the Junior Wallabies beat them 24-0 in the Oceania championship final this month.
Burke said that was a good wake-up call.
“Australia are a very good team,” he said.
“They came with a plan that worked.”
That included putting pressure on the set piece and getting up quickly on defence.
Burke expected South Africa, who are in their pool, to use similar tactics, and said the New Zealand team needed to be able to adapt.
New Zealand have won the annual tournament six times since it started in 2008 but France were the 2018 champions.
Hawke’s Bay hooker Kianu Kereru-Symes will captain the Baby Blacks.
New Zealand’s first match is against Georgia on June 5.
They play Scotland on June 9 and South Africa on June 13.
Matches will be broadcast live on Spark Sport.