American football’s annual NFL Draft is one of the most exciting and highly-anticipated events of the competition’s season. It’s a time of renewal and hope for all 32 franchises involved and fans immerse themselves in the process, keen to see the direction their team will be heading in for the foreseeable future.
It’s an alien concept to most European sports, which are built around individual academies rather than selecting players from a nationwide pool of available players, but what would it look like if it were embraced in professional rugby union?
We have put together a ‘mock draft’ of what Gallagher Premiership clubs might do if all players leaving school and available for professional contracts this year were available in a draft-type situation. The draft order is based on league position at the time of writing, with the lowest ranked team of the 13 Premier Rugby Ltd members drafting first, all the way up to Exeter Chiefs at the summit of the table.
London Irish and Declan Kidney, you’re on the clock.
LONDON IRISH – Alfie Barbeary (hooker, Wasps)
Barbeary is a player that a lot of people have been talking about over the last couple of seasons and although Irish already have a young hooker they are hoping to build around in Ben Atkins, the Bloxham School product is just too big of a talent to miss at this point. He is the archetypal “blue chip prospect” in US sports parlance.
NEWCASTLE FALCONS – Freddie Steward (full-back, Leicester Tigers)
Newcastle could use help throughout their squad, as demonstrated by their struggles this season, but it gives them a freedom here to go for the best player available and that could well be Steward. He’s very good in the air, takes the ball to the line well, has a strong kicking game and ticks all the physical boxes you would want in a senior full-back.
WORCESTER WARRIORS – Max Ojomoh (inside centre, Bath)
With Ben Te’o leaving the club and Wynand Olivier hanging up his boots at the end of the season, Ojomoh makes a lot of sense for Worcester, who could partner him with Ollie Lawrence in a long-term midfield that would give opposition defence coaches plenty of sleepless nights.
LEICESTER TIGERS – Harvey Beaton (tighthead prop, Saracens)
Perhaps the hardest position to cultivate and transition a talent from juniors to seniors, Beaton is one of the better tightheads to come through in recent years. Leicester could have Dan Cole mentor the Sutton Valence school man before Beaton ultimately succeeds the 88-cap England international.
BRISTOL BEARS – Tom Curtis (fly-half, Sale Sharks)
Curtis is one of the players whose improvements from under-17 to under-18 this season has been clear to see. Bristol could secure their future at fly-half in Curtis, whilst the Sedbergh product could also offer them the versatility to be a productive player at inside centre or full-back, if they wanted to utilise his talents elsewhere on the pitch.
SALE SHARKS – James Whitcombe (loosehead prop, Leicester Tigers)
Sale have been hunting for help at loosehead this season, missing out on Steven Kitshoff and now reportedly targeting Nicky Smith. Although they would need to be more patient with Whitcombe, the pay-off could be just as good, if not better. He’s covered at tighthead this season for England under-18s, but loosehead is likely the position he will play long-term in the seniors.
BATH – Louis Lynagh (full-back, Harlequins)
Lynagh has some of the fastest feet in this group of under-18s and his ability to beat his opposite number has been second to none this season. Bath lose Anthony Watson to England regularly and Joe Cokanasiga is now another who is regularly involved with Eddie Jones’ side, so opportunities could come sooner rather than later for Lynagh at Bath.
NORTHAMPTON SAINTS – Chunya Munga (lock, London Irish)
Saints lost their lineout guru Christian Day to retirement at the end of last season and club talisman Courtney Lawes is regularly away with England, so they go out and grab the best lineout forward in this class of players. Munga can follow in Lawes’ footsteps and become an absolute nuisance for opposing hookers at the Premiership level, while his partnership with Alex Coles would be an exciting one.
WASPS – Jack Clement (flanker, Gloucester)
Clement is just a very polished, well-rounded back rower, who could potentially play any one of the three loose forward positions at the next level. With Nathan Hughes departing for Bristol, Brad Shields in the England mix and Ashley Johnson in the twilight of his career, Clement could be a very nice foil for the Willis brothers in the Wasps back row mix.
HARLEQUINS – George Martin (lock, Leicester Tigers)
Where Munga offers enticing athleticism at the lineout, Martin packs slightly more of a physical punch, something which Quins would value in their stock of second rows. James Horwill is retiring at the end of the season and Stan South is heading to Coventry, so Martin could even see playing time in south-west London next season, backing up Matt Symons and Stephan Lewies.
GLOUCESTER – Sam Riley (hooker, Harlequins)
The Cherry and Whites are pretty loaded with young back line prospects, so a forward feels like the natural choice. It’s no secret that Johan Ackermann likes hookers who offer plenty of carrying ability and Riley ticks that box, as well as being able to keep phases alive and make sure the set-piece is ticking over nicely.
