Remember these names. You read it here first. Yup, it's every cliché in the book, folks... but not without good cause! As the 2011 rugby year winds down, we have picked five young players to watch next year.
We have just three requirements - or, should it be eligibility? - for the players that feature below:
- Players must be born after 1990.
- Players must not have played Test rugby yet (as at December 28, 2011).
- Players must be extremely talented and on the verge of 'making it'; in our eyes of course.
So, with those requirements in mind, here are our five players to watch in 2012:
(In alphabetical order)
(1) SAM CANE (New Zealand, openside flank):
Jones, Kronfeld, McCaw... the No.7 shirt in New Zealand has, in recent years, been in safe hands. Beyond McCaw, however, things look pretty rosy too in the shape of Luke Braid and, now, Sam Cane. Cane was one of the Baby Blacks' outstanding players at the IRB Junior World Championships in Italy earlier this year, scoring a hat-trick against Wales and impressing in the final against England. Cane become the first schoolboy to be nominated for the national age grade Player of the Year Award in 2009 and got his first taste of Super Rugby action earlier this year at the age of just 19. With the Chiefs having recruited well ahead of 2012 - in particular with the addition of Wayne Smith to their coaching staff - watch Cane hit the headlines.
(2) COLBY FAINGA'A (Australia, openside flank):
A 'veteran' of Super Rugby, having featured already over two seasons for the Brumbies, the younger of the Fainga'a twins - Saia and Anthony - captained the Australian U20 team at the IRB Junior World Champs this year. A tenacious openside flank, 2012 could see him nail down the No.7 spot in Canberra (with U20 team Michael Hooper pushing him all the way), but also challenge for a place in the Wallabies squad as understudy to David Pocock - a position that is also up for grabs and, as was proven during the World Cup, is a crucial one, too.
(3) GEORGE FORD (England, flyhalf):
The son of former England defence coach Mike, George - whose brother Joe plays for Leeds in the RFU Championship - was the youngest player in action at the 2011 IRB Junior World Champs. At only 18 years and three months, Ford stood out as England made it to the final where they went down to New Zealand. Ford, however, was to have the last laugh as he was named as the IRB Junior Player of the Year for 2011 - edging out New Zealanders Cane and Whitelock, both members of the victorious Baby Blacks team. Ford's skills and vision belie his tender age, as does his physicality, but it is no surprise when one considers that he made his first team debut for the Leicester Tigers at the age of 16 years and 237 days. At the time of writing he had played 11 first team matches... expect that number to increase in 2012 and his stocks to rise in the process.
(4) JOHAN GOOSEN (South Africa, flyhalf):
Those in the know are already comparing this kid to one Naas Botha - who, himself, set tongues wagging as a teenaged flyhalf and Currie Cup match-winner in South Africa in the late 1970s. Comparisons with Botha are obvious given his vast kicking game - out of hand, at goal and his love of drop-goals - but his explosive running game is what has really had people sit up and take notice. The Cheetahs coaches will manage him carefully in 2012, as he looks for his first taste of Super Rugby, but once he gets going he could become a runaway success... A first Test cap in 2012? Why not?
(5) MATTHEW MORGAN (Wales, flyhalf):
The flyhalf position has always been a hot topic in Wales, thanks, mainly to greats like John, Bennett, Morgan, Davies, Jones, etc in years gone by. The likes of Hook and Priestland seem to have things sewn up at present - not to mention Dan Biggar - but there has also been some fanfare regarding Wales Under-20 outside half Matthew Morgan. Skilful and not afraid to test the opposition defence, the 18-year-old had a strong IRB U20 World Champs campaign for Wales, scoring 51 points (the same as George Ford). His size could be an issue - at just 73 kilograms - but he has already played 15 first team matches for the Ospreys and will, at some point, put the pressure on Biggar for the region's No.10 shirt.
* Have you heard of these players? Do you agree with us, will they take 2012 by storm, or have we left anybody off this list? Let us know, below!
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