Super 15: 5 New Zealand Players Primed to Have Breakout Years
Last year, there were a number of young players who showed off their talent and made a push for that black jersey. But being a World Cup year, the coaching trio opted for experience and versatility, and as a result, many talented players were left out.
They didn't want to risk an unproven player possibly costing the team games with some first-cap jitters. Their ploy clearly worked, as shown by the fact that the Web Ellis Cup is resting here in Aotearoa.
2012 is a new year, and with the World Cup over for another four years, these are some players from each New Zealand Super 15 team who could push the incumbents for a black jersey...
Luke Braid, Openside Flanker, Blues
Dan's little brother isn't too shabby himself.
A couple years ago, while playing for Bay of Plenty, Luke Braid was playing so well that Sky Sport included him in their viewer poll of possible backups for Richie McCaw. With the likes of Messam and Latimer in the Chiefs, Luke moved up north to play with his brother Daniel, and after he got injured, Luke did nothing but impress.
He is great in the breakdown and at getting turnovers and also is a powerful runner with ball in hand. Having played from 6 to 8 for the Steamers and the Chiefs in the past, he also shows great versatility. And All Blacks selectors love having versatility on the bench.
At 23, he is still getting better and is already overtaking his brother as the Blues' No. 1 openside.
Declan O'Donnell, Utility Back, Chiefs
Could this be the next great player unearthed by Gordon Tietjens?
Who knows where the All Blacks would be without Titch? Just look at some of the names that have come out of that Sevens team: Lomu, Rokocoko, Evans, Dagg, Vito. And that's only a few of them.
Declan O'Donnell is definitely fit; you'd have to be to survive in that Sevens team. He also has outstanding pace and a nose for the try-line to go with outstanding agility. He has the talent to line up anywhere in the back three.
He impressed for Waikato. Now is time for him to make the next step—Super Rugby.
Julian Savea, Winger, Hurricanes
In 2009, Julian Savea demolished his way towards the IRB Under 20 Player of the Year Award.
He's been touted as the next Jonah Lomu due to his size, strength and hard-nosed running style. He wasn't amazing last year, but really, who in the Hurricanes was?
With some time in a better coaching environment, he could become the next blockbusting winger to play for the All Blacks.
His only weaknesses are his distribution and work-rate, but he's still young and has time to remedy those problems.
Matt Todd, Openside Flanker, Crusaders
Perhaps the one threat to Luke Braid's All Black aspirations is his rival down south, Matt Todd.
Todd has already beaten one test, All Black George Whitelock, as the next openside in the Crusaders and Canterbury pecking order. In fact, he even stirred up some controversy by playing David Pocock in All Blacks training, due to his incredible fetching ability. He is also a solid ball-runner and doesn't mind playing 6.
As great as McCaw and his career have been, he is no longer the turnover magnet he used to be. It's time to start grooming the successor to Sir Richie. Braid or Todd should be the next choice.
Josh Bekhuis, Lock, Highlanders
Josh Bekhuis has been playing Super Rugby for a while, but he was normally stuck behind guys like Tom Donnelly, Hayden Triggs and, most recently, Jarrad Hoeata. But whenever he did make it to the field, he showed great promise.
He definitely has the prototypical size for a lock at 2 m and 110 kg. He plays a lot like Anthony Boric, being great in the lineouts and running the ball hard.
Since Donnelly is moving up north to the Crusaders, this Southlander should get more game time and could make a case for at least the bench once test season comes along.