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Super Rugby Under-23 squads

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Super Rugby Under-23 squads: Which franchise's future is the brightest?

After looking at the strength of the Gallagher Premiership and Guinness PRO14 sides in terms of their emerging players, we now finally turn our attentions to the Super Rugby U23 squads.

Understandably, a number of the New Zealand franchises seem loaded, with the Crusaders and Hurricanes standing out in particular, whilst the Jaguares have an enviable group of young players to build around.

The South African packs are strong, but the surprise package might be the Reds, with the men from Queensland able to field a remarkably strong group of U23s. The big test for Brad Thorn will be converting that talent and potential into ability at the senior level.

BLUES

Jordan Trainor, Caleb Clarke, Tanielu Tele’a, TJ Faiane, Rieko Ioane; Harry Plummer, Sam Nock; Ezekiel Lindenmuth, Leni Apisai; Jacob Pierce, Josh Goodhue (O23); Hoskins Sotutu, Dalton Papali’i, Sione Havili*.

Havili was with the Blues in 2018, having left Tasman for Auckland this year. Goodhue, having only recently turned 24, sneaks in to fill a hole in the XV.

The seven backs all have Super Rugby experience, with Ioane one of the most devastating rugby players on the planet, let alone just in New Zealand. The talented Stephen Perofeta just misses out, too, emphasising the point that the Blues certainly don’t lack for potential in their ranks.

BRUMBIES

Mack Hansen, Len Ikitau, Irae Simone, Noah Lolesio, Tom Wright; Reesjan Pasitoa, Ryan Lonergan; Angus Wagner, Folau Fainga’a (O23), Vunipola Fifita; Darcy Swain, Nick Frost; Jahrome Brown, Brodie Leber, Rob Valetini.

The Brumbies have been vocal this year about needing to give opportunities to their youngster next season and they are well-placed to do that in the midfield and the half-backs, with Lolesio and Pasitoa players of particular promise.

The pack isn’t quite as loaded as those of their local rivals in Brisbane and Sydney, but the arrival of Frost from the Crusaders and another year of experience for Valetini should offer reasons for optimism.

BULLS

Divan Rossouw, Earll Douwrie, Marnus Potgieter, JT Jackson, Stedman Gans; Mannie Libbok, Embrose Papier; Simphiwe Matanzima, Johan Grobbelaar, Conraad van Vuuren; Jason Jenkins, Hendre Stassen; Marco van Staden, Jaco Labuschagne, Muller Uys.

The Bulls may have turned away of late from their mass-contracting of youngsters from all over South Africa, but there are still plenty of hangovers from that approach that make putting together a XV quite easy. Papier and Libbok could prove quite the pairing, whilst big things are expected of Potgieter in the centres.

All five second and back rows are either established in Super Rugby or have the potential to be effective performers at that level, with Labuschagne among the stacked back row options that the South African U20 side had this year.

CHIEFS

Shaun Stevenson, Etene Nanai-Seturo, Alex Nankivell, Orbyn Leger, Solomon Alaimalo; Tiaan Falcon, Jonathan Taumateine; Aidan Ross, Samisoni Taukei’aho, Sefo Kautai; Fin Hoeata, Laghlan McWhannell; Mitch Jacobson, Luke Jacobson, Charles Alaimalo*.

A gifted back line for the Chiefs, who also have the likes of Sean Wainui and Bailyn Sullivan on their books. Up front, players such as Ryan Coxon, Tevita Mafileo and Bradley Slater also just miss out. Quinn Tupaea of Waikato is currently without a Super Rugby contract, but don’t expect that to last into next year.

Luke Jacobson stands out among the forward, with the young loose forward recently selected by the All Blacks for the upcoming Rugby Championship, whilst Charles Alaimalo slides in at N8 as a former Waikato U19 representative and a player currently without a Super Rugby contract, with no other U23 options available in the back row.

CRUSADERS

Will Jordan, Sevu Reece, Braydon Ennor, Manasa Mataele, Leicester Fainga’anuku; Brett Cameron, Ere Enari; Harrison Allan, Brodie McAlister, Oli Jager; Quinten Strange, Hamish Dalzell*; Mitchell Dunshea, Tom Christie*, Ethan Blackadder (O23).

Any hopes other Super Rugby sides have of the Crusaders taking their foot off the gas seem shot, as Scott Robertson’s side have plenty of younger players pushing through and ready for more opportunities. Dalzell and Christie are included as members of the Crusaders Development XV.