SARACENS – Raphael Quirke (scrum-half, Sale Sharks)
Richard Wigglesworth is approaching the end of his career and Ben Spencer is playing like a man who will be in an England jersey next season, two things which could leave Saracens short at scrum-half. Quirke is lively, passes well off both hands and would have a great kicking and exits coach to work with at the club in Dan Vickers.
EXETER CHIEFS – Josh Gillespie (wing, Northampton Saints)
There aren’t too many areas Exeter need to strengthen, but by going from Santiago Cordero to Stuart Hogg, they have limited themselves in international windows, especially with Jack Nowell a regular England call-up. Gillespie has the pace, footwork and attacking instincts to be a very good player and could potentially end up at full-back or outside centre, too.
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LONDON IRISH – George Barton (fly-half, Gloucester)
Having gone out and got Barbeary in the first round, Irish lock up arguably the most critical position on the pitch by bringing in Barton. There’s not too much between him and Curtis, who was the first fly-half off the board, as evidenced by Barton’s involvement with the under-20s this season.
NEWCASTLE FALCONS – Will Haydon-Wood (fly-half, Newcastle Falcons)
A simple one for Falcons, who keep perhaps the most impressive player from their under-18s this season in the city at senior level. He and Curtis make Sedbergh the first school to offer up multiple players in the draft and a season or two learning from an outstanding professional such as Toby Flood could do Haydon-Wood a world of good.
WORCESTER WARRIORS– Nahum Merigan (No8, Bath)
Merigan joins current Bath team-mate Ojomoh in heading to Worcester and could be a big part of the effort to give the centre the front-foot ball he needs in order to thrive. A powerful carrier, he could be a dynamic and effective option alongside Ted Hill in the Worcester back row in the years to come.
LEICESTER TIGERS– Tom Roebuck (wing, Sale Sharks)
England have experimented with Roebuck in the midfield at under-18 level, but the Wirral Grammar product is an out and out finisher. He is powerful, quick and can create space even in congested channels out wide, so he can add some teeth and depth to a relatively thin, but high quality, Leicester back line.
BRISTOL BEARS – Fin Rossiter (flanker, London Irish)
George Smith’s contract may be up at the end of the season, but the Australian has said he wants to play until 2020. Another one-year deal could be on the cards if Bristol were to go out and get Rossiter, who could be a sponge for his first year as a professional alongside Smith, before going on to reap the benefits of that apprenticeship in the years to come.
SALE SHARKS– Callum Pascoe (scrum-half, Newcastle Falcons)
A French-style nine who can also play at 10 if necessary, Pascoe would help Sale survive the absences of Faf de Klerk during the international windows initially, before putting down a claim for the starting spot in subsequent seasons. With Quirke snapped up by Saracens, Pascoe fits nicely at the AJ Bell.
BATH – Chidera Obonna (outside centre, Newcastle Falcons)
For some reason, Obonna hasn’t featured at under-18 level for England, but that shouldn’t detract from the player that he is. At Bath, alongside the talents of Orlando Bailey and Tom de Glanville in the near future, he could be the knife outside of their playmaking and bring some physicality to their midfield, particularly if Jonathan Joseph continues to feature for England in the next cycle.
NORTHAMPTON SAINTS – Ioan Lloyd (full-back, Bristol Bears)
Lloyd could be considered as a fly-half or a full-back here and we have leant towards the latter due to the injury challenges that Harry Mallinder has endured and the maturation of James Grayson in the 10 jersey. Lloyd could be the counter-attacking threat at the back that fits perfectly into what Chris Boyd wants to do at Franklin’s Gardens.
WASPS – Lennox Anyanwu (inside centre, Harlequins)
Anyanwu hasn’t quite enjoyed the under-18 season that he would have liked after an excellent under-17 campaign, but the potential to be a threatening runner in the midfield is certainly there. Some of his best performances have been at 12 in the age-grades, but there is also the scope to develop him as an outside centre, especially following the departure of Elliot Daly.
HARLEQUINS– Jack Hughes (tighthead prop, Northampton Saints)
There is not too much depth behind Kyle Sinckler and Will Collier at Quins, especially with Sinckler having established himself as England’s number one option. Hughes could develop into a very adept number three that would keep Quins’ set-piece producing in international windows, especially with the heavyweight Martin packing down behind him, who they grabbed in the first round.
GLOUCESTER– Sam Costelow (fly-half, Leicester Tigers)
Costelow drops down a little here, just as Lloyd did, not due to a lack of ability, but because if he wins a Wales cap, chances are his next deal will be with one of the regions in order to continue his international career, leaving the club with little positive gain for having helped him develop. As understudy to Danny Cipriani, however, he could thrive.
SARACENS– Phil Cokanasiga (inside centre, London Irish)
Despite rumours to the contrary, Brad Barritt cannot play forever. Finding a player who can provide Saracens with reliability, physicality and attacking ability at 12 must be high on the lists of both Mark McCall and Nick Kennedy, and there’s no reason why Cokanasiga couldn’t be that man.
