The registered Champions Cup and Challenge Cup squads for the Premiership, PRO14 and Top 14 sides have been released and excitement is building for the kick-off of the European competitions next week.
With injuries seemingly afflicting teams from all over the continent, there are a number of young players included in the 41-man squads, many of whom could see significant action in Europe’s cup competitions.
We take a look at the teenagers entrusted with spots in these squads and give a brief overview of their playing chances and what to expect from them if they do make the matchday 23s.
This budding tighthead prop has captained the Italian U20 side for the last two seasons and although he has yet to crack Treviso’s PRO14 side, the fact the Italians are pooled with Toulon, Scarlets and Bath and qualification is unlikely, it could prompt head coach Kieran Crowley to throw Riccioni in for some much-needed experience.
Fagerson has been making appearances for Glasgow for over a season now and is a known quantity. The flanker could see action throughout the pool stage, with or without injuries to other back rowers.
You would have to be living under a rock to not have heard about Smith over the last couple of months. The 18-year-old is currently Quins’ first-choice fly-half, he won the club’s player of the month award for September and is serving an apprenticeship with England’s senior side. Expect to see plenty of him during the pool stage.
Quins also have the remarkable Gabriel Ibitoye on their books. His try-scoring exploits, many of which seem to defy the laws of physics, are causing his profile to soar.
Jean-Victor Goillot, La Rochelle
Talented teenage French scrum-half. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Goillot has helped La Rochelle to a solid start to the season, featuring regularly over the last few weeks. His opportunities will be limited when Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Arthur Retiere are both fit and available, but he’s another one to keep an eye on.
Both scrum-halves, watchers of the Premiership may well be aware of White, who debuted for Leicester as a 17-year-old and who has featured several times over the last season and a half. Ben Youngs and Sam Harrison are well-established as the one-two punch at the position for Tigers, but if injury strikes, expect to see White step up.
Thomas Darmon, Montpellier
The Frenchman is a talented 10, who is beginning to get his first tastes of senior rugby, deputising for Aaron Cruden. His time in the Champions Cup could be limited, unless Montpellier’s campaign begins to go awry and Vern Cotter decides to prioritise the Top 14, which Montpellier currently lead.
Fineen Wycherley, Munster
Due to Munster’s injuries in the second row, Wycherley has been featuring regularly from the bench for the province this season and that looks set to continue for at least the short-term.
Like Wycherley, Grayson has been afforded early season opportunities thanks to injuries to Piers Francis and Stephen Myler. With Francis set to return to fitness shortly, Grayson may see less playing time in the Champions Cup, but he could be a valuable bench option if Harry Mallinder and Francis are both deployed in the XV.
Keelan Giles, Ospreys
Another player that not too many people need to be told about. Giles has been a regular for the Ospreys for a while now and brings outstanding pace and finishing ability in the wide channels. Expect to see plenty of him in the pool stages, as well as in the competition’s try charts.
It is unlikely any of this trio will see playing time in this season’s Champions Cup, unless there are injuries in the front row (Baubigny and Colombe) or at scrum-half (Gibert), or Racing turn their back on the competition to focus on the Top 14. Baubigny would be the most likely candidate to feature, but it would require an injury to Camille Chat or Dimitri Szarzewski.
It is almost a certainty that we will see Isiekwe at some point in the competition, with the big second row having been a near constant in Saracens’ matchday squads so far this season. Earl has been pushing for playing time in the back row, too, and an injury could open the door for him. As for Nay, it may be a case of a season too soon, with Saracens targeting a third-consecutive title and well-resourced in the second and back rows.
Ryan Conbeer, Scarlets
Could Wayne Pivac roll the dice and give Conbeer a start in the fixtures with Treviso? The Italian side is much improved, but it would be as good an opportunity as any to see what the young wing can offer at senior level. With solid options in the back three, chances to feature against Bath and Toulon may be hard to come by.
Will Porter, Wasps
Blooding homegrown youngsters hasn’t been a strength of Wasps of late, but if there is an academy player that fits the mould of Wasps’ senior players, it’s Porter. He is a lively scrum-half that loves to exploit spaces on the fringes, just as Dan Robson and Joe Simpson do. Don’t count on Porter appearing – his inclusion is likely a result of needing cover for the recently injured Robson – but if he does, he is a very exciting prospect.
Fernandez Correa and Clément Laporte, Agen
With French sides often only having a passing interest in the Challenge Cup, opportunities could come the way of Correa and Laporte. Having included just two other loosehead props, Correa could see the 23 at some point, whilst versatile back three player Laporte has already featured in the Top 14 this season.
Jalibert is the name of note here, having made his way already – at 18 years of age – into Bordeaux’s regular 23 and he could take on more of a starring role in the Challenge Cup, whether at fly-half or full-back. The remaining five – Dufour (prop), Etcheverry (wing), Gimbert (scrum-half), Uberti (centre) and Woki (back row) – could all feature, too, depending on how seriously Bordeaux take the competition. They do have form for developing youngsters in the tournament.
Lane’s opportunities thus far have been limited to the Anglo-Welsh Cup and the Blues could do worse than roll the dice with him in the Challenge Cup. Their start to the season has been anything but impressive and Lane could help spark some momentum in the region’s back line, or at least give fans something to get excited about moving forward.
With plenty of injuries at the Dragons, Williams has fast become an integral part of the Dragons’ senior squad and should get even more experience under his belt in Europe this season. Wing Rosser is preparing for his first PRO14 start with the Dragons this weekend, something which, valuably, frees up Hallam Amos to move to full-back. Of the two scrum-halves, Leonard will likely have priority over Babos, but with injuries stretching the Dragons thin, don’t be surprised to see both over the course of the pool stage.
Charlie Shiel, Edinburgh
The opportunity to blood players in the Challenge Cup is not something Richard Cockerill is used to. As one of four scrum-halves in Edinburgh’s squad, there is no guarantee we’ll see Shiel this season, but Cockerill is a hard taskmaster and the opportunity to rest Sam Hidalgo-Clyne shouldn’t be sniffed at.
Tighthead prop Knight has been on the cusp of the Gloucester squad over the last six months and would benefit from the playing time, whilst wing Seabrook is a recent graduate from the club’s U18 side. Gloucester aren’t short of back three options, even accounting for Jonny May’s departure, but Seabrook is a clinical finisher and a player worth getting an idea of his senior-readiness in the Challenge Cup.
Ruslan Bazhenov, Krasny Yar
This rangy Russian second row has had a good career at U20 level for his national side, including a hat-trick earlier this year in the U20 Trophy qualification phase