NEW YORK, NY – Another season of great Super Rugby action is about to kickoff. In conjunction with that, and after reviewing our 2013 Southern Hemisphere Players, here’s our Southern Hemisphere Class of 2014 – just as we gave you a 2014 class for USA ,Canada and Europe. Today, it’s the players:
Australia – Luke Jones (Melbourne Rebels): He reminds us of last year’s Wallaby bolter Scott Fardy. Tall enough to be a 4 but mobile enough to be a 6, his workrate is almost as impressive as his impact. He doesn’t just get to rucks; he is a body mover and clears them with a fervor. Defensively, he knows how to make himself a nuisance at the breakdown and be physical come tackle time. Confident with ball in hand, he has the ability to be a respectable ball carrier. Expect him to be a Wallaby after the 2015 Rugby World Cup (RWC).
New Zealand – Benji Marshall (The Blues): Easily the most talked about acquisition in Super Rugby. Benji’s left foot step move made him a legend in Rugby League at West Tigers: just ask Jamie Loyd. Now on the back-end of a career that saw question marks over age and class, he has made the cross-code jump to Rugby Union. Returning to his hometown of Auckland, Marshall will play fly-half and fullback and look to prove all his naysayers (in Australia and New Zealand) wrong.
South Africa – Cheslin Kolbe (Stormers): This kid is under an unfair amount of pressure. He has been a star for the Western Province youth teams at all grade levels, has starred in the Under-21 Currie Cup, then played for South Africa 7s in 2012 and was on the 2013 RWC7s team. Kolbe followed that up by having a stellar rookie season in the Vodacom Cup. In spite of his huge workload, he has responded well to that pressure at all those levels. Now, the youngster is being asked to replace arguably the greatest wing of our generation in Bryan Habana. That is a lot of pressure to put on a young player, but he looks equipped do it.
Argentina – Juan Ignacio Brex (URBA): Could be the next big thing. A natural with ball in hand, Juan has unusual size and strength for an Argentine center. He is still in Buenos Aires, playing amateur rugby and easily tearing up midfields for club and Provincial XV. He has already played for the Pampas (Argentina’s C side playing in the Vodacom Cup) while still playing U-20’s. He’s looked impressive for both the U20s and the 7s side. Unfortunately he had to withdraw from the Americas Rugby Championship (ARC) last year but I expect to see him winning some caps this year and then moving onto a pro contract.
Samoa – Fomai Ah Ki (Samoa 7s): Fomai can play at fly half, fullback or on the wing in 15s. He played in back to back Junior World Championships, leading the team in points scored. His play-making ability saw him called up to the Samoa 7s squad. Ah Ki has played in the last 3 tournaments and will likely feature for the rest of the tour. Expect his role to grow and integrated into the full national team by the RWC 2015, at the absolute latest.
Fiji – Patrick Osborne (Highlanders): Osborne is actually a product of Canterbury rugby. However, he has signed to play for the Highlanders franchise. The key draw away from the Red and Black (and likely the Super Rugby playoffs) was playtime. Osborne had a great 2013 ITM Cup final and will feature heavily for the Highlanders, what with Buxton Popali’i pulling out due to future surgery and recovery over heart issues.
Tonga – Malakai Fekitoa (Highlanders): Like Osborne, Fekitoa is a the product of another province – Auckland to be specific. He burst onto the scene in 2011 at the age of 18 in the national 7s tournament, where Sir Gordon Tietjens named him player of the tournament. He followed this up with solid ITM Cup seasons and looked set to play for the Blues. However, with Tamati Ellison leaving the Highlanders, the Dunedin-based franchise signed him up to fill the gap at outside center. Fekitoa is still eligible for the All Blacks but look for Tonga to try and cap him before the year is out so he will be available for the RWC 2015.
Japan – Harumichi Tatekawa (ACT Brumbies): The 23-year-old Japan international is a 10/12 back. He is hoping to emulate the success of his countrymen Fumiaki Tanaka (who would have been the Japan player to watch in 2013). Tanaka kept All Black scrum-half Aaron Smith on the bench for parts of the 2013 season and was so impressive he was re-signed for 2014. Tatekawa has the potential to give current Aussie 10/12’s Matt Tooma and Christian Leilifano the same kind of headaches at the Brumbies. His development will be aided by the tutelage of Head Coach and legendary Wallaby flyhalf, Stephen Larkham. He has already earned plaudits from his previous coach and former Wallaby Toutai Kefu, who says Tatekawa ”…is the best Japanese player I’ve seen.”
That’s it for now, be sure to come back for our 2014 Southern Hemisphere Clubs, Coaches and Management to Watch tomorrow.
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And until the next time… stay low and keep pumping those legs.