This week the RR takes a look at the Rugby Championship nations and suggests four young players who are increasingly making it impossible for the national selectors in their country to overlook them for the upcoming internationals before the Rugby Championship kicks off in August. All four countries are blessed with talented youngsters who are putting in consistently impressive performances for their teams: Liam Gill, Kyle Godwin and Jake Schatz in Australia; Charles Piutau, Ben Afeaki and Dominic Bird in New Zealand; Jan Serfontein, Arno Botha and Raymond Rhule in South Africa; and Santiago Cordero, Joaquin Tuculet and Nahuel Lobo in Argentina. However while there is much debate about the aforementioned names, the RR argues that there is no doubt over whether the following four names should pull on their nation’s test jumper in the near future.
Jesse Mogg, fullback, Australia, 23
Those that have marvelled at the emergence of Jesse Mogg over the past 18 months, who has risen from relative obscurity to a no-brainer Wallaby, may well have noticed a striking resemblance to the great Wallaby Stephen Larkham. Indeed Mogg, similarly to Larkham in his early days as a fullback for the Brumbies, has emerged as a jack of all trades who has an uncanny ability to make magic happen on the field. Mogg does not have blazing speed or power but he does have an incredible rugby IQ which he has constantly used this season in sparking furious Brumbies’ counter-attacks leading to some sensational tries. His kicking out of hand is competent and more importantly consistent while his defence shows no real signs of weakness. The fact he has yet to pull on the Wallaby jumper should not read as a slight against Deans as Mogg’s rise has been so rapid and from nowhere that he would have not even rated a mention in a speculative 50-man Wallaby squad last year. How good has Mogg been this year? It is more than weak correlation that the Brumbies embarked on a noticeable dip in form in the three match stretch Mogg was recently injured, his triumphant return against the Highlanders last week all but confirms the time is right for Mogg to be a Wallaby.
Steve Luatua, blindside flanker, New Zealand, 21
The RR is somewhat embarrassed that he did not even list Luatua in his honourable mentions section in his Super Rugby preview because Luatua’s performances to date have placed him as arguably the best blindside in the whole tournament. Simply put, this kid is special. Luatua’s form has led many to call him the new Jerome Kaino, a tag the RR is uncomfortable with. Luatua does not have the out-and-out athleticism and strength of Kaino but makes up for it with better rugby smarts and attacking guile. Additionally, it took Kaino at least five years before he matured sufficiently to be a consistent performer whereas Luatua already appears to be a natural leader for the baby-faced Blues. Luatua has already proven himself to be one of the best attacking blindsides in the game as he has notched two tries and provided countless ball carries and mesmerising offloads. His performance last weekend against the Hurricanes was simply outstanding and completely overshadowed the performance of one Ardie Savea (the RR anointed super prospect). Luatua’s current form and upside are too great for him to be overlooked by Steve Hansen for the French series and he should go straight into consideration for a starting position along with Liam Messam and Victor Vito.
Pieter-Steph du Toit, lock/blindside flanker, South Africa, 20
Du Toit was featured in the RR’s Super Rugby preview and his ascendancy from the bench to starter, in an extremely loaded Sharks squad, has been startling. Du Toit has started the last 3 games for the Sharks and his performances to date have been impressive; his hunger and fearlessness against the Crusaders was of particular note. He certainly does not lack for confidence and his work rate and enthusiasm have been obvious for all to see. Although all his game time for the Sharks has been at lock, du Toit seems to be a better long-term blindside option as he is blessed with good ball carrying skills, power and tackling ability. The Boks have not been shy about selecting youngsters that perform well at Super rugby level – Etzebeth and Coetzee both won selection last year on the back of performances which du Toit is arguably matching. On that basis, the RR expects du Toit to feature in the Springboks pre-Rugby Championship test matches versus Scotland, Italy and Samoa (he has already been named in Meyer’s first squad of the year). If he proves ready for test footy then look out for him to make a splash in the Rugby Championship as the latest hardnosed young Springbok phenom off the transmission belt.
Manuel Montero, wing, Argentina, 21
Montero has already tallied 7 caps for the Pumas, however zero have been in a full-strength side. He gained an ounce of celebrity last year when the understrength Pumas beat France in the first test with Montero scoring the winning try in the last moments of the test. Surprisingly, after a string of strong performances, Montero did not feature at all in the Rugby Championship with the undeniably strong trio of Agulla, Camacho and Imhoff gaining preference. Montero is currently playing with the Pampas XV in the Vodacom Cup, alongside RR favourite Santiago Cordero, and his performances have, on the whole, been scintillating. He is undoubtedly more mature physically than Cordero but perhaps lacks his pace and agility; as it stands he presents a more well-rounded option for the Pumas. In 5 games with the Pampas XV Montero has scored 5 tries, good enough for most in the competition. On the back of that, it is unfathomable that Montero doesn’t secure a professional contract with either one of the South African franchises or somewhere in Europe for next season. The RR believes Montero, and perhaps Cordero, will feature for the Pumas in their pre-Rugby Championship fixtures versus England and Georgia and a strong showing should see him challenge for game time in the Rugby Championship.
Which youngsters have caught your eye so far this season in the southern hemisphere? Comments below…