Jordan, Reece and Ennor have all shone at times this season, whilst Cameron is already a capped All Black, albeit with that game coming against Japan when a number of first-choice players were missing. Do the options in the pack match up with some of the others coming through in Super Rugby? It’s a straw worth clutching at if you’re a fan of one of the other franchises.

HIGHLANDERS

Josh McKay, Elim Liko*, Sio Tomkinson, Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Vilimoni Koroi*; Josh Ioane, Folau Fakatava; Ayden Johnstone, Ricky Jackson, Josh Iosefa-Scott; Pari Pari Parkinson, Josh Dickson (O23); JJ Tonks*, Dillon Hunt (O23), Marino Mikaele-Tu’u.

Koroi, the New Zealand Sevens sensation and Otago back three, and Liko, an Otago U19, fill these holes in the Highlanders XV, with the Dunedin-based side short on young wing options. Tonks, a former Gloucester and England U18, is a stretch, although he spent time in Otago U19s last year and is yet to sign with an English club.

It feels as though there may be a significant period of transition for the Highlanders, as they come to terms with the losses of Ben Smith, Waisake Naholo, Liam Squire and plenty of other regular starters this year. They don’t have the depths of young talent that the other New Zealand franchises have, but in Ioane, Fakatava and Johnstone, there are cornerstones of a new side.

HURRICANES

Chase Tiatia, Salesi Rayasi, Billy Proctor, Peter Umaga-Jensen, Wes Goosen; Jordie Barrett, Finlay Christie; Xavier Numia, Asafo Aumua, Tyrell Lomax; Isaia Walker-Leawere, Liam Mitchell; Brayden Iose*, Du’Plessis Kirifi, Devan Flanders*.

Any side that can keep out Alex Fidow, Danny Toala and Jonah Lowe is doing a pretty good job and, particularly up front, these young Hurricanes may have the number of their rivals from Canterbury. Iose and Flanders, of Manawatu and Hawke’s Bay respectively, are talented back rowers who have the eye of the Hurricanes, despite not yet being in their Super Rugby squad.

Lomax is an excellent signing from the Highlanders, Walker-Leawere will fancy his chances of All Blacks caps sooner rather than later and Barrett’s ability needs to no explaining. The Wellington-based side are in a strong position.

JAGUARES

Ignacio Mendy, Bautista Delguy, Santiago Carreras, Santiago Chocobares, Juan Cruz Mallia; Domingo Miotti, Gonzalo Garcia*; Mayco Vivas, Gaspar Baldunciel, Lucio Sordoni; Lucas Paulos, Franco Molina; Marcos Kremer, Santiago Grondona, Bautista Pedemonte*.

We’ve jumped the gun with Pedemonte, but such is his talent that the logical next step is a contract with the Jaguares, whilst Garcia could well find himself in the mix as soon as next season, with Martin Landajo heading to Harlequins.

The team is littered with proven performers such as Delguy and Kremer, as well as a pair of props in Vivas and Sordoni that could help revive Argentinean scrummaging at the international level over the next two Rugby World Cup cycles. Mendy and Carreras are set to dazzle for years to come, too.

LIONS

Gianni Lombard, Madosh Tambwe, Wandisile Simelane, Jan-Louis la Grange, Tyrone Green; Eddie Fouche, Bradley Thain; Nathan McBeth, Jan-Henning Campher, Carlu Sadie; Rhyno Herbst, Reinhard Nothnagel; Ruan Vermaak, Vincent Tshituka, Hacjivah Dayimani.

The Lions’ abundance of talent in the second and back rows not only comes across in this XV, but also in the players who just missed out, such as James Venter, PJ Steenkamp and Len Massyn. McBeth and Sadie are also promising props, as is Asenathi Ntlabakanye, giving the Lions an impressive looking projection in the pack.

Green and Tambwe are talented finishers out wide, especially with the playmaking of Lombard at full-back, whilst Simelane is the potential star of the group, with the footwork, speed and ball-handling to cut teams open at any level.

REBELS

Jack Maddocks, Campbell Magnay, Semisi Tupou, Sione Tuipulotu, Sione Tui; Stuart Dunbar, Harrison Goddard; Pone Fa’amausili, Jordan Uelese, Jermaine Ainsley; Trevor Hosea, Esei Ha’angana; Rob Leota, Brad Wilkin, Isi Naisarani (O23).

