The rookies most likely to take Super Rugby Pacific by storm this year
With the first-ever edition of Super Rugby Pacific just around the corner, the RugbyPass Round Table writers from New Zealand and Australia – Alex McLeod (AM), Ben Smith (BS), Tom Vinicombe (TV), Nick Turnbull (NT), Jack O’Rourke (JO) and Jordan King (JK) – deliver their verdicts on how the upcoming 2022 season will pan out.
2021 saw the emergence of rookies first-five Ruben Love at the Hurricanes and lock Josh Lord at the Chiefs, who went from Brodie Retallick’s unknown teammate his All Blacks teammate. Crusaders prop Tamaiti Williams, meanwhile, looked like a prospect to solve New Zealand’s front row shortage.
Which rookie is primed to have a massive impact in 2022 and become a household Super Rugby name?
Who is your rookie to look out for this season?
AM: There are a raft of newbies across Super Rugby Pacific worth keeping an eye on this year.
In New Zealand, those rookies include star Blues recruit Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Hurricanes playmaker Aidan Morgan, Highlanders wings Mosese Dawai and Vereniki Tikoisolomone, and Moana Pasifika duo Lincoln McClutchie and Timoci Tavatavanawai.
Across the ditch, the Reds have landed Tom Lynagh, the 18-year-old son of Wallabies legend Michael, while it will be interesting to see how Tokyo Olympic gold medallists Meli Derenalagi and Napolioni Bolaca fare for the Fijian Drua.
However, the one newcomer with arguably the most potential, and the most interesting backstory, of all the rookies is new Blues flanker Anton Segner.
The 20-year-old has his sights set on becoming Germany’s first All Black after moving to New Zealand on what was supposed to be a six-month exchange at Nelson College in 2017.
Since then, he has blossomed into one of the country’s top prospects after having played for the New Zealand Schools side in 2018 and 2019, before earning selection in the New Zealand U20 team last year.
Segner will likely be confined to a bench role to begin with due to the presence of All Blacks loose forwards Akira Ioane, Dalton Papalii and Hoskins Sotutu at the Blues, but injuries are inevitable, and the youngster should thrive when given the chance.
BS: In terms of pure rookies who have never played a Super Rugby game before, the list is always short and it is not often they slip into starting roles straight away. They often are blooded off the bench and starts are few and in between.
Chay Fihaki starred at U20 level for the Crusaders last year and was a squad member, but took to the field at Super Rugby level just once. He is a tall, powerful utility back that has a monster boot.
However, competition will be tough at the Crusaders to break into the backline. Another prospect looking for action in Christchurch is Isaiah Punivai, an outside centre who was a New Zealand age-grade representative and younger brother of Highlanders utility Ngani.
The pair played at first-five and fullback for New Zealand Schools in 2019, with Love propelling into Super Rugby very early with success in Morgan’s natural No 10 spot.
Morgan is now in the Super Rugby squad, so will be competing for game time in that first-five role this year. It will be interesting to see how they manage the two talents.
From the Chiefs, Gideon Wrampling debuted last year against the Blues, so is not technically a rookie, but the powerful centre is a serious prospect.
TV: There are two front-rowers in New Zealand who could make a sizeable impact as the season goes on.
While Samisoni Taukei’aho and Bradley Slater have plenty of experience under their belts, Thompson is an impressive physical specimen who impressed with his ball-carrying in the Chiefs’ first pre-season clash of the year.
If he can get his lineout delivery on target (which is easier said than done), he could quickly find himself regularly earning minutes this season.
The other interesting pick-up is prop Pasilio Tosi, who will line up for the Hurricanes.
Tyrel Lomax aside, there are no clear front-runners amongst the props in the capital and Tosi is a mammoth of a man who showcased his ball-carrying abilities for Bay of Plenty in last year’s NPC.
It might be wishful thinking, but Tosi could be New Zealand’s answer to Taniel Tupou.
In Australia, the man that could attract the most interest is 18-year-old Tom Lynagh – son of Wallabies great Michael.
Lynagh has been recruited by the Reds after being a member of the Harlequins academy system in England and if he’s even half as good a player as his father, the Wallabies will have a major talent on their hands.
NT: Tom Lynagh. Let’s move past the pedigree but also keep it in context. This is an 18-year-old, who in his own right can play the game yet instead of trying to get out of his famous father’s shadow he is embracing it.
His dad is Australian but Tom isn’t. For all intents and purposes, he is an English lad who isn’t familiar with the playing conditions in the southern hemisphere yet he is putting himself out there.
I have nothing but admiration for him and think he will soon be warmly embraced not only for his bravery but for his own ability to play and his character.
JO: Look out for Carter Gordon at the Rebels. The young flyhalf has been given the keys to the Ferrari, so to speak, and will lead around Melbourne’s backline under the watchful eye of Matt To’omua outside him in the 12 jersey.
Tasked with taking over the starting flyhalf spot halfway through the season for Super Rugby Trans-Tasman, Carter performed admirably and even pulled out of a few magical moments, including a smooth grubber and regather to set up Stacey Ili for a try against the Chiefs at Leichhardt Oval.
If those flashes of brilliance against the Kiwi sides in Trans-Tasman are anything to go by, this kid has a bright future.
JK: Thomas Umaga-Jensen isn’t a rookie given the nine caps to his name, but we’re yet to see what the midfielder is capable of with consistent game time due to untimely injuries.
The Wellingtonian will be working outside two classy orchestrators in Aaron Smith and Mitch Hunt which should leave him to do what he does best – carry hard and straight. Not too dissimilar to what Clayton McMillan got Quinn Tupaea to do last year.
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