The infamous Rugby Rain Men Collective helped yours truly with this piece and special thanks goes to RWU contributor Nick “Bones” Attewell.
NEW YORK, NY – Over the last few weeks, we have reviewed our 2013 USA, Canada and European Rugby classes as well as name our 2014 classes. Having covered North America, we turn our attention to our 2014 European Rugby Players To Watch.
WOMEN: Ruth Laybourn (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks/England): If all the injured vets come back to fitness (especially Kat Merchant), Laybourn may struggle for time. However, she showed some serious gas when she played in the fall. Besides pace, she proved that she has a natural ability to finish and be dangerous. She will definitely be part of the 2014 6 Nations and WRWC (Womens Rugby World Cup) team.
ENGLAND: Anthony Watson (Bath): The Right wing position for England has been the source of much debate. England employ a duel fullback system so the left wing is often Harlequins fullback Mike Brown and and fullback is either Ben Foden or Alex Goode. This leaves only one out-and-out finisher (right wing ). Considering the struggles by Chris Ashton and the injuries to Marland Yarde and Christian Wade, Watson is the one, fans and pundits are looking at to add much-needed balance and punch. He played for the England U20 side at age 17 – he is now 19 – and been named in the Six Nations squad. He is guaranteed to be a star. It is a only a matter of time and playing with 2013 Class member and back-up England flyhalf George Ford can only be a good thing.
FRANCE: Jules Plisson (Stade Francias): Jules is a rare breed. He is a genuine 10 playing 10 in France. The French rugby system is known for left/right flankers instead of openside/blindside and leaving the play-making calls to the 9. However, Plisson is a 10 that is directing play and unleashing the backline in the traditional mold. Une French Rain Man proclaimed “He is putting in some of the best performances at 10 by a Frenchman since Christophe Lamaison. Enough to keep Morne Steyn, the Bok 10 on the bench.” Lofty praise – but very true. Watch for James Harrington’s Top14 reviews and Nick Hall’s Amlin Cup talking points and see.
IRELAND: JJ Hanrahan (Munster): We have had our eye on JJ, since 2012. In 2012 he was one of the finalist for Player of the Tournament in the U20 RWC, leading Ireland to third place. It was a matter of how he would develop at Munster and when he would get some first team action. The 2013-2014 season has seen him come to the fore for Munster, playing at inside center and a little bit in his primary position of fly half. His try against Perpignan in extra showed his swerve, pace and killer instinct.
ITALY: Tommaso ‘Tommy” Allan (Perpignan) – Tommy was born in Italy, the son of a Scottish father and Italian mother. The family shifted to South Africa, where Tommy was raised. His uncle, John Allan, played hooker for both South Africa and Scotland. Tommy played in Scottish underage sides and was offered senior caps by the Scottish Rugby Union, but chose to represent the country of his birth. He was signed by Perpignan this season and has recently started at 10 for them. Italy have been searching for a replacement for Diego Dominguez for over a decade now and Allan looks to be the heir they’ve been waiting for.
SCOTLAND: Jonny Gray (Glasgow): Jonny is the younger brother of Scotland and British & Irish Lion Richie Gray. Jonny stands at 6’6″ – making him shorter than his brother – but he is such a prospect that he played for the Scotland U-20s in 2012 and captained them in 2013. At age 19, He has been named in the 41-man squad for the full men’s side for the 2014 Six nations.
WALES: Samson Lee (Scarlets): Adam Jones is the incumbent tighthead prop for Wales. Lee is the heir to the position. Besides having a great first name for a prop, Lee has become a force to be reckon with at the young age of 21. Though still a pup in prop years, he has stood strong and faced all challengers for Scarlets. He will continue to come of the bench for Wales but expect him to be a starter by 2015.
6N (Six Nations) B
GEORGIA: Merab Sharikadze (Bourg-en-Bresse): Sharikadze learned his rugby at Hartpury College (England). The center was a has been a standout in his first season of pro rugby in France, playing for Pro D2 side Bourg-en-Basse. He is already the star of the Georgian backline at just 20 and will play a big part in RWC2015 for the Lelos.
SPAIN: Julen Goia (Biarritz): The homegrown hope of Spanish rugby, who have recently selected squads heavy on imports. He hails from the Spanish Basque country and was signed by scouts from French Basque giants Biarritz who were impressed by his speed. Has only played two tests to date but will look to make his mark this year.
That’s it for now… feel free to comment below, look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter @: RugbyWrapUp, Junoir Blaber, DJ Eberle, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Cody Kuxmann, Jaime Loyd and Declan Yeats, respectively.
Be sure to check back for our 2014 European Clubs, Coaches & Management To Watch and as always…Stay low and keep pumping those legs.