Picking 5 Rugby Players Who Can Breakthrough at the 2014 Rugby Championship
The 2014 Rugby Championship begins in August, and with just over a year until the next World Cup, there will be more of an emphasis than usual on blooding future stars ahead of 2015.
Featuring players from each nation, Bleacher Report looks at five hot prospects who could have a big impact on the Rugby Championship and the 2015 World Cup in England.
1. Malakai Fekitoa (Centre, New Zealand)
Malakai Fekitoa has only two caps for New Zealand, and he is already approaching stardom. An electric centre with a livewire side-step, power and good hands, Fekitoa will be an All Black for the next ten years.
77-cap Kiwi centre Conrad Smith will remember him for the scything dump tackle he was on the wrong end of in this year’s Super 15 (see video above), but he will also face the prospect of losing his All Black berth to this supremely-talented 22-year-old.
Fekitoa’s natural ability is matched by a balanced temperament. Charlie Morgan, writing in Rugby World noted: "One thing is for sure, the Highlander possesses incredible drive—his mentality is perhaps the most striking thing about him".
According to Gregor Paul of the New Zealand Herald, there is the suggestion that cross-code superstar Sonny Bill Williams will be included in All Black squads toward the end of 2014 after converting back from New Zealand’s NRL (National Rugby League) season. Bleacher Report’s Jeff Cheshire argued that Williams will need to hit top form for a recall, but Fetikoa could make that irrelevant if he performs in the Rugby Championship.
2. Will Skelton (Second-Row, Australia)
Will Skelton is enormous. Enormous. The 6'8" lock weighs in at 135 kilograms. At that height and weight, as soon as he gets some steam up he takes some stopping. Fitness is the only thing that can prevent Skelton from becoming a great of the sport. With such a hefty frame, the NSW Waratahs star was spent after 56 minutes of a try-scoring debut against France.
In that time, though, he had powered over from five metres and sent Israel Folau over for a try after deft hands drew Alexandre Flanquart and Fulgence Ouedraogo. Indeed, scrum-half Nic White looked for Skelton whenever Australia needed to generate momentum.
Skelton will give the Wallabies some much-needed grunt in the pack. He will keep the opposition back-row focused on him, allowing openside and new captain Michael Hooper to generate the quick ball the Australian backs crave.
3. Handre Pollard (Fly-Half, South Africa)
Such has been the meteoric rise of South African fly-half Handre Pollard, that a week-and-a-half ago he was playing in the IRB U20 World Championship final. Since then, he underlined his promise with a strong display in the 55-6 thrashing of Scotland. Orchestrating the South African back division alongside scrum-half Fourie du Preez, Pollard looked at ease in a Springbok jersey, missing one conversion as he kicked 13 points in the match.
After the game, Rob Houwing of Sport24 eulogised Pollard’s performance:
If Pollard could play with such authority and panache when so hurriedly introduced to the Bok mix, and presumably more than a little weary after his hasty travel back from New Zealand and the final of the IRB Junior World Championship, just imagine how a suitably refreshed customer could trouble the unsuspecting Pumas in a few weeks’ time?
As he learns the art of game-management, that Pollard offers a running threat will put him ahead of his more static Springbok fly-half rivals such as Morne Steyn. He will give South Africa another dimension to their game and will create space for those outside him by fixing the attentions of opposition defences.
Pollard is one who South Africa will look to give as much game time to as possible ahead of the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England.
4. Patrick Tuipulotu (Second-Row, New Zealand)
Patrick Tuipulotu won his two Test caps in the series against England in June. The lock may not have had much game time in those matches, but his consistent performances for Auckland and Super 15 side the Blues have suggested that the 21-year-old has a big future for the All Blacks.
Nonetheless, Tuipulotu’s work-rate, defence and offloading skills have marked him as an exciting prospect ready to take any chances that come his way in the Rugby Championship.
5. Manuel Montero (Wing, Argentina)
Manuel Montero is one of a kind: a giant Argentine winger. At 6'4" and 96 kilograms, he adds an extra dimension to the Argentine back division. The 22-year-old missed the 2013 Rugby Championship through injury, but he is ready to make his mark on the Southern Hemisphere’s elite competition this time around.
Despite his size, it would be wrong to regard Montero as purely a crash-ball back. He is rangy, and with a background in Rugby Sevens, he looks to beat players rather than try and run through them. His finish against Ireland (see video) is a perfect case in point.
Although his international try scoring statistics (12 in 13 caps) deceive because nine of those tries have come against other South American nations, Montero will be an important player for the Pumas now and in the years to come. If Argentina can get him enough ball, he will shine in the 2014 Rugby Championship.
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