Every season, there are always a few youngsters who burst onto the scene and send the fans’ pulses racing.
By normal standards, however, this season has seen more than its fair share of young players starring for their teams, with All Blacks star Rieko Ioane leading a talented crop of under-21 stars shining on the big stage.
Ioane has progressed into one of the most prodigious talents in the world since making his All Blacks debut 16 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 21, 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”.
The young South African is yet to be capped by the Springboks but has showed signs during the opening weeks of the Super Rugby season that he is ready for the grand stage.
At just 19, the Stormers out-half proves a constant threat with ball in hand and has flawless goal kicking abilities that can be the tipping point between winning and losing.
He has good speed, nimble foot work and can step would-be defenders at close quarters – all of which can put teams on the back foot.
Out of high school just two years, Willemse looks comfortable at senior level and is contnuing to show maturity to perform in such a central position against quality oppositon at Super Rugby level.
Recent sterling displays against the Highlanders and the Blues could secure him a place in Rassie Erasmus’ squad to face England in June.
Hands down the best hooker in Australia at the moment.
With just two Wallabies caps to his name, the 21-year-old has catapulted himself into being first choice in Michael Cheika’s side within six months of making his Test debut.
The Wallabies may still be going through a transitional period at No2 after the retirement of Stephen Moore and the unavailability of Tatafu Polota-Nau, but with Uelese in sparkling form for the Rebels, he has the chance to lead the nation back among the game’s elite.
Strong in the scrum and accurate in the line-out, the Rebels star has a bright future ahead and could be a key man against Ireland in June.
The 21-year-old was one of the leading lights in Joe Schmidt’s side during the Six Nations, scoring a record seven tries in five matches – and picking up the Six Nations Player of the Tournament.
Stockdale, who only made his Test debut last summer, claimed try doubles in victories over Italy, Wales and Scotland, then added another during the Grand Slam-clinching triumph against England at Twickenham on March 17.
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.
Expect him to light up Ireland’s World Cup campaign in 2019.
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