The Australian teams kicked off the new Super Rugby season this past weekend, and this week the rest are back in business. Here are ten prospects to watch out for.
Codie Taylor – Hooker – Crusaders – Age 21 – 183cm 106kg
With stalwarts Keven Mealamu and Andrew Hore both at the tail ends of their storied careers, the search is on for the next great All Blacks hooker. A proven winner with IRB u20 and ITM Cup championships already on his resume, the Canterbury kid has explosive power and all the skills to rise quickly through the ranks. Expect him to challenge Corey Flynn and Ben Funnell for the starting berth sooner than later.
Paul Alo-Emile – Tighthead Prop – Rebels – Age 21 – 180cm 120kg
The paucity of quality front rowers in the Australian ranks has been a talking point around the international community for some time, but a new generation of players is giving some pause for thought. Leading the charge is this bruising tighthead from the west via Sunnybank. An u20 international for two seasons, Alo-Emile has impressive mobility for a young man built like the proverbial brick outhouse, and so far his scrummaging has been up to par. If he can prove his mettle at Super Rugby level this season, Wallaby honours won’t be far away.
Lodewyk de Jager – Second Row – Cheetahs – Age 20 – 205cm 125kg
Another giant off the raw meat conveyer belt of South Africa. What do they put in the water down there? “Lood”, as he is appropriately called, narrowly missed out on last year’s world champion u20 side, but there will be more than a few eyes pointed in his direction this weekend as he makes his Cheetahs debut. At 20 years old he is already one of the biggest men in the competition, and it looks like we’ll soon find out if he has the goods to match.
Steven Luatua – Flanker – Blues – Age 21 – 196cm 110kg
While most of the rugby world is buzzing about the future of Ardie Savea, a lesser known prospect is quietly going about his business for the new-look Blues. Capped first by Samoa and then by New Zealand at u20 level, the long-striding Aucklander has split his time between lock and blindside flanker, though it is on the side of the scrum that his future appears to be. A solid lineout option, high work rate, and genuine physical presence in the contact area are features of his game. He looks to be just the type of no-nonsense character that the Blues need to replace departed legend Jerome Kaino.
Brad Shields – Eightman – Hurricanes – Age 21 – 193cm 111kg
A teammate of Taylor and Luatua in the 2011 champion u20 side, Shields was a regular feature off the bench for the Hurricanes last year. An unfortunate knee injury put paid to his hopes of a November call up to the All Blacks, but he is back to full fitness and looks set to command the no8 jersey in this year’s tourney. Already earmarked for future national selection, watch out for his powerful ball carrying and physicality at the breakdown.
Nic Groom – Scrumhalf – Stormers – Age 23 – 172cm 84kg
Unless you’re an avid follower of the South African domestic scene, chances are you’ve never heard of Nic Groom. If you watched the Currie Cup final, however, you might have noticed a very efficient, intelligent scrumhalf at work for Western Province. He’s easy to miss in the midst of the behemoth forwards who dominate the scene, but with crisp service, tactical awareness, and most importantly a will to win, it’s easy to see how he might stand out. A few eyebrows were raised when his name appeared in the no9 slot ahead of veteran Dewalt Duvenhage for this weekend’s season opener. A few nods of approval might follow after the game.
Kyle Godwin – Flyhalf – Force – Age 20 – 187cm 93kg
The Wallabies have never been short on talented playmakers, and this young star in the making looks to be the next to excel in the green and gold. He’s a dangerous runner with an eye for the gap and silky passing skills, though his goal kicking needs some work. With a solid frame and strong tackling ability he appears equally comfortable at centre, where he played this past weekend with the Force, but it’s in the no10 jersey where he’s most likely to end up.
Damian de Allende – Centre – Stormers – Age 21 – 189cm 100kg
One of the breakout players from the Currie Cup, the big centre was a surprise selection for the no12 jersey in the final against Natal. His rapid rise continues this weekend as he steps up to face Springbok Wynand Olivier and the Bulls. A hard runner with good hands and a big boot, he should look right at home in a Stormer midfield that has never been short on power.
Raymond Rhule – Wing – Cheetahs – Age 20 – 179cm 88kg
One word – gas! Already a Springbok tourist, though uncapped, Rhule is a winger’s winger. Good footwork, plenty of pace, and a nose for the tryline. His deceivingly long strides make him look as though he’s jogging away from would-be tacklers. If you had to put money on the next man to wear the no11 jersey for South Africa once Bryan Habana calls it a day, look no further.
Israel Folau – Fullback – Waratahs – Age 23 – 195cm 102kg
It’s tough to overlook Charles Piutau, but there’s hype and then there’s hype. Folau isn’t just the real deal, he is a potential superstar. His combination of size, speed, and athleticism to go with incredible skills makes him one of the most exciting talents in the game before he’s even played a single regular season match. The spectre of him in a Wallaby jersey mid-year is something that fills Lions fans with both dread and delight.