Following on from our recent look at the club-by-club strengths of emerging talent in the Gallagher Premiership, we now turn our attentions to the Guinness PRO14 U23 squads.
With the Italian and South African sides leaning heavily on feeder clubs, rather than their own internal academies, a few allowances have had to be made to get an entire XV, although they are still a strong indicator of the talent that is to come through those teams over the next few years.
Unsurprisingly, the Irish provinces all look in good shape, whilst there’s plenty of talent among the Welsh regions, should they be able to hang on to it rather than see another wave of exoduses to England and France.
Luca Sperandio, Michael Mba*, Andrea Bronzini, Marco Zanon, Monty Ioane (O23); Antonio Rizzi, Charly Trussardi; Michele Mancini Parri, Engjel Makelara, Marco Riccioni; Eli Snyman, Niccolo Cannone; Giovanni Pettinelli, Michele Lamaro, Lodovico Manni.
Mba is not currently a member of Benetton, but thanks to his impressive displays in the Italian U20 side and the close proximity of his club, Rugby Casale, to Treviso, he could well be filling this position in the years to come.
Trussardi arrives from Clermont to reform his age-grade partnership with Rizzi, whilst Riccioni, Zanon and Bronzini have all played integral roles in Benetton’s recent rise up the PRO14 table.
Rhun Williams, Owen Lane, Harri Millard, Max Llewellyn, Ioan Davies; Jarrod Evans, Jamie Hill; Corey Domachowski, Liam Belcher, Dillon Lewis; Seb Davies, Ben Murphy; James Botham, Alun Lawrence, Shane Lewis-Hughes.
Williams and Lane star in an exciting back three for the Blues, whilst Evans provides ever-increasing experience and composure at fly-half.
The loss of Rhys Carre to Saracens is a significant blow, with the tight five otherwise looking in very strong shape thanks to the likes of Lewis and Davies. As with the other Welsh regions, producing the talented players is not the issue, retaining them is.
Malcolm Jaer (O23), Rabz Mazwane, Aya Olihant, Benhard Janse van Rensburg, Darren Adonis; Lubabalo Dobela, Ruben de Haas; Ox Nche, Joseph Dweba, Günther Janse van Vuuren; Walt Steenkamp, Sibablo Qoma; Abongile Nonkontwana (O23), Jaspier Wiese, Junior Pokomela.
The duo of Nche and Pokomela are potentially future Springboks if they keep developing, whilst Janse van Rensburg doesn’t lack for talent or ability either.
? Outstanding stuff from the @CheetahsRugby? ?
? Powerhouse Ox Nche turns on the gas and breaks through to go over ???
— PRO14 RUGBY (@PRO14Official) January 20, 2018
Changing the perception in South Africa – and globally – that the Cheetahs and Southern Kings are not the secondary South African franchises, will go a long way to helping both sides retain talent and attract some of the best youngsters in the country.
Colm de Buitléar, Stephen Fitzgerald, Kieran Joyce, Conor Fitzgerald, Oran McNulty; Conor Dean, Stephen Kerins; Matthew Burke, Dylan Tierney-Martin, Conor Kenny; Joe Maksymiw, Niall Murray; Cillian Gallagher, Paul Boyle, Sean Masterson.
In all honesty, the level and depth of talent at Connacht probably doesn’t run quite as deep as it does at the other three Irish provinces, but it is not without future difference-makers, something which is epitomised by the displays of hooker Tierney-Martin this season with Ireland U20s.
Gallagher, Boyle and Masterson are a strong back row trio, with Gallagher in particular one to keep an eye on as he continues to develop.
Will Talbot-Davies, Jared Rosser, Tyler Morgan, Aneurin Owen, Rio Dyer; Arwel Robson, Dan Babos; Christian Coleman, Ellis Shipp, Leon Brown; Max Williams, Joe Davies; Taine Basham, Aaron Wainwright, Harri Keddie.
Remarkably, Morgan still qualifies for this XV, despite having been part of Wales’ Rugby World Cup plans back in 2015. He, Brown and Wainwright bring international quality to the side.
Keddie, Basham and Williams are gifted in the forwards, whilst Rosser and Dyer offer plenty of potential threat out wide. As it ever is with the Dragons, they have the raw materials in place, but can they be moulded into a winning senior side?
— World Rugby Sevens (@WorldRugby7s) January 27, 2019
Blair Kinghorn, Darcy Graham, George Taylor, Chris Dean (O23), Jack Blain; Jason Baggott, Charlie Shiel; Jack Stanley, Cameron Fenton, Murray McCallum; Callum Hunter-Hill, Jamie Hodgson; Luke Crosbie, Jamie Ritchie, Magnus Bradbury.
There is no better U23 back three in the PRO14 than the one comprised by Kinghorn, Graham and Blain, the first two of whom have starred at international level already, whilst Blain was the pick of the Scotland U20 side this season.
Similarly, you’ll find it hard to find a better back row group than Crosbie, Ritchie and Bradbury, although the lack of playmakers in the half-backs and midfield could be a cause for concern.
Ross Thompson, Logan Trotter, Ollie Smith, Stafford McDowall, Robbie Nairn; Adam Hastings, Jamie Dobie; Murphy Walker, Mesu Dolokoto (O23), Zander Fagerson; Scott Cummings, Andrew Davidson; Bruce Flockhart, Matt Smith, Matt Fagerson.
Glasgow swooped to snap up scrum-half Dobie this summer and his long-term pairing with Hastings is one that should excite Warriors fans, just as the prospect of McDowall offering a hard-carrying threat outside them should also do.
