The future stars of RWC 2015?
The future stars of world rugby will be on show in South Africa next month at the IRB Junior World Championship with New Zealand aiming to win a fifth successive title.
Many of the players have serious aspirations towards starring in Rugby World Cup 2015 but, as Wales Under 20 head coach Danny Wilson warns, not all will make it.
“Some boys just don’t develop much more physically from their Under 20 days,” says Wilson, currently preparing to take his Wales side to South Africa. “Others really kick on physically and become a specimen and can then compete with regional rugby players. There’s a centre called Jack Dixon who’s coming with us to South Africa at the age of just 17. He’s played regional rugby for the Newport-Gwent Dragons this season. Physically he’s already a man. So if he becomes stronger, quicker, he’s going to be a real handful in the senior game because he’s already a handful at 17.”
So, that’s one name to look out for in 2015. But who else will be following in the footsteps of David Pocock, Owen Farrell, RWC 2011 winner Aaron Cruden and Grand Slam winner Sam Warburton in graduating from the Junior World Championship to the Test arena?
Colby Faingaa (Australia)
The captain of Australia Under 20s in 2011, Colby Faingaa is a tenacious flanker or number 8 who already has two years’ worth of Super Rugby experience behind him for the Brumbies. A powerful runner, Faingaa was one of the standout players at JWC 2011, a year after being a member of the Australian side who reached a first final, only to be blown away 62-17 by New Zealand. His brothers Saia and Anthony are already Wallabies and international recognition can’t be far away for Colby.
Johan Goosen (South Africa)
A fly half who has enjoyed comparisons to Springbok legend Naas Botha thanks to his prodigious boot, Johan Goosen had been making a serious splash in Super Rugby this season for the Cheetahs, topping the scoring charts until a shoulder injury last weekend ruled him out for four months. Just 19 years old, and having been invited recently to one of the Springbok planning camp, there seems little doubt that Goosen will be a star in the years to come. He also quotes Jonny Wilkinson as the model for his game.
George Ford (England)
The current IRB Junior Player of the Year after his performances as an 18 year old at JWC 2011, George Ford is the son of former England defence coach Mike. A fly half blessed with great vision, he’s described as an “outstanding talent” by an admiring Wilson. The fact that Ford hasn’t been named in the England squad for this year's Junior World Championship may mean that he’s on his way to South Africa with the senior side instead.
Sam Cane (New Zealand)
The future successor to Richie McCaw? Some in New Zealand think so. Sam Cane was nominated for the IRB Junior Player of the Year 2011 award but missed out to Ford. The openside flanker had an outstanding tournament, scoring a hat-trick in the rout of Wales. At 6ft 2in and 16 stone he already has the build and will miss the Junior World Championship in South Africa due to his Super Rugby commitments with the table-topping Waikato Chiefs.
Cory Hill (Wales)
When asked to pick one Welsh player to look out for, Danny Wilson opts for his captain, a 6ft 4in, 20 year old from Pontypridd. “He’s a good leader,” says Wilson. “A good lineout forward. A big guy who’s already played some regional rugby for Cardiff Blues this season. An outstanding prospect.”
Although, for all these young players, Wilson does offer one chastening fact. “It’s worth noting that George North (the 20-year-old Grand Slam-winning Wales wing with 21 full caps and 10 international tries to his name) would still be eligible to play in this Junior World Championship. He’s the right age ... but obviously he’s gone on to much bigger and better things. But those type of players are out there.”