NEW YORK, NY – With Super Rugby midway through its preseason matches, it is clearly time for us to release our list of our 2016 Southern Hemisphere Players – just as we did for 2016 classes of USA, Canada and Europe. Unlike last year, we will not concern ourselves with out upcoming Super Rugby young players to watch list meaning we will try and stay true to the goal of naming southern hemisphere young players to keep an eye on. And with that, it is time to begin:
Australia – Andrew Kellaway (NSW Waratahs): It was down to Kellaway and Sefanaia Naivalu, but we didn’t want to get into the Rugby Plus program and a poaching debate. Kellaway is considered on of the top young players in Australia, having impressed at all levels, Australian Schoolboys, Australian Under 20s, Randwick and the NSW Country Eagles NRC (National Rugby Championship) team. He signed with the Waratahs after a stunning 2014 Junior World Championship (JWC), were he broke the tournament try record set by Julian Savea and Zac Guildford. Last year, Kellaway was part of the NSW Under 20s who won the National Championships before being named as Captain of the Australian Under 20s for the Federation Oceanic Rugby Union’s Under 20s tournament and the 2015 JWC. He was again among the top try scorers for the Buildcorp NRC as part of the NSW Country side. He will make a name for himself at wing or fullback for the Waratahs and the Wallabies in time.
New Zealand – Akira Ioane (The Blues/All Black 7s): Ok! We admit that by selecting Ioane, we are not catching anyone off-guard. In our defense it is similar to when we made Carlin Isles our USA 7s player to watch long before we published the piece but he already had a viral video. Young Akira was born to play rugby as his father Eddie Ioane played lock for Samoa at the 1991 Rugby World Cup and his mother Sandra Wihongi is a former Black Fern back. The pedigree is only part of the reason for his meteoric rise. At the age of 19, in 2014, he broke into the All Blacks 7s squad, played in 5 legs and won a NPC contract with Auckland were he played 11 games. Midway through the 2015 Super Rugby season, the Blues call him up and he had standout performance after performance showing he was ready for that level. He then has to leave the Blues as a first choice player on the New Zealand U-20 team that goes on to win the JWC, followed by playing 2 end of the year tour matches for the New Zealand Maori. Currently he is back with the All Black 7s squad but do not be surprised to see him finish playing in Rio and end up on the end of the year All Black tour of Europe. He is the 6 of the future for New Zealand.
South Africa – Malcolm Marx (Lions): Young Malcolm is a lifetime member of the Johannesburg based, Golden Lions Rugby Union better known as the Lions to Currie Cup and Super Rugby fans. Marx has played for the union from the U-13 level until the present day. He is highly rated by the union too, as they have brought him along very slowly at each level all the while still fast tracking him. He has been given time acclimate himself to the intensity of each level and deal with the difficult move from flanker to hooker. Marx played in the developmental Vodacom Cup tournament in 2014 and was part of the 2015 Super Rugby squad, he built on that experience to play a key role in the Lions going undefeated and winning the 2015 Currie Cup. Now he gears up for the 2016 Super Rugby season where he hopes to fulfill his potential and claim “the next Bismarck (Du Plessis)” tag the press want to give him.
Argentina – Santiago Iglesias Valdez (Uni Tucumán): At 5’10, 240lbs, Iglesias-Valdez feels like an old school hooker as he seems shorter and stouter than his contemporaries. Despite that he has shown all the key attributes of a Argentine front rower by being a bruising scrummager, strong in contact and rucking with conviction. He was the captain of a very good U-20 side at the JWC in 2013, so he has talent and the ability to lead. He appears to have recently lost favor with the selectors as he was originally ranked higher than Julian Montoya who leapfrogged him and meant that he missed the World Cup. Montoya is with the Super Rugby Jagures currently and Iglesias-Valdez is trying to work his back into the mix from club rugby. Expect him to have a strong Americas Rugby Championship and force his way into the Jagures wider training group. From there, he will move up and go on tour with the Pumas at the end of the year, because he still has a lot of potential, we feel.
Samoa – Sanele Vavae Tuilagi (US Carcassonne): The second youngest Tuilagi brother joined the Tuilagi list of Samoan internationals in 2015. He has toiled in the French Pro D2 division for most of his career unable to find a club working toward promotion. His current club Carcassonne seem destined for relegation, so he will likely move at the end of this season. Tuilagi has done all he can to keep the club in the D2 with his play. On the national team level, he has been stuck behind current captain Ofisa Treviranus so he has been a bench option or has been moved to blindside. It appears though that he is starting to break through having played in the 2015 Pacific Nations Cup and the RWC. It appears that it will be in 2016 where he will take over as the first choice eightman for Samoa. Expect to see him play a key role in the spring and Autumn internationals as Samoa continues to fight for respect from the Union and the world.
Fiji – Semi Kunatani (Toulouse): Semi was a star on the 2014/2015 World Rugby Sevens series. So much so that he signed with Toulouse in the French Top 14 for the 2015-16 season with a clause to continue to represent Fiji 7s if and when selected by national coach Ben Ryan. However Ryan has been reluctant to pick him out of concern his club is trying him out as a winger. Ryan believes that his “long-term future for club and country is probably is as the world-class blind side flanker he could and Toulouse should stop thinking of playing him on the wing. They need to get him in the back row and unfortunately it is in the early days with Toulouse.” Toulouse seem to think he can make the conversion. The blindly believe “it will happen fast,” promised Toulouse head coach Ugo Mola,“he plays a lot with the Espoirs team (Academy side, only 34 minutes of Top 14 action so far) because he needs to focus on rugby, especially on the dark side of a winger, the replacement. It takes between three and six months to integrate all natural and collective demands, says the coach, based on his technician experience with other Fijians. They needed six months to adapt. 2016 will be Kunatani’s year, the skies the limit.” Either way it is a ominous warning to Saracens recently signed Fiji Sevens finisher Savenaca Rawaca.
Tonga – Telusa Veainu (Leicester): The New Zealand-born Tongan international has been a threat at wing for most of his career. His ability to find consistency has been what has let him down. He was a member of the New Zealand U-20 team when he was 18 and 19. He then bounced around on the club and Super Rugby level playing for Canterbury and Hawkes’ Bay in the NPC, moving to Melbourne and playing for the Rising and the Rebels in 2014 and 2015. It was those performances for the Rebels that got him selected for Tonga as he played in the Pacific Nations Cup and the RWC. Following a solid RWC he signed for Leicester and seems to have been the find of the year for the club. Though he views himself as guy that can play center, wing and fullback, Leicester have used him at wing and full back to great effect. He has scored 7 tries in 13 games in all competitions, an average of 1 every other game. He has helped ease the absence of England international center Manu Tuilagi and made it clear that Leicester can do without center/wing Vereneki Goneva. Expect him to become one of the top try scorers this Aviva premiership season and score a couple for Tonga in the internationals he plays in this year.
Japan – Amanaki Mafi (Bath): The 26-year-old, 7 test, Tonga-born Japan international, turned heads with a impressive display of power and pace during the the Pacific Nations Cup and the RWC. Mafi made his name in the Japanese Top League after his strong performances in the Japanese Universities competition. Mafi came to Japan for university, attending Hanazono University. After playing well there, he signed on to play for the NTT Communications Shining Arcs, it was his displays at the Shining Arcs that caught then Japan coach Eddie Jones‘ attention and made him a Brave Blossom. On the back of the strong RWC performance, Mafi has signed for Bath as injury cover until the end of the season. We predict he will continue to have head turning performances for Bath and get a full-time contract with another Aviva premiership team or more likely a Super Rugby side.
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And as always, stay low and keep pumping those legs.