WOMEN: Hannah Gallagher (Saracens/England): Being asked to replace the legendary Maggie Alphonsi on a club and country level is not an easy task. However, Hannah was more than up to the task. Gallagher helped led Saracens to the Women’s Premiership final before falling short. On the international front, She was played in all of England’s 2015 fixtures as the national team was rebuilding after the 2014 Women’s World Cup. She is clearly an intrigal figure and leader and will be key to the success of 2016 6 Nations.
ENGLAND: Maro Itoje (Saracens): The future is now. Last season we called Itoje, full name Oghenemaro Miles Itoje, and he went on to prove it. He went on to be part of Saracens 2015 Aviva Premiership team, as in played in the final. He has become first choice at Saracens who were undefeated unti the new year and has been called into the England training squad for the 2016 6 Nations.
FRANCE: Teddy Thomas (Racing Metro): Teddy was probably the easiest choice we had to make for the 2015 class. Unfortunately he had a horrid 2015. He only played 13 games of the 2014-2015 season before going down on with a hamstring injury. Hamstring injuries are tricky for speed guys and the young winger has had the worst time imaginable. He has suffered several hamstring lacerations as he tried to make comebacks and has spent two weeks in the US EXOS (formerly Athletic Performance facility) in Pensacola, Florida, to cure his recurring injury. Thomas only returned to training with his club two weeks ago, hopefully he gets to finish the remainder of season on a positive note.
IRELAND: Stuart Olding (Ulster): The injury bug struck another member of our class. The 22-year-old suffered a torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) against the Cardiff Blues on March 27th of 2015 last year. Olding just returned to duty for Ulster A this past weekend. With his versatility and the development of our 2016 member, lots of Ulster fans are hoping the Olding will have a future at fullback when he is back to full fitness and ability.
ITALY: Kelly Haimona (Zebre) – Another member of the Class of 2015 injury ward. In the final 6 Nations game of 2015 Haimona broke his arm. The injury ended the reminder of his 2014-2015 season. Things got worse as the injury did not heal properly and Haimona had to withdraw from the Rugby World Cup squad. After all the time of it finally healing properly Haimona returned this month and is Italy’s squad for this year’s 6 Nations.
SCOTLAND: Finn Russell (Glasgow): Finn had a very good 2015. He helped lead his franchise, the Glasgow Warriors, to their first Pro 12 title in their history. He followed that up by helping lead Scotland to the quaterfinals and an unlucky call away from the seminfinals of the RWC. After such a great year, it was no surprise that he re-signed until 2018 with Glasgow. Finn enters 2016 as the undisputed first choice 10 for Scotland.
WALES: Nicky Smith (Ospreys): Smith was another that had to fight through injury. He played two games in the 6 Nations and despite Wales’ injury crisis, he was not selected to the Rugby World Cup squad though he did make the training roster. Then Smith injured ankle ligaments during one of the fall 2015 season’s early games and, although surgery was not needed, a ankle ligament injury had him out for 8 weeks. The positives are despite it all, he is playing again and signed a 4 year dual national contract with Ospreys and Wales.
6N (Six Nations) B
GERMANY: Chris Hilsenback (US Colomiers):The young man is had a solid year with the Colomiers reserves and made a first team appearance toward the end of the spring season. He also did his best to Germany competitive as they lost every match in the top division of the European Nations Cup.Going into the fall season he is recognized member of the first team and has either started or substituted in every game this season.He has helped the side keep pace with the rest of the teams and are withing striking distance of a playoff place.
ROMANIA: Vlad Nistor (Castres): Nistor Is still fighting his way out of the reserves for Castres. At 21, that is not a surprised but he is increasing in the views of his national team coach. After he missed the final cut when Romania’s World Cup squad was announced despite playing in their final three ahead of the tournament, he was called back in due to injury and preformed admirable when called upon. His big frame and physical nature should translate to first team action soon enough.
PORTUGAL: Pedro Bettencourt Ávila (ASM Clérmont): He is still playing for Top14 giants Clermont’s Éspoirs (academy) side and playing well when he can. He has been called on for 7s duty for Portugal as well 15s duty. He is still on an upward trajectory but may need to focus on his club duties to finally and properly break through and become a first team option or sign elsewhere. It will be interesting how he attacks the upcoming year.
