Following on from our look at the Guinness PRO14 last month, we now turn our attentions to the potential breakout players for the 2019/20 season in the Gallagher Premiership.
The Rugby World Cup should create opportunities for talented youngsters to step up and grasp opportunities that the absences of their senior teammates present. For others, those opportunities will come as a result of an off-season of development or recovery from a season-derailing injury in 2018/19.
We’ve attempted to identify some of the worthiest of keeping an eye on over the next nine months and who could finish the season as household names in English rugby.
Alfie Barbeary, Wasps
There has been a lot of buzz around Barbeary and given that he plays such a physically-demanding position as hooker and that this is only his first year of professional rugby, don’t be surprised if you have to wait until the second half of the season to see him in first team action.
That being said, Barbeary was a regular in Wasps’ Premiership Shield side last season – whilst he was still at Bloxham School – and he doesn’t lack for physical ability, even at the age of 18. A mixture of Premiership Cup and dual-registration appearances in the Greene King IPA Championship or National 1 could help prepare him in the first half of the season.
A former centre, he is also mobile enough to be a force on the flanks and that could be one way Wasps let him get his feet wet in senior rugby, without having to throwing him in at the deep end of hooker. Keep an eye on Wasps’ 16 and 20 jerseys over the course of the season.
Alex Coles, Northampton Saints
Northampton are set to lose both Courtney Lawes and Api Ratuniyarawa to the Rugby World Cup, stretching their resources in the engine room. Based on last season, David Ribbans and Alex Moon will likely be the starting pairing come the beginning of the season, but Coles will be in the mix.
The 19-year-old performed well for the England U20s in a season that the age-grade side would, on the whole, likely rather forget, and was given a taste of first team rugby towards the end of last season.
Director of Rugby Chris Boyd has shown that he’s not adverse to giving minutes to younger players if they perform well enough in training and Coles would certainly add to Saints’ lineout ability in the absence of Lawes.
Josh Ibuanokpe and Sam Wainwright, Saracens
A good, old-fashioned preseason training battle here, with both Ibuanokpe and Wainwright duelling for the prospect of starting the season as Saracens’ first-choice tighthead prop. It’s a great opportunity for both, as Saracens are already confirmed to lose Vincent Koch and Juan Figallo to international duty, and there is very little doubt that the USA’s Titi Lamositele will join them.
Ibuanokpe arrived in the summer from Harlequins, where he had combined rugby and a degree in physics from the University of Bristol, whilst Wainwright made the move from RGC in Wales.
Now as a full-time rugby player and his education completed for the moment, Ibuanokpe will be looking to make the leap in 2019 and get his conditioning and scrummaging to the same level as his formidable ball-carrying.
Joel Kpoku, Saracens
Another Saracen here is a mark not only of the work they do in player development, but also how many internationals they are set to lose to the Rugby World Cup. With Maro Itoje and George Kruis both away with England, Kpoku could force his way in alongside Nick Isiekwe and Will Skelton.
Coles’ partner in the England U20 engine room last season, Kpoku was another of the players to impress and stand out in a disappointing campaign for the RFU’s side. His consistency over the two years he spent with the U20s will not have done his chances of featuring at the senior level this season any harm at all.
Saracens’ ability to produce, develop and then integrate second rows is unrivalled in English rugby and Kpoku has the ability to further add to that this coming season.
Ollie Lawrence, Worcester Warriors
Unfortunately for Lawrence, an ankle injury in which he suffered ligament damage prematurely ended his debut professional season at Worcester, where he had begun forcing himself into the first team plans of Director of Rugby Alan Solomons.
The club lost Wynand Olivier to retirement this summer and Lawrence will fancy his chances alongside Ryan Mills, Francois Venter and new arrival Ashley Beck this coming season. First seasons as a professional are always a learning curve and now the former Bromsgrove pupil will feel much more acclimated going into the new campaign.
Tom Parton, London Irish
Another player whose 2018/19 season was impacted by injury, Parton unfortunately missed the opportunity to announce himself as a breakout in the Irish back three alongside former U20 teammate Ben Loader during the club’s time in the Championship.
With Alivereti Veitokani set to be at the Rugby World Cup with Fiji, that door is now ajar for Parton, with the full-back’s counter-attacking, eye for space and sizeable touch-finding boot all working in his favour as he attempts to cement a place in Irish’s regular matchday 23.
Waisake Naholo has arrived as a wing and Curtis Rona is versatile enough to fit in the back line at multiple spots, so if Parton does enough in preseason, there’s no reason why he can’t nail down the spot before Veitokani returns from Japan.
Cameron Redpath, Sale Sharks
Sale have recruited prodigiously this summer, although if there is one area where their outgoings exceed their incomings, it’s in the midfield. James O’Connor’s return to Australia puts more demand on the likes of Redpath and Connor Doherty in the Sharks’ midfield and Redpath could be in the frame as starting inside centre come the beginning of the season.
An ACL reconstruction in 2018 meant that Redpath missed the first half of last season but was a regular in the matchday 23 following his return to fitness. With a full preseason now under his belt, Redpath should be ready to make even more of an impact in 2019/20.
His ability to test the gain-line as a distributor and a carrier, as well as interchange with the fly-half and step into first receiver, should make the Sale back line harder for defences to read and contain this season.
Freddie Steward, Leicester Tigers
Like Barbeary, Steward is a first-year player, so patience will be a virtue here. He did, however, make his debut for Leicester in the Premiership last season – whilst still at Norwich School – and as back line players go at 18 years of age, he looks comfortable physically with players plenty of years his senior.
His ability in the air, cannon of a boot and one-on-one tackling technique should all help him seem a less risky proposition for Geordan Murphy, should the Irishman come calling for him early in the season. Telusa Veainu is likely to be away with Tonga, Jonny May is with England and Jonah Holmes could yet make Warren Gatland’s Wales squad, so back three resources could be stretched in the East Midlands.
Both Steward and Barbeary, if not required by their Premiership clubs, should be regulars in the England U20 side this season, so there will, injuries aside, be opportunities for them both to showcase their potential in 2019/20.
Watch: Don’t Mess with Jim – Season 2, Episode 1
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