10 Players Whose Stock Rose in the Summer Internationals
As is the case with the Autumn Test series, mid-year internationals give coaches and players alike their opportunity to advance at the highest level, with both Northern and Southern Hemisphere giants taking full advantage of this period.
The likes of Wales, Ireland, England and Scotland each travelled to face foes on the other side of the equator this summer with differing fortunes, but even in dour results, there are great lessons to be learned.
We've taken a look at those stars who embraced their chances over the past month with most efficiency, some boosting their chances at further international involvement, while others simply enhanced an already stellar reputation.
In either scenario, faces both experienced and new to their respective national teams earned a rise in their stock, all with the hopes of impressing at next year's Rugby World Cup.
1. Cory Jane, New Zealand
So deep is Steve Hansen's array of wing options that the slightest stumble in form could see just about any star replaced with another talent more willing to take their chance with both hands.
So it's a good thing that, overall, Cory Jane experienced a summer series of internationals that saw him look more like the Jane of old.
Having fallen out of All Blacks prominence for a period, the speedster started in all three of New Zealand's Tests against England, first lining up on the left in the absence of Julian Savea, before then assuming his place on the right for the remaining two outings.
The 3-0 series whitewash wasn't all positive for Jane, and a mistake-ridden performance in Dunedin saw him at the root of several breakdowns in fluidity. However, as the New Zealand Morning Herald's Patrick McKendry wrote, a two-assist display in Hamilton saw the Hurricane back at his best:
It was a wise decision because on form there are few who do the basics better than Jane; whether it's catch, pass, fend or find space. On Saturday's evidence, talk of his demise seems well short of the mark.
He was directly involved in two of the All Blacks' five tries and generally looked to be enjoying himself.
If Jane continues to show his worth at the Super Rugby level, even Charles Piutau's return from injury may not be able to keep him out of Hansen's starting XV.
That being said, more of the same will be needed in those international appearances to come, where more of a clinical finishing touch wouldn't go amiss.
2. Gareth Davies, Wales
On the back of a stellar 2013-14 season at Parc y Scarlets, Gareth Davies took his first steps in international waters this summer and didn't disappoint.
In the warm-up match against the Eastern Province Kings, he came on to dot down for a try not bereft of some individual brilliance, and his fast, furious tempo gave Warren Gatland's side an afterburner that not all scrum-halves can inject.
As reward, Davies made his way onto the bench for both Tests, replacing Mike Phillips in Durban but failing to feature in Nelspruit.
All in all, there's not much more that Davies could have hoped to do in the midst of earning his first Wales caps, and one can expect to see plenty of future roles, contending with the likes of Rhys Webb and Rhodri Williams.
3. Willie Le Roux, South Africa
Willie le Roux was already held in high esteem as one of the best technical fullbacks in rugby prior to these fixtures but consistency had been an issue for the Cheetahs star.
That all changed against Wales and South Africa, however, and if there were one trait Le Roux did possess across all three Tests, it was consistently sky-high levels of performance.
The 24-year-old managed to score a try in each match, but it speaks volumes of his talent that these weren't even the most impressive part of his series.
Instead, it was Le Roux's construction that stood out among everything else, and his nonchalant manner in setting up tries both with his boot and out of hand was mesmerising at times, grabbing no less than five assists in total.
There's arguably no better player in the word when it comes to kicking control when running at pace, and if Le Roux wasn't in the argument for best fullback in the world before, he certainly is now.
4. Grant Gilchrist, Scotland
Becoming the youngest-ever captain in the history of the Scottish national team, Grant Gilchrist went from strength to strength in his side's expansive tour of North America, Argentina and South Africa.
And the steps under Vern Cotter were clear to see, starting as a substitute replacement against the United States to a starting spot against Canada. From there, Cotter gave his lock the captaincy for their trip to Cordoba, in which Gilchrist led his men to an impressive 21-19 win over the Pumas.
Granted, things didn't end on the brightest of notes this weekend as the Scots saw out a miserable 55-6 defeat to the Springboks, but Gilchrist maintained his place as squad leader, featuring for the full 80 minutes.
It's a development that not even the Edinburgh second row will have been expecting under the new coaching regime, but at 23 years of age, his growth appears to be going according to plan, at least in Cotter's eyes.
5. Nemani Nadolo, Fiji
Tipped by many as the second coming of Jonah Lomu, Crusaders wing Nemani Nadolo did those compliments justice while on international duty with Fiji this summer.
In truth, one could pick any number of the immensely talented backs in the Fijian back line to say that their stock has risen of late, but Nadolo perhaps hasn't been as universally known as Napolioni Nalaga, Vereniki Goneva, or even Bordeaux's Metuisela Talebula in recent years.
Fiji's summer was different to the rest in that while Europe's giants were busy experimenting in their endeavours, the Pacific Island representatives were busy qualifying for next year's Rugby World Cup, capping that campaign off with a 108-6 thrashing of the Cook Islands.
Nadolo crossed over three times in that fixture, in addition to the surplus he already scored against Italy, Samoa and Tonga.
