Home Nations: Fifteen to watch for 2016/17 season
The new season will bring new in crop of youngsters who could take the Premiership and Pro12 by storm, RW puts together XV starlets
With the majority of players now already back in preseason across the Aviva Premiership and Guinness PRO12, it’s a stark reminder that the 2016/17 season is just around the corner and that preseason friendlies will commence within the month.
We have compiled a XV of young players across both competitions who are well worth keeping an eye on this coming season and who could make themselves household names by the time the season draws to its conclusion in May next year.
1. Andrew Porter, Leinster
The big Leinster loosehead has been making a name for himself at U20 level over the last two years and could be poised for senior involvement with his province this season. With Cian Healy continuing to struggle from injuries and Jack McGrath cemented as Ireland’s first-choice loosehead, opportunities should arise for Porter this season, who has proven himself to be a destructive age-grade scrummager.
2. Jack Walker, Bath
Having been part of teams that have won two World Rugby U20 Championships and made it to three finals, albeit suffering injury in this year’s edition, Walker is a highly-touted prospect and has been identified as such for a number of years now. The former Yorkshire Carnegie man replaces the outgoing Rob Webber at Bath and should see playing time right from the outset
3. Dillon Lewis, Cardiff Blues
Lewis has already made his debut for the Blues and with Taufa’ao Filise turning 39 this year, his rise up the region’s tighthead pecking order should continue. The fulcrum of a successful Wales U20 scrum for the last two years, it’s not beyond Lewis to have ousted all rivals by the end of the season and be packing down at the Blues’ first-choice tighthead.
4. Scott Cummings, Glasgow Warriors
The departure of Leone Nakarawa creates a void in Glasgow’s engine room and the Scotland U20 captain provides them with a physical and technically-proficient, not to mention home-grown, running mate for Jonny Gray. Tim Swinson and Namibian lock Tijuee Uanivi will provide competition for Cummings but a significant role in the first team is certainly within Cummings’ reach.
5. Joe Batley, Gloucester
Injury prevented Batley from pushing on at Gloucester last season but the Hartpury College product is a physical force and one that is ready for the rigours of Premiership rugby. Locks Elliot Stooke, Tom Hicks and James Hudson have all left Kingsholm this offseason, whilst Ross Moriarty showed his worth to Wales this summer, creating opportunities for Batley in the second row or at blindside during international windows.
6. George Nott, Sale Sharks
Nott impressed at blindside for England this past season, showcasing his physical gifts, most notably when he outpaced Italy’s entire back division for a solo score at the U20 Championship. Steve Diamond is no fool and with back rowers Daniel Braid, Magnus Lund and David Seymour all in their 30’s, he will likely recognise the need to bring through younger talent and prepare for a transitional phase in the Sharks’ back row.
7. Ollie Griffiths, Newport Gwent Dragons
Griffiths’ playing time was limited by the excellent Nic Cudd last season but there is only so long you can limit a talent like Griffiths. He featured prominently in the Dragons’ Challenge Cup campaign and should push on from that to feature more in the PRO12 this season, either pushing Cudd to blindside or making the move to six himself, if Kingsley Jones believes he can provide the right balance in the back row.
8. Magnus Bradbury, Edinburgh
The powerful number eight did a good job last season filling in for the injured Nasi Manu at times, as well as providing impact off the bench, and there were even calls for him to tour Japan with the Scotland national team this summer. A fit-again Manu will mean that Bradbury needs to be at his best to ensure regular playing time but the 20-year-old is fast becoming one of the most dangerous ball carriers in Scottish rugby.
9. Reuben Morgan-Williams, Ospreys
This is a little bit of leap given that Morgan-Williams is still just 18 years of age but with Rhys Webb cemented into the Wales nine jersey, there will be at least 11 weeks this season when the Ospreys’ scrum-half depth will be tested. Morgan-Williams is a livewire and the perfect weapon to bring off the bench should a game being going against the region.
10. Bill Johnston, Munster
Munster’s fly-half stocks took a blow when JJ Hanrahan left prior to the 2015/16 season and with Tyler Bleyendaal continuing to struggle with injuries, Johnston could be fast-tracked into the senior squad. His instinctive attacking play, goal-kicking and game management skills were driving forces behind Ireland’s pool stage clean sweep at the U20 Championship. Working against Johnston is a current shoulder injury, his second of the year.
11. Nathan Earle, Saracens
The former U20 sensation has had a frustrating couple of years with injury and limited opportunities but the 2016/17 season could be the campaign where he finally makes his breakthrough. He has been out in New Zealand training with Canterbury and the club are keen to loan him from Saracens for the ITM Cup. Such a move would only improve Earle’s game and he could push hard for a starting spot in North London come October/November.
12. Max Clark, Bath
With Ollie Devoto moving on to Exeter and Kyle Eastmond rumoured to have left the club, apparently bound for Sale, Clark would be Bath’s starting inside centre if the season started tomorrow. He is a more direct player than either Eastmond or Devoto, but given Bath’s tendency to drift and run laterally, his catapulting up to the first team may be just the tonic the club needs to get itself back on an upward trajectory.
13. Joe Marchant, Harlequins
Jamie Roberts has the ability to make the Quins 12 jersey his own but the 13 jersey remains in flux. Given another stellar campaign with the England U20 side and having featured intermittently for Quins last season, Marchant is in a good position to stake his claim. His acceleration, ability to change direction and outside running arcs have already earned him plenty of comparisons to Jonathan Joseph.
14. Cian Kelleher, Connacht
After Matt Healy and Tiernan O’Halloran showed their worth to the Ireland national team this summer, Connacht’s back three depth has certainly become a more important component to evaluate ahead of the 2016/17 season. Kelleher has moved to the province from Leinster and has the ability to play on the wing or at full-back. In addition to the potential test duties of Healy and O’Halloran, Connacht are also in the Champions Cup this season and will need to rotate their squad more as a result, all of which should play into Kelleher’s hopes of garnering playing time.
15. Aaron Morris, Harlequins
With Mike Brown enjoying an extended off-season due to his duties with England in Australia and Ollie Lindsay-Hague attempting to crack the Great Britain 7s squad for the Rio Olympics, new arrival Morris has shot to prominence in West London. Injuries and the ever-reliable Alex Goode limited Morris’ opportunities at Saracens but with a cannon for a boot, strong aerial game and his dangerous counter-attacking, Morris looks set to feature significantly for Quins this season, especially with Brown likely to be heavily involved with England again.