The pro scouts seem to have all the bases covered these days, but here are ten young prospects who toured in the autumn yet to sign their first big contract.
Ropeti Lafo – Hooker – Samoa – Age 20 185cm 110kg 1 Cap
The captain of his country’s entry in last year’s IRB u20 championship has been fast tracked into the senior side and won his first cap in a brief cameo against Canada. At only 20 he is already a solid customer and his leadership skills have him earmarked as the next Mo Schwalger, and with tests against Italy and Scotland coming up he could earn his first start sooner rather than later.
Manasa Saulo – Tighthead Prop – Fiji – Age 23 189cm 119kg 2 Caps
It’s not often you hear about promising young Fijian front rowers, but this big lad from Suva looks to be their brightest hope in ages. While even bigger Peni Makutu struggled in November, Saulo made the most of his limited chances and looked very powerful and active around the park. He’d be a project in the scrum, but he has all the physical tools to replace Deacon Manu in the no3 jersey.
Matias Alemanno – Second Row – Argentina – Age 21 198cm 112kg 0 Caps
Alemanno’s tour, admittedly, was to Canada with the Jaguars and not to Europe with the Pumas, though many thought he had earned a spot after an impressive ARC tournament. While spring-heeled Juan Cruz Guillemain has already been picked up by Stade Francais, this specimen from La Tablada has a more physical, well rounded game and is already drawing comparisons to world class Toulouse lock Patricio Albacete. He won’t be uncapped much longer.
Tomas de la Vega – Flanker – Argentina – Age 22 192cm 102kg 6 Caps
A dynamic openside who has been highly touted for a couple seasons now, it’s somewhat of a surprise that he hasn’t been picked up by a French club. After shining with the Jaguars he earned the call up to the senior tour, but hasn’t quite been able to leap frog the likes of Juan Manuel Leguizamon and Leonardo Senatore. With size, speed, and solid lineout skills, he seems as blue chip as it gets.
Tyler Ardron – Eightman – Canada – Age 21 197cm 110kg 5 Caps
Another who excelled in the ARC, the former national u20 captain stepped it up with a fantastic November including an eye-catching performance against the Maori in Oxford. Capable of playing second or back row, the big lad has a surprising turn of pace to go with strong lineout abilities and a good rugby brain. He now looks certain to be an automatic selection for his country for the next decade.
Tomas Cubelli – Scrumhalf – Argentina – Age 23 176cm 81kg 11 Caps
For many the player of the ARC, Cubelli is now neck-and-neck in the race for the hotly contested Pumas no9 jersey. Quick around the park and sharp of mind, he looks easily good enough to play in any of the top leagues around the world. All signs are that he and slightly older test incumbent Martin Landajo are set to battle it out for the foreseeable future.
Toby L’Estrange – Flyhalf – USA – Age 24 184cm 88kg 3 Caps
The Eagles have struggled to find a flyhalf since Mike Hercus left the scene, but it seems they might have found a solution in another US-born Australian. After being groomed in the rugby nursery that is Sydney University, he moved to the New York Athletic Club where he forms an all-international halfback partnership with Mike Petri. L’Estrange looks to be an all-round footballer with good hands and an eye for the gap, though his goal kicking remains an unknown.
Robert Lilomaiava – Centre – Samoa – Age 20 182cm 95kg 2 Caps
It was a huge year for the exciting youngster from Vaiala who impressed first on the IRB 7s circuit, then with the u20s, and finally turning heads by scoring four tries on debut against Canada in Colwyn Bay. Primarily a centre but selected on the wing, he proved a threat every time he touched the ball and earned a second cap against France two weeks later. Amazingly it looks as though Samoa have produced a top class back not named Tuilagi or Pisi.
Manuel Montero – Wing – Argentina – Age 21 193cm 103kg 7 Caps
Arguably the hottest unsigned wing prospect in the world at the moment is the flyer from the Pucara club in Buenos Aires. Big and powerful with a good fend, he already has a match-winning try against France on his resume to go with his tremendous 7s form. He looks destined to give Argentina a real cutting edge strike runner with size they have lacked since, well, forever.
Denis Simplikevich – Fullback – Russia – Age 21 193cm 100kg 6 Caps
Technically a professional in his homeland but certain to move abroad soon, the speedster reportedly turned down several offers following his impressive World Cup tournament. With a nose for the tryline and a big boot he is one third of an impressive Russian outside back trio that also features Vladimir Ostroushko and Vasili Artemiev. Expect him to be among the first signing announcements in the near future.