The Fagerson brothers, Cummings and Smith bring quality to the pack, though Dave Rennie would love to have some of the resources in the back three that Edinburgh can currently call upon.
Jordan Larmour, Jack Kelly, David Hawkshaw, Ciaran Frawley, Tommy O’Brien; Harry Byrne, Hugh O’Sullivan; Andrew Porter, Ronan Kelleher, Jack Aungier; James Ryan, Oisin Dowling; Max Deegan, Scott Penny, Caelan Doris.
Arguably the strongest XV we have been able to assemble; Leinster’s pathway has few equals in terms of its productivity. Larmour, Porter, Ryan and Deegan are the understandable headliners.
A very happy birthday today to Jordan Larmour! ??? pic.twitter.com/isTcSt8Cvb
— Leinster Rugby (@leinsterrugby) June 10, 2019
Beyond that quartet, Doris and Penny offer serious potential in the back row, Kelleher and Aungier are more adept than their positions on the senior squad depth chart show, and Byrne and Hawkshaw could be the nucleus of the next generation of Leinster’s back line.
Jake Flannery, Calvin Nash, Shane Daly, Sam Arnold, Jonathan Wren; Joey Carbery, Craig Casey; Josh Wycherley, Diarmuid Barron, Ciaran Parker; Fineen Wycherley, Sean O’Connor; Gavin Coombes, Jack Daly, Conor Oliver.
Munster have definitely benefited from this latest class of U20s, with Flannery, J Wycherley and Casey all taking their chances superbly. That trio were among the standout players in Ireland’s U20 Six Nations Grand Slam this year.
Arnold, Carbery and F Wycherley then bring established quality at the senior level, with Nash and Coombes surely knocking on Johann van Graan’s door for more playing time next season.
Ben Cambriani, Keelan Giles, Owen Watkin, Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler, Tom Williams; Luke Price, Reuben Morgan-Williams; Rhys Davies, Dewi Lake, Lewis Jones; Adam Beard, Will Griffiths; Morgan Morris, Will Jones, Guido Volpi.
Not too many midfields will match up to the duo of Thomas-Wheeler and Watkin, especially when you factor in a threat like Giles on the outside, creating space and drawing the defence’s attentions.
Beard is an established force in the pack, although the absence of others does go to show that the Ospreys rely on a fairly veteran group of forwards at present. Lake and W Jones could help provide more balance in the coming seasons.
Tomi Lewis, Ryan Conbeer, Corey Baldwin, Morgan Williams, Ioan Nicholas; Dan Jones, Dane Blacker; Kemsley Mathias, Taylor Davies, Alex Jeffries (O23); Jac Price, Morgan Jones; Josh Macleod, Dan Davis, Jac Morgan.
The two Jacs, Price and Morgan, had good campaigns with the Wales U20 side and will be hopeful of pushing their claims for playing time next season, whilst Davis is one of the countless talented opensides currently coming through in the country.
The x-factor to this XV undoubtedly lies in the back line, where Baldwin and Conbeer offer exciting attacking potential, and Blacker and Jones could form a complementary pairing in the half-backs.
Courtney Winnaar, Yaw Penxe, Sherwin Slater*, Erich Cronje, Michael Botha; Bader Pretorius, Josh Allderman; Alulutho Tshakweni, Tango Balekile, NJ Oosthuizen; Bobby de Wee (O23), Jerry Sexton (O23); Lusanda Badiyana, CJ Velleman (O23), Brandon Brown (O23).
Hopefully the arrival of private ownership and much-needed funds in the Eastern Province will allow the Southern Kings to retain their talented youngsters and attract some of the more coveted youngsters in the country.
Penxe has shown his ability repeatedly in the PRO14, whilst loosehead Tshakweni has plenty of talent and could develop into a formidable scrummager with the right coaching and opportunities. We have had to lean heavily on O23s to complete the XV and Slater is currently with the EP Elephants in the Currie Cup First Division.
Michael Lowry, Rob Lyttle, Jacob Stockdale, Angus Curtis, Robert Baloucoune; Bill Johnston, Jonny Stewart; Eric O’Sullivan, Adam McBurney, Tom O’Toole; Kieran Treadwell, Matthew Dalton; Nick Timoney, Marcus Rea, Greg Jones.
Ulster can field a superb back line at this level and that’s without even including other young stars such as Hayden Hyde, Aaron Sexton and Stewart Moore. If Johnston can realise his potential at 10 following his move from Munster, the sky is the limit for this group.
There’s not quite the same production up front, although O’Toole has shown flashes and if consistency comes as he matures, that could be the toughest position in the forward pack to find a solid operator at filled.
Junior Laloifi (O23), Pierre Bruno, Ludovico Vaccari, Enrico Lucchin (O23), Jacopo Trulla***; Michelangelo Biondelli, Nicolo Casilio; Danilo Fischetti, Massimo Ceciliani, Giosue Zilocchi; Leonard Krumov, Samuele Ortis; Iacopo Bianchi, Renato Giammarioli (O23), Giovanni Licata.
A similar situation to Benetton here, with Trulla coming in to fill the troublesome wing position, despite not being on the Zebre roster. He plays in Padova which is closer to Treviso than Parma, although he is further west than Mba and could slot in with Zebre.
Fischetti and Licata are among the standouts from the pack and, locks aside, there is a steady stream of talent being developed and pushing on for international recognition in Zebre’s group of forwards. If Davide Ruggeri makes the move down from Rugby Como, he could fill the openside spot without having to lean on an O23.
Watch: Current Wales coach Warren Gatland is happy to be heading home after the Rugby World Cup
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