As the 2016 international season gets underway this weekend with the RBS 6 Nations, the European Nations Cup and the Americas Rugby Championship, we take a look at some young players who could catch the eye over the coming weeks and months.
All of them have played in the World Rugby U20 Championship or Trophy – two tournaments that showcase the future stars of world rugby with more than 600 players having stepped up to the test arena since they began in 2008.
Elliot Daly (England)
One of a number of exciting young centres in English rugby, the clamour for Elliot Daly’s inclusion in the England Elite Player Squad has been gathering momentum over the last year. The 23-year-old’s form for Wasps in the Aviva Premiership and European Rugby Champions Cup this season meant that call was inevitable and instead the surprise came when he was omitted from the 23 for the Six Nations opener against Scotland, although he will now travel as injury cover. Daly has worked hard to become the complete player since his U20 days – when he reached the World Championship final in 2011 – and is both solid in defence and a livewire in attack, able to score from anywhere. Daly’s battle for the No.13 shirt with Jonathan Joseph could be an interesting one to watch unfold.
Did you know … Twenty-eight players have gone from the U20 Championship to the test arena for England – the fifth highest tally behind Argentina (54), Australia, Wales and Scotland (all 32).
Paul Jedrasiak (France)
The Clermont-Auvergne second-row could mark his 23rd birthday with his test debut at the Stade de France on Saturday, having recently been described by new Les Bleus coach Guy Novès as “very dynamic, smart and able to take the initiative on the field” and “a powerful player with a good spirit and good behaviour on the field”. Jedrasiak, who captained France’s U20s at the World Championship in 2013, fits the style that Novès is eager to play as France look to turn the page on a disappointing few years in the Six Nations and their RWC 2015 exit at New Zealand’s hands.
Did you know … Jean-Marc Doussain captained France U20s at the World Championship in 2011 and went on to make his test debut in Les Bleus' Rugby World Cup final loss to New Zealand later that year.
Maro Itoje (England)
The hype surrounding Maro Itoje has been building for some time, but in the second-row cum flanker you could not meet a more down to earth player, someone happy just to let his rugby do the talking. The plaudits that have flowed for the 21-year-old have come thick and fast, such has been his form for Saracens over the last 18 months since he led England to World Rugby U20 Championship glory in New Zealand. In fact he was even touted as a potential first captain for new England coach Eddie Jones, an option for the long-term, a player calm under pressure who leads by example. Jones. though, did not want to throw Itoje into the lion’s den of a Calcutta Cup match at Murrayfield, knowing when his time came it would likely be the first in a long line of caps, but he could yet feature having travelled to Scotland as a reserve with Courtney Lawes an injury doubt.
Did you know … Maro Itoje would not be the first World Rugby U20 Championship winning captain to make his test debut as Aaron Cruden (2009) and Luke Whitelock (2011) have already done so for the All Blacks. Jack Clifford (2013) could join that club against Scotland on Saturday.
Vasil Lobzhanidze and Revaz Jinchvelashvili (Georgia)
Georgia’s teenage scrum-half Vasil Lobzhanidze needs no introduction after a remarkable year in 2015 which saw him make his test debut in February, win the World Rugby U20 Trophy in May and then become the youngest player in Rugby World Cup history in September – and all before his 19th birthday! Lobzhanidze’s half-back partner in that U20 success in Portugal was Jinchvelashvili, who finished as the tournament’s top point scorer with 51, including 19 in the final against Canada. While the fly-half’s progression to the Lelos’ side will likely be slower than his more famous team-mate, this partnership could well be pulling the strings for Georgia come RWC 2019 in Japan and for years to come.
Did you know ... The scorer of Georgia’s try against New Zealand at RWC 2015 was Beka Tsiklauri, who played for the Junior Lelos at the inaugural World Rugby U20 Trophy in 2008.
Garry Ringrose (Ireland)
He may not have been named in Ireland’s squad for the Six Nations, but Ringrose has been training with the squad again this week and his time will come in the No.13 jersey, coach Joe Schmidt preferring to see him get game time with Leinster to continue his development than thrust him into the test spotlight too soon. Ringrose’s performances for Leinster this season have only strengthened the comparison between him and Irish rugby legend Brian O’Driscoll. Hardly surprising when comparisons between Ringrose and a legend of Irish rugby in Brian O’Driscoll have been drawn, the former Lion expressing his surprise on Twitter that the 21-year-old wasn’t in the squad. Ringrose was one of the standout players during the U20 Championship in 2014, earning him a nomination for the World Rugby Junior Player of the Year, an accolade ultimately won by South Africa’s Handré Pollard.
Did you know … In 2010, Ireland captain Rhys Ruddock became the only player to be called away from a U20 Championship to join up with the senior team. He duly made his debut against the Wallabies.