EXETER CHIEFS – Joe Browning (wing, Leicester Tigers)
We’ve got Exeter doubling down on back three players in the first two rounds due to absences of Hogg and Nowell in international windows, but also with the club from the south-west having plenty of young forward talent already on their books. While Gillespie provides versatility throughout the back line, Browning is a pure finisher who can specialise on the wing.
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LONDON IRISH – Gabriel Hamer-Webb (wing, Bath)
Could Ben Loader get a look from England next season? Don’t rule it out. Hamer-Webb would add depth to the back three and be affordable on the salary cap in conjunction with the incoming Curtis Rona and, if the rumours are true, Waisake Naholo. Plus, Irish fans deserve to snag a young Bath prospect after years of travel in the opposite direction.
NEWCASTLE FALCONS – Louis Rees-Zammit (wing, Gloucester)
Rees-Zammit is a first-round talent, but a third-round selection due to the fact he, like Lloyd and Costelow, could well end up returning to Wales in order to fulfil his international ambitions. Falcons can’t be picky, though, and with Vereniki Goneva and Sinoti Sinoti in their 30s, they need a fresh injection of talent in the back three.
WORCESTER WARRIORS – Luke Green (tighthead prop, London Irish)
Nick Schonert seems to be permanently linked with a move away from Worcester anytime he gets talked about as a potential England international. By bringing in Green, Worcester have a player for him to mentor and potentially replace him, should he decide to move on.
LEICESTER TIGERS – Isaac Marsh (inside centre, Gloucester)
With Matt Toomua heading back to Australia, Tigers’ resources in the midfield are beginning to look thin. Marsh gives them a versatile option at 12 that is capable of facilitating a wider game plan with his distribution, as well as being more than capable of taking space himself as a ball-carrier.
BRISTOL BEARS – Oliver Stonham (No8, Saracens)
The Felsted product gets to learn from and work alongside another No8 who has forged out an excellent career for himself, without being a man mountain, in the form of Jordan Crane. Stonham may end up playing on the flank in the seniors, but wherever he ultimately packs down, he’s a well-rounded back row who will flourish alongside the likes of Steven Luatua and Jack Lam.
SALE SHARKS – Joe Howard (flanker, Gloucester)
Sale’s back row depth is already tested by the absence of Tom Curry during international windows and there is a potential for that to also include Ben Curry in the next cycle. Howard is a powerful blindside who would seem to fit what Steve Diamond likes in an abrasive XV.
BATH – Theo Dan (hooker, Saracens)
There is plenty of ability in Bath’s hooker stocks, including Tom Dunn and Jack Walker, but Dan could give them energy and impetus from the bench. He is a hooker built in the mould of Harry Thacker or Schalk Brits and could become a player capable of helping Bath finish games strongly.
NORTHAMPTON SAINTS – Jonny Law (scrum-half Leicester Tigers)
Cobus Reinach has lit up the Premiership this season and that has garnered attention from rival clubs in Europe, as well as the Springboks. Law would provide competition with Alex Mitchell for a spot in the 23 initially and also help soften the blow should Reinach head elsewhere in the future.
WASPS – Jack Bates (wing, Bristol Bears)
A really solid all-round wing, Bates is not too dissimilar in style to current Wasps favourite Josh Bassett. There’s been a lot of turnover at the club in recent seasons, but Bates’ reliability and eagerness for work could see him excel if Wasps can rediscover their high-octane play of recent years.
HARLEQUINS – Jack van Poortvliet (scrum-half, Leicester Tigers)
Another scrum-half off the Leicester production line, van Poortvliet would give Quins a long-term option to complement the veteran presences of Danny Care and Martin Landajo. A pass-first scrum-half, van Poortvliet could also round his game out nicely under the tutelage of the livewire Care.
GLOUCESTER – Anjo Ademuwagun (lock, Wasps)
There aren’t too many better second rows to learn from in the Premiership than Ed Slater and Franco Mostert, whilst Ademuwagun’s addition would also provide some cost-effective cover at the position. Between Mostert’s arrival and Cipriani’s new contract, Gloucester will have to find some bargains to complement their higher profile players.
SARACENS – Jack Bertinet (tighthead prop, Bath)
Having lost Beaton in the first round to Leicester, Saracens can invest in Bertinet here, with the reigning champions capable of being patient and developing him over the long-term. He’s not as polished as Beaton is right now, but he has a frame that could see him physically and technically excel at the position with the right coaching.
EXETER CHIEFS – Harry Fry (loosehead prop, Gloucester)
Exeter lose Ben Moon and Alec Hepburn to England fairly regularly and Fry would add some depth to their stock of looseheads. Combined with Marcus Street, their promising tighthead, Exeter’s dominance in the front row could and should continue for years to come with this selection.
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