The 6'5" centre was the only one of Fiji's talents to score in all four Tests this summer, and he returns to the Crusaders squad boasting an even more revered reputation as a result.
6. Simon Zebo, Ireland
There was some evident complacency on display in Ireland's tour of Argentina, where Joe Schmidt's side were shown to often be wasteful in attack, lacking the same clinical touch that was seen during the Six Nations.
However, one player clearly adamant to ensure that he doesn't fall back out of international contention was Simon Zebo, who played every minute of the trip to South America.
A mixture of injuries and omissions had seen Zebo's time under Schmidt become something of a disappointment for the winger compared to what he had experienced under the previous coaching staff.
However, an inspired 160 minutes in Argentina will have thrust the Munster man nearer to the front of the queue when constructing an ideal Ireland XV.
Zebo crossed over to score in Tucuman's second Test, missing just one of an attempted 14 tackles across the two fixtures.
7. Jerome Kaino, New Zealand
Following a two-year expedition in Japanese rugby, it hasn't taken long for Jerome Kaino to wade back into the international reckoning upon his return to Super Rugby.
As if having Kieran Read at No. 8 wasn't strength enough, Kaino showed in three appearances against England that there's now another back-row behemoth to throw into the mix.
Having played such a monumental role in New Zealand's run to becoming 2011 Rugby World Cup champions, the 31-year-old was a missed figure for the All Blacks in recent years.
As a result, some may have questioned whether or not he'd offer the same presence in making his comeback to the national scene; those queries have been given a firm, unbudging answer: yes.
Playing at No. 8 before then shifting to blindside to accommodate Read's return to fitness, Kaino displayed the same consistent, mauling rugby that makes him such a reliable asset for Hansen.
If there were any doubting his value to the All Blacks team following such a long period out of the picture, there certainly isn't anymore.
8. Will Skelton, Australia
Will Skelton has been simmering within the Waratahs ranks with a clear view to offering something more, and a debut cap for the Wallabies saw him do just that, scoring in his first green and gold display.
The 22-year-old lock is very much flavour of the month right now, but all praise is fully deserved, and The Guardian even went as far as to say he could be "rugby's next biggest star":
They'll only look at the official record to check out when one Will Skelton, all 140kg and 203cm of him, made his international debut. The less formal public records, Facebook and Twitter, will simply say OMG!
Let there be no doubt, Skelton's arrival was nothing short of a seismic incident; a Godzilla-like emergence of a New Zealand born 22-year-old of monstrous physique, toothy grin, and quite unexpectedly, a pianist's soft touch. Oh my God indeed.
France were no match for Australia as a side and Skelton as an individual, and it's painfully evident that this behemoth has a very bright future ahead of him, all starting with a bang in Sydney.
9. Danny Cipriani, England
Even though his Test involvement wasn't at a premium this summer, Danny Cipriani made some of the most mature steps of his career while on the tour of New Zealand.
The highlight of his trip will, of course, be a try-scoring display in his only start, playing a key role in the tune-up throttling of the Crusaders.
And after that outing, coach Stuart Lancaster was happy to praise his fly-half option, per Robert Kitson of The Guardian:
“I was pleased with the contribution of Lee and Danny. They controlled the game well, played quickly and created opportunities when they presented themselves.”
That display helped Cipriani capitalise upon the absences of Owen Farrell and George Ford, coming on as a second-half substitute in the third Test defeat, although his tour seldom showed any gruelling errors.
With personal matters affecting his development in the past, it's possible that Cipriani may now be beyond such issues, and it's showed in a terrific season with Sale Sharks.
One wouldn't expect the No. 10 to be displacing the likes of Farrell or Ford in time for next year's World Cup, but Cipriani was one of those to come out of the summer series looking in better shape than when they left.
10. Malakai Fekitoa, New Zealand
Not only was it a momentous occasion for Malakai Fekitoa to make his first New Zealand appearance in the Test series against England, but it was the manner in which he got his first cap that makes his beginning so encouraging.
With the scores tied at 9-9 in the first meeting, entrusting a 22-year-old—boasting no prior All Blacks experience—with the keys to getting their series off to the best start possible was a risk to say the least.
However, as Gregor Paul of the New Zealand Morning Herald suggested, Hansen's faith was well placed, and Fekitoa demonstrated why the coaching staff have such high hopes for him:
Steve Hansen later explained that he felt Fekitoa would lift the energy and excitement and potentially break the stranglehold. And with that, we can safely deduce they have huge faith in not only his ability to make things happen, but also his mental capacity.
And they were mostly rewarded for that risk. Fekitoa got involved, wanted to get his hands on the ball and he made his tackles.
That will have further confirmed among the panel that they have something special in their midst - a player who might, as hard as it may seem today, go past Conrad Smith by the World Cup next year.
Fekitoa has been nothing short of a marvel to watch for the Highlanders this season, and in Hamilton, his first All Blacks start, the centre clocked up 88 carrying metres, failing to miss a tackle en route to a 36-13 victory.
His form at club level is dazzling, and a strong start in international colours has only further cemented the notion that New Zealand have yet another emerging superstar on their hands.
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