Other than having to double up with tightheads, the Rebels look to be in decent shape for the coming years, with an array of talented options in the back line. Maddocks is already establishing himself, whilst Tupou could be a difference-maker in the centres eventually.

Internationals Uelese and Ainsley offer promise in the front row, whilst Hosea was another of the Australians to recently distinguish himself at the World Rugby U20 Championship. One over-23 was required, although Naisarani is still only 24 and has shown impressive improvements over the last couple of seasons.

REDS

Isaac Lucas, Jack Hardy, Jordan Petaia, Daniel Boardman*, Liam McNamara; Hamish Stewart, Tate McDermott; Harry Hoopert, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Taniela Tupou; Izack Rodda, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto; Angus Scott-Young, Liam Wright, Fraser McReight.

Boardman is currently with Queensland Country in the NRC and helps fill the one hole in the emerging Reds back line, which certainly doesn’t lack for talent thanks to the likes of Lucas, Petaia and McDermott, the latter of whom keeps Moses Sorovi out of the XV.

The Reds are sitting on two Wallabies in Paenga-Amosa, who denies Alex Mafi a spot in the XV, and Tupou, whilst Hoopert looks like a loosehead with international caps in his future. An all-international engine room also denies the talented Harry Hockings, whilst the promising back rows keep Harry Wilson out at this stage. It’s a Reds team that is loaded with potential, but one which will need to make the leap at the senior level, something which potential alone does not guarantee.

SHARKS

Aphelele Fassi, Leolin Zas, Jeremy Ward, Marius Louw, Sbu Nkosi; Curwin Bosch, Jaden Hendrikse; Khutha Mchunu, Fezokuhle Mbatha, Hanro Jacobs; Ruben van Heerden, JJ van der Mescht; Dan du Preez, Jean-Luc du Preez, Phendulani Buthelezi.

Another South African group that is very forward heavy, with the likes of Hyron Andrews, Dylan Richardson and Celimpilo Gumede all sitting just outside the XV. The back and second rows in particular are strong at the Sharks, with the du Preez twins the obvious stars of the quintet at present.

Nkosi and Bosch are Springboks, Fassi has gone well when called upon this season and Ward is a former Junior Springbok captain that has been unlucky to be at the franchise at the same time as Lukhanyo Am. Sanele Nohamba is another option at nine, too.

STORMERS

Damian Willemse, Edwill van der Merwe, Duncan Saal, Rikus Pretorius, Angelo Davids; Christopher Schreuder, Herschel Jantjies; Kwenzo Blose, Daniel Jooste, Michael Kumbirai; Salmaan Moerat, Cobus Weise; Johan du Toit, Jaco Coetzee, Juarno Augustus.

Room will likely be needed to be made in that back row for Francke Horn over the next year or two, whilst Ernst van Rhyn will push hard for a spot in the engine room alongside Moerat and Weise.

The back line doesn’t offer the same kind of depth of option that the pack does, although Pretorius could be the long-term answer at inside centre once Damian de Allende leaves, whilst Willemse is developing into a fine Springbok already.

SUNWOLVES

The Sunwolves do not have enough players under 23 to compile a XV, with the side annually playing host to a mix of veteran Japanese players and an array of Super Rugby journeymen. The 2020 season is also set to be the franchise’s last, so there is little scope for the few youngsters in the side to develop and push the team on.

WARATAHS

Mack Mason, James Ramm, Alex Newsome (O23), Lalakai Foketi (O23), Ben Donaldson; Will Harrison, Mitch Short (O23); Angus Bell, JP Sauni, Shambeckler Vui; Ryan McCauley, Lachlan Swinton; Patrick Tafa, Rory Suttor, Will Harris.

A lack of options mean Newsome, Foketi and Short all make the XV despite being over 23, although all three are 24 and still have their best years ahead of them. The back line is thinner than many in Super Rugby, although Harrison showed his class and potential at 10 during the World Rugby U20 Championship this year.

Where the strength of this XV really lies is in the front row, where props Bell and Vui have very bright futures, as Australia builds an enviable cast of developing props. Ball-carrying back rows Tafa and Harris are worth keeping an eye on, too.

WATCH: Wales’ Warren Gatland is happy to be heading home to Super Rugby after the World Cup

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Super Rugby Under-23 squads: Which franchise's future is the brightest?