NEW YORK, NY – With the 6 Nations 3rd round about to kick-off, we knew it was time to get our readers our 2013 Players To Watch In European Rugby. This follows in the same vein as our previous players to watch for the USA and Canada. We are picking these players based on the year we expect from them, not what they did in 2012.
WOMEN: Ashleigh Baxter (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster) : The 21-year-old. old Belfast native plays fullback. Being 5’5″ hasn’t stopped her from scoring with ease at the club and provincial level. Joined by vets Alison Miller and Niamh Kavanagh in the back three for Ireland, they helped carve up #1 England in 6N action recently. She will make the position hers for a long time to come.
FRANCE: Gael Fickou (Clermont) : Young Mssr. Fickou left the Toulon Academy as he felt he was not getting enough playing time and with Toulon’s mercenary-laden side and was afraid he would never get it. Off he went to Toulouse and he has been a revelation at 12. Not as bulky or strong as last year’s French player, Wesley Fofana, Fickou has a turn of pace and silky style that harkens back to French 12s of yesteryear. He will soon force his way into the national team, with Fofana moving to 13 or wing.
ENGLAND: George Ford (Leicester Tigers): Copying the decision by Class of 2012 member Billy Twelvetrees to leave Leicester, which subsequently earned him a 6N squad spot, 2011 Junior World Cup darling Ford also couldn’t usurp Toby Flood at fly-half for Leicester, so he is taking his talents to a club that desperately needs them in Bath. It doesn’t hurt that his dad is an assistant coach. Expect Mr. Ford to put pressure on all current 10s in the England national team set-up.
IRELAND: Robbie Henshaw (Connacht): This was the toughest call by far. The backline talent that Ireland posses required selecting Robbie over Luke Marshall and Paddy Jackson. There are even some early candidates for 2014 that will put pressure on this young man, not to mention young flanker Iain Henderson. However, when you watch Henshaw play his secondary position of fullback for Connacht (which he plays because of the club’s injury situation), you are astonished. He makes every aspect look effortless and you wonder what he would be like at center? Does he have the shoulders to carry the weight of replacing Brian O’Driscoll? Time will tell but so far the answer is yes.
SCOTLAND: Grieg Laidlaw (Glasgow): Strange to put Grieg here considering he played last season’s 6N as Scotland’s 10. However, it is his move to his scrum-half, the position he played coming up through the ranks that has him here. Grieg is the nephew of Scottish scrum-half legend Rory Laidlaw, so he has pedigree. His ability to spark attacks and control the action from 9 which has helped make his club and country more dangerous.
WALES: Eli Walker (Neath-Swansea Ospreys): Alex Cuthbert and George North are the incumbent wings for Wales. Should either of these men run into a bad patch of form, expect to see Eli on the wing. Walker has looked in great form for an inconsistent Ospreys side. He has remained a threat and proven he posses strength along with great pace.
RUSSIA: Denis Simplikevich: Denis has gone from strength to strength in his performances for Russia. Teammate Vasili Artemyev is the one most fans know but Simplikevich is too big and fast for a fullback to go unnoticed for long. He will be in France or England sooner rather than later.
PORTUGAL: Aderito Esteves: Esteves was personally recommended by RWU friend, Pedro Leal, as a player to watch. When you see his size and strength and shear pace tearing it up on the 7s circuit, you can’t help but be blown away. He is also no slouch in the 15-man code and gets a ton of work there as well. You have to wonder how long before he gets a pro contract from a major domestic league.
That’s it for now. We welcome your comments below and please look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter @RugbyWrapUp, @JunoirBlaber, @Declan Yeats, @Mathew Drew Turner and @Ebstide52, respectively.
Be sure to check back for our 2013 European Clubs, Coaches & Management To Watch and as always…Stay low and keep pumping those legs.