It’s often said that the lack of relegation in the Pro14 allows teams with a focus on Europe to rest their stars in the league until they are needed for the serious end-of-season business, devaluing the competition. 

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Perhaps that’s true but the flip-side is that Pro14 fans frequently get the chance to see thrilling young talents emerge in their weekly rugby fixtures. The possibility of witnessing the emergence of the next Stuart Hogg (who made 100 Pro14 appearances before he turned 25) or George North, who broke onto the scene at 17, is an ever-present in this league.

Every league has talented young players break through, of course, but the more common practice of squad rotation in the Pro14 means fans get to see more than just the superstars emerge regularly.

Continue reading below…

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RugbyPass takes a look at some of the most promising names to watch in the Pro14 aged 20 and under.

Ryan Baird, Leinster, lock

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Where else to start but at Leinster, whose academy could probably fill this list. Baird announced himself with a hat-trick against Glasgow Warriors just before the season was postponed, showing remarkable pace for a lock, as well as mobility. He’d already made his senior debut during round 21 of the 2018–19 season, however, and been involved in an Ireland camp at the start of the year. He calls lineouts too, just in case you were worried. A ferocious second row partnership with James Ryan looms, for both province and country.

Jac Morgan, Scarlets, back row

Captain of the U20s team, five Pro14 appearances under his belt, an impressive ball carrier and a good jackal — Morgan is definitely one to keep an eye on, if you’re not already. Coach Brad Mooar has described him as “an outstanding young prospect and it looks like he has been doing it all his life.” The Welsh back row factory just produced another member and, while the path to senior international honours is crowded, he is already breaking into the Scarlets matchday squad. His versatility will help but his ball carrying will likely prove the point of difference.

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Jack Blain, Edinburgh, wing

The first player born in the year 2000 to represent Edinburgh, Blain’s exciting form throughout the age-grade levels for Scotland has meant he has been training with the senior team for a while now. He only has one Pro14 appearance to his name so far although he might have expected more as Cockerill balanced his international players’ welfare towards the end of a long season. An exciting prospect for this increasingly impressive Edinburgh team.

Federico Mori, Zebre, centre

Italy’s age-grade teams have been emerging as a force for a while now and 19 year-old centre Mori is yet another example. He made his debut in the Pro14 — marking it with a try that showed his pace and power — before playing in the top Italian championship for Calvisano, with whom he is jointly tied, and has enjoyed Challenge Cup rugby this season too. He could make a very interesting addition to the Italian backline in a few years but, before that, expect to see much more of him for Zebre.

Dewi Lake, Ospreys, hooker

It’s been a tough season for Ospreys fans but the prospect of Dewi Lake has been one of the bright lights. He is a very modern front row with an all-round game and was training with the senior side during the Six Nations. He looks like he might be able to make the step up in physicality well. The former U20s captain skippered his side to a rare victory over New Zealand last year and much is expected from him in the future.

Elrigh Louw, Isuzu Southern Kings, back row

The junior Springbok had a relatively late breakthrough in schools rugby but has made 12 appearances so far this season for Kings, starting seven and scoring a try against Munster in his second game. Kings list him as a No8 and that’s where most of his time this season has been, although he is also comfortable in the second row and the blindside flank. He is likely to continue to benefit from the South African side’s current focus on developing youth as part of a long-term plan. 

Craig Casey, Munster, scrum half

Highly rated by Munster fans and with good reason, Casey has built on his Pro14 debut last season with some impressive cameos, including two Heineken Champions Cup appearances where he wasn’t intimidated by his more illustrious — or much taller — opponents. He has been rewarded with a senior contract for next season and looks to be a player Munster will use more and more, especially since he already seems comfortable managing a game at this level.

Jamie Dobie, Glasgow Warriors, scrum half

Scotland suddenly have a number of promising, high-tempo young scrum halves and Dobie might be the most exciting of the lot. Warriors offered him a professional contract straight out of school, gazumping their Edinburgh rivals, with then-coach Dave Rennie describing him as “one of the most exciting young talents in the country”. He already has eight appearances under his belt this season and, despite being one of the youngest players on this list, has shown impressive physicality and pace at this level.

Hayden Hyde, Ulster, centre

Another example of the successful Irish Exiles programme, Hyde could have stayed with Harlequins and England — both of whom wanted him. But he has been part of the Irish set-up for years already and packed his bags to move to Belfast when Ulster came calling. He starred in Ireland U20 Triple Crown before their remaining games were postponed, showing the physicality he developed in his earlier career as back rower as well as his running and passing ability. 

Ioan Davies, Cardiff Blues, fullback

The fullback impressed during last year’s U20 World Championship and this season has earned a call up to train with the senior Wales squad, as new coach Wayne Pivac cast his eye over those rumoured to have a big future. He also made his first Pro14 appearance against Edinburgh at the end of February and will have hoped to kick on before the season was postponed. Davies has an exciting turn of pace but, at this age, it is his defensive insight and high ball composure that impress more — comparisons with Leigh Halfpenny might be a little premature but there is more than a touch of the former Blues fullback to his game.

Watch: Anthony Watson v Billy Burns in the last 16 of the RugbyPass FIFA Pros competition.

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