England – Newcastle (Aviva Premiership): The Falcons are on this list not because they are a club on the rise but they are a club that is on the verge of being relegated. Thankfully, for them at least, they have the cellar-dwelling London Welsh beneath them at the foot of the table for the 2014/2015 season. However 2015/2016 could be whole different kettle of fish. 2014 club-of-the-year Bristol and the club relegated from the premiership, Worcester are set to battle it out for promotion to the Premiership. This means Newcastle will have to make some smart buys in the summer or else they could well find themselves at the wrong end of a relegation dogfight by Boxing Day of this year.
Ireland: Connacht (Pro12): For a long time, Connacht has been a development province for Irish rugby. It has been an IRFU development province for a long time, with a good chunk of its funding coming from the success of the other three provinces. The other three held fast to the theory that four strong provinces is better than three and Connacht provided a farm team where over-the-hill or young players could go to get some meaningful minutes. A few years back, things started changing and the province started developing. They produced their first top-drawer Irish international in ages and played well in both ye olde Heineken and Amlin Cups. Now under the coaching of Samoan Pat Lam and Connacht man born-and-bred Eric Elwood, they are in the top half of the Pro12 table and pushing for a playoff spot. The day may not be far away when the Pro12 playoffs are all Irish.
France: Béziers Hérault (Pro D2): The Top 14 has seen some giants come and go. In the ’80s Béziers was one of the top clubs in the country. However ,professionalism hit them hard and they fell on hard times. They didn’t collect in the the rich sugar daddy sweepstakes, either. However, they are slowly building to a return to the top flight. They are currently seventh and two places away from a playoff spot. They finished sixth last year, just missing out on qualification. We believe, with our heart more than our head, that they will get a playoff place this year. They may not win promotion but if you are looking for a club slowly building itself back into the Top14, it’s Béziers.
France – Diego Dominguez (Toulon): Rich guys can do whatever they want with their money. However, when Mourad Boudjellal announced late last year that the new coach for Toulon would be Italian(Argentine) goal kicking legend, Diego Dominguez, a few jaws dropped. Dominguez is loved and respected but he has no coaching experience. He’s not officially due to join Toulon until January 2016, but expect to see him hovering around various Top 14 rugby grounds, trying to pick up a few hints and tips… Then, it will be interesting to see how a wealthy man who does not take losing well deals with a rookie coach.
England – Gary Street (Unattached): Normally, when someone updates their LinkedIn page to say they are “looking for a new challenge” you wonder vaguely what happened. When it is a Women’s Rugby World Cup-winning coach, you most likely spit out your coffee in shock. This is the story of Gary Street. After winning a WRWC medal, he stepped down from coaching the England women. It appears it was a mutual decision between the man and the RFU, which suggests they didn’t see eye to eye on the future of the women’s game. Where Street goes is anyone’s guess but with women’s rugby coaches often having their talents overlooked, don’t be surprised if he ends up at a Championship club as head coach or an assistant with Premiership club.
France – Christophe Urios (Castres Olympique): The majority of Christophe Urios’ career centered around RWU’s Top 14 savant James Harringon’s town of Castres. Urios was there for nine years as a player and three years officially as coach. Since then, he has paid his coaching dues and travelled around Top 14 coaching scene. To Urios’ great credit he has worked wonders at Oyonnax. He has coached the side since 2007 and has seen them get better every year. So, it’s no wonder Castres decided to lure him back and give him a chance with a large contract from the start of the 2015-16 season. How he does at Castres and how Oyonnax get along with out him will say a lot about each club.
England 2015 LTD: This is the official organization set up by the RFU to organize the 2015 Rugby World Cup. The English 2015 group has helped all that it can to bring the issues important by them. The success of the 2015 version of the quadrennial showpiece, which runs from September 18 to October 31, will have a lot to do with the organisational skills of the England 2015 administrators.
European Professional Club Rugby: Europe’s flagship cup competitions need to be better marketed, but many in the know seem to think that this new Swiss-based organisation can do the job. Organisers of the 2014 competition had so little time to organise the inaugural tournament, that they had no choice but to subcontract it to the Dublin-based company that ran the old Heineken and Amlin Cups. From next season, however, it is taking over the reins completely. Everyone agrees that the original competitions had developed into something very special, so this will be a big job for the umbrella body which has set up home in Neuchatel, in neutral Switzerland.
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And as always, stay low and keep pumping those legs.