The countdown to next summer’s World Cup is firmly on.
The most prestigious tournament in world rugby, the Rugby World Cup is the perfect platform for players to announce their talents on the global stage.
Ahead of next year’s tournament, we take a look at three players who could have a serious impact in the lead up to the competition in Japan.
CLUB: Auckland Blues
NEW ZEALAND CAPS: 13
Ioane has progressed into one of the most prodigious talents in the world since making his All Blacks debut 14 months ago.
Possessing pace, skill and power, the Auckland native – with 11 tries in 13 matches – should have won World Player of the Year ahead of Beauden Barrett in November on the back of some virtuous displays in 2017.
Still only 20, there are few weaknesses evident in his game so far, with solid defending and deft footwork at the centre of his excellent skilset.
The towering Ioane is so effective that he has put Julian Savea out of a place in the All Blacks team – a player who has scored 46 tries in 53 matches.
It’s enough to get any rugby fan excited with former All Black Dougie Howlett hailing the lethal winger, saying: “He can move like Christian Cullen, he has the strength of a Jonah [Lomu], and he can pass and play the ball like a Tana Umaga”.
SOUTH AFRICA CAPS: 14
Hands down the best hooker in the world in 2017.
The South African may have come under fire for his poor line-out throwing during the Springboks’ 57-0 mauling by the All Blacks in September, but he went from zero to hero, to produce a world class performance against the same opposition the following week.
With just 14 caps to his name, the Johannesburg native has catapulted himself into being a key part of Allister Coetzee’s side within 16 months of making his Test debut.
Each Springboks hooker brings his own style to the game, with John Smit a leader, Bismarck du Plessis a voracious tackler and Marx possessing sharp ball-handling skills and fitness.
His throwing may still be improving, but the 23-year-old had more turnovers (10) than any other player during the Rugby Championship.
He also scored 10 tries for the Lions during the Super Rugby season – the same as the influential All Black Rieko Ioane.
The Springboks may still be going through a transitional period after the retirements of star names, but with Marx in sparkling form, he has the chance – alongside Eben Etzebeth – to lead the nation back to a place among the game’s elite.
IRELAND CAPS: 4
The Ulsterman has made a tonic start to his Ireland career and looks set for a starting berth in the Six Nations.
The 21-year-old was one of the leading lights in Joe Schmidt’s side during the November Series, scoring tries against Argentina (2) and South Africa (1).
Four weeks out from Ireland’s first Six Nations match against France, Stockdale looks a certain starter on the left wing – with Keith Earls surely to get the nod on the right – barring injury.
At 6’3, the Lisburn man possesses gas, power, good defence and reliability under the high ball, and can act as an option for full-back.
Although it is still early in his professional career, he is sure to be an inspirational presence for Ulster and Ireland for years to come and it looks impossible for Schmidt not to include him in his starting 15.
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