With the final this weekend between the Chiefs and Brumbies set to bring down the curtain on another fine Super Rugby season, the RR goes through the 15 players under the age of 23 who excelled for their respective teams. The competition is undeniably in rude health when it comes to young talent so inevitably extremely gifted and well-performing players were overlooked. If you disagree with any of the selections, voice your opinion below in the comments section.
1 Scott Sio, Brumbies
Sio looks like a real talent coming through for Australia, in the position where they have often been weaker than the rest. He performed extremely well in big matches this year, particularly vs the Lions and last weekend against the Bulls in Pretoria.
2 Liam Coltman, Highlanders
This was a difficult position to pick as there are zero out-and-out starters in Super Rugby under the age of 23. Coltman, despite at this stage probably being more noted for his beard, showed glimpses of real promise at the start of the season and should mature into a fine international-level hooker.
3 Ben Tameifuna, Chiefs
Despite the fact he struggles to play 80 minutes, few can argue that Tameifuna isn’t one of the better tight-heads in the competition. He is a technically-gifted scrummager with the added impact of being a destructive tackler and ball-carrier – perhaps the ideal ‘impact prop’.
4 Brodie Retallick, Chiefs
Retallick is an absolute workhorse and an easy choice here. He is already an established international and is clearly a lynchpin, and an emotional leader to boot, in the Chiefs’ defensive system which has been so stout at times this year.
5 Eben Etzebeth, Stormers
Etzebeth is another easy choice as he is also already an established international. He has had some injury concerns already in his career which is perhaps indicative of how hard he plays the game. Etzebeth is a destructive player with a high work rate and good ball-carrying skills.
6 Steve Luatua, Blues
Luatua was, at times this year, inspirational in his performances for the Blues. He showed an incredible aptitude for attacking rugby as he was able to get himself involved in a playmaking capacity. He also had a good defensive work-rate and seems a ‘sure-thing’ for the future.
7 Arno Botha, Bulls
This was by far the most difficult, and perhaps debatable, decision given that there is an absolute truckload of talented open-side flankers under 23 (Gill, Hooper, Cane and Savea). However, before his injury, Botha was having a season for the ages – resulting in him starting for the Springboks.
8 Tera Mtembu, Sharks
A difficult position to choose since there were few ‘specialist’ number 8s under the age of 23. While Shields did well at times and Taufua looked good in his limited game-time, Mtembu edged ahead due to his inspiring displays (he is tough but also can attack) for the Sharks.
9 Nic White, Brumbies
Although the likes of Kerr-Barlow and Perenara are more highly touted and probably will have bigger impacts in the long-run, it is hard to overlook White who has had a fine season for the Brumbies. He is good at the core duties (passing, defending and sniping) of a 9 but also possesses a massive boot.
10 Beauden Barrett, Hurricanes
Barrett had a slow start to the season after a stellar 2012 – he simply looked off his game at times and his natural brilliance didn’t feature as much. However, after a strong series vs the French with the All Blacks, Barrett is back and is clearly one of the most exciting back prospects in the game.
11 Julian Savea, Hurricanes
Savea’s transformation over the last two seasons has been meteoric; he has gone from a talent-loaded yet error-ridden underachiever (at Super level at least) to an absolute beast that can finish from all over the field. Consistency is an issue but when on form he is near the best in the world.
12 Kyle Godwin, Force
Godwin is naturally a fly half but has taken to 12 well. Part of the reason is his hard-nosed style which enables him to be an effective tackler but also decent on the crash ball. Add in his natural play-making skills and he is an exciting prospect for Australia, via Zimbabwe, in the near future.
13 Tevita Kuridrani, Brumbies
Kuridrani has had a magical season as he has emerged from absolute obscurity to bolter in the Wallabies RC squad. One cannot forget his clinching try against the Bulls last weekend either. He is big, runs straight and hard, and has some flair, a real find for Australia.
14 Willie Le Roux, Cheetahs
Le Roux is perhaps the most mercurial player plying his trade in Super Rugby. When he is on form he is sublime; a rare winger (although he often plays first receiver) that has a creative streak as good as any centre in the competition. When he is off, well bad things can and often happen.
15 Charles Piutau, Blues
Piutau has had a fine season which saw him debut for the All Blacks against France. While his kicking and tactical game needs refining, his attacking game is one of the best in the competition. His step and explosive running enable him to consistently beat the first man – a real star in the making.