In the second part of our look at promising Super XV players, Michael McCarthy selects a backline of players who have impressed in Super Rugby this season.
9. T.J. Perenara, New Zealand
Scrum half is just another position at which the All Blacks cup runneth over with talent. Aaron Smith is the best scrum half in world rugby – better than Will Genia – and his high tempo style is crucial to the All Blacks play. Perenara has overtaken Tawera Kerr-Barlow for the position as Smith’s understudy, and rightly so.
Perenara is similar in style to Smith, quick to the break down and fluid delivery keeping the pace of an attack high. Whilst his delivery is not quite as quick as Smith’s greased lightning, Perenara makes up for this with his physical presence. He is 5 inches taller and 10 kg heavier than Smith and is lethal inside the opposition 22.
In 2013 he was the Hurricanes joint top try scorer in Super Rugby, touching down 7 times. Perenara has carried that try-scoring form into this season, touching down five times so far. His battle with Kerr-Barlow will be ongoing and interesting. It could ultimately hinge on whether the Chief’s Aaron Cruden or Perenara’s Hurricanes teammate Beauden Barrett gets the nod to back up Dan Carter.
10. Handre Pollard, South Africa
Pollard looks to have a bright future for the Springboks at out half. Heyneke Meyer is well aware of the potential Pollard possesses having been influential in the youngster’s decision to sign for the Bulls. Pollard has been the star of the South African U-20 side for a number of years and helped the Baby Boks to a Junior World Championship in 2012. He nearly repeated that success this summer as the South African’s narrowly lost out in the final against England.
At this year’s championship, Pollard was one of the stars and at the tournament’s conclusion was named the 2014 Young Player of the Year. He is a physically imposing outhalf at 6’ 2” and close to 16 stone. Pollard possesses a wide array of kicking skills and, particularly behind a dominant pack, is already capable of controlling games at the highest level.
Having just turned 20 in March, Pollard is well ahead of schedule in his development and earned his first cap against Scotland in June. He looks set to battle it out with Johan Goosen to be the long term successor to Morne Steyn but Pollard seems well on his way to winning that battle.
11. Tevita Li, New Zealand
Although Handre Pollard won the award for the best young player, for me the real breakout star of the IRB Junior World Championship was New Zealand winger Tevita Li. Despite just turning 19 in March, Li has already made a mark at Super Rugby level.
He made his debut for the Blues last Summer in a friendly against France, incredibly Li was still in school at the time. Li reminds me a little of former Samoan and New Zealand wing Va’aiga Tuigamala. He is not particularly tall but is powerful and explosive. His hattrick against South Africa showcased his well rounded skills. His first try displayed his finishing ability.
For his second try he showed power to fend off giant Baby Bok wing Lloyd Greef whilst his third showed both his ability to come off his wing and run an intelligent support line. All three tries featured Li’s incredible pace. Li was recently fined for drink-driving, which is a concern. Off the field activities derailed the career of another highly promising All Black wing in Zac Guilford. If Li can make that misdemeanour a one-off, he could well find himself going to the World Cup. In fact I would not be at all surprised if he made his international debut at some point in 2014, either in the Rugby Championship or in the autumn internationals.
12. Kyle Godwin, Australia
Team: Western Force
Baby Bok Jesse Kriel enjoyed an impressive Junior World Championship at inside centre but at Super Rugby level he has yet to make an impression. And with the excellent Jan Serfontein and J.J. Engelbrecht occupying the centre roles for the Bulls he may need to switch position to gain experience. Godwin is a player who has done just that.
He started his rugby career as an out-half but has made the 12 jersey his own for the Force. He has excelled this season after making his debut in 2012. He is another player who starred in the 2012 Junior World Championships. Godwin has the passing and kicking skills of a former out-half but is also a powerful and elusive runner.
With the injury to Quade Cooper potentially ending the mercurial out-half’s season, Godwin may be given a chance to stake a claim at either the 10 or 12 Wallaby jersey in the coming months. An unfortunate injury just before the Wallaby squad was due to be announced scuppered his hopes of making his debut during the June internationals. The injury appears to have ended his Super Rugby campaign for 2014 but expect to see Godwin make the breakthrough in the Wallaby jumper in the next 12 months.
13. Malakai Fekitoa, New Zealand
Fekitoa has been something of a revelation this season in Super Rugby. Young Sharks centre Paul Jordaan was perhaps the most promising midfield prospect coming into the new season but has seen his progress disrupted by injury. Fekitoa on the other hand has come from left field to emerge as a real contender for the All Blacks’13 jersey.
Born in Tonga, Fekitoa has lived in New Zealand for the last five years. He has the typical characteristics of a Pacific Island centre – powerfully built and possessing explosive speed, but he combines that with the necessary footwork and handling skills to wear the famous black jersey.
Fekitoa has scored six tries so far this season and has been, along with Israel Folau, the most consistent attacking weapon in the competition. His defensive positioning and decision-making have been questioned at times but his power in the tackle is undoubted. Conrad Smith can testify to that having been on the receiving end of a massive Fekitoa hit earlier this season.
With Smith and Ma’a Nonu coming towards the end of their stellar careers, New Zealand are on the lookout for exciting young centre talents and Fekitoa has certainly thrown his name into the hat. He got his first caps in the June series against England but perhaps did not get the opportunities to really show what he can do.
I’m not usually a huge fan of statistics but in Fekitoas’s case they are impressive across the board; most tackles broken, joint most line breaks and second most run metres in Super Rugby all show what a potent attacking force he has been this season. His game-breaking ability could be crucial come the World Cup.
14. Lolagi Visinia, New Zealand
As much as I would love to include Richard “Barracuda” Buckman, at 26 he doesn’t fit the bill for a future star. If his form for the Highlanders so far this season is not enough to force his way into All Black contention it is unlikely he will ever make it to the famous black jersey.
As a result, I have selected a younger All Black winger. Although he still maintains that fullback is his best position, the giant Visinia is gradually adapting to a role on the wing for the Blues. At 6’ 4” and over 103kg he is a big powerful winger, despite just turning 21 in January. With five tries in his first six games since breaking into the side, Visinia is certainly seizing his opportunity.
The presence of young All Black fullback Charles Piutau in the Blues squad means a full time switch to the wing may be the wisest option for Visinia going forward but an injury to Piutau did give Visinia game time at 15 in recent weeks. And it is interesting to note that when Piutau returned to the Blues lineup last Saturday, he did so on the wing with Visinia retaining his preferred position in the number 15 jersey. This was a reflection of how well Visinia has played since breaking into the side.
Should his form continue in next season’s competition he could be a real dark horse for All Black selection.
15. Gareth Anscombe, New Zealand/Wales
The son of former Ulster coach Mark, Gareth Anscombe enjoyed a rugby filled upbringing – and it shows. Anscombe is technically very solid in all aspects of the game. He kicks well both from hand and from the tee and has excellent passing and handling skills. His rugby background shines through in his intelligence and versatility.
Equally comfortable at full back and out-half, Anscombe is one of those players who you feel could play in any position across a backline. There are strong rumours currently linking Anscombe with a move to Wales with a view to declaring for the Welsh national side through his Cardiff-born mother. It’s tough to blame the young Auckland native as his future with the All Blacks looks tough despite his talents.
At out-half his way is obscured by Dan Carter and in future by Beauden Barrett and Aaron Cruden whilst at fullback Israel Dagg, Ben Smith and Charles Piutau are set to be All Black stalwarts for years to come. Welsh coach Warren Gatland has reportedly earmarked Anscombe for the Welsh ten jersey. It may be that Irish rugby fans will become a lot more familiar with young Anscombe by the end of next year’s Six Nations Championship.
Michael McCarthy, Pundit Arena.