As Georgia and Romania showed at the 2011 Rugby World Cup, the gap between the ENC to the Six Nations may not be quite as large as many believe. The RR’s first-hand experience in Belgium and Georgia illustrated to him that there is not only good rugby appreciation in these countries (particularly Georgia) but a decent amount of young and talented players coming through the ranks.
Similarly, as the Spaniards and Portuguese have shown on the Sevens circuit this year, more and more talented youngsters from smaller rugby nations are finding ways to make an impact in rugby. The globalization and professionalization of the game has changed the prospects for players from
obscure rugby nations
Once upon a time, rugby for players from the smaller nations was little more than an amateur vocation. However, now, more than ever, rugby represents an economically viable profession and career path for the most talented players from across the globe. This post looks at the talented youngsters (under 23 years of age) participating in the 2013 ENC.
Belgium 13-17 Georgia
This match has already garnered significant notoriety for the early melee which resulted in a player from each team being sent off in the 3rd minute. Many had predicted a cricket score before the game but the general consensus afterwards was that the Belgians were a worthy match for the
Georgians and on another day may well have won.
In terms of talented players, both teams went with youth; the Belgians have the youngest side in the ENC and the Georgians, under Milton Haig, have embraced the next generation (perhaps an explanation for the closeness of the score).
Belgium had three professionally contracted youngsters starting: prop Maxime Jadot (Pau), scrum-half Julien Berger (La Rochelle) and centre Guillaume Piron (Montpellier). It was Berger that excelled for the Belgians (Jadot was red-carded early on) with an all-round impressive performance that exhibited his decent rugby IQ and his athleticism.
Berger is a prototypical 9, short in stature (171cm), quite stocky (82kg) and has a nice burst of speed which makes him dangerous at sniping around rucks. Throughout the match vs Georgia, Berger was confident, aggressive and unflinching; he is clearly already a linchpin in the Belgian side.
Georgia had a number of youngsters starting: prop Mikheil Nariashvili (Montpellier), lock Konstantin Mikautadze (Toulon), centre Tamaz Mchedlidze (Mont-de-Marsan) and wing Merab Sharikadze (Hartpury College).
In the match, the backs showed their rawness (an obvious weakness for the typically forward- orientated Georgia) and were unable to exert any real influence on the game. In the forwards, Nariashvili deserves praise for continuing his fine form that has seen him receive significant minutes this year for Montpellier.
Although the Georgian scrum did not dominate as many would have predicted, Nariashvili is clearly one of the more talented young props in world rugby at the moment. He only got 60 minutes vs Belgium, partly due to the wealth of talent Georgia has at prop, but he was the source of a number of scrum penalties.
Portugal 13-19 Romania & Russia 13-9 Spain
In two extremely tight affairs, Romania and Russia secured victories over Portugal and Spain respectively. In stark contrast to the Belgium vs Georgia fixture, there was a noticeable lack of young talent participating in these matches.
Young winger Adrian Apostol started for Romania while prop Petru Tamba (Cardiff) remained on the bench. Tamba is an interesting prospect, he secured a full time contract with Cardiff after a successful trial and already has a Pro12 match vs Munster under his belt.
For Spain, Juan Pardo Butina (Beziers) played a full match building on his impressive African tour in the autumn. He seems a stalwart-in-the-making for the Spanish and a name to watch out for in France in the coming years.
Both Russia and Portugal went with experienced line-ups that did not feature any young talent. Portugal does have some decent youngsters floating around the French leagues and on their national sevens team so there is scope for greater youth involvement later in the tournament. Russia seems content on consolidating its World Cup squad at the expense of introducing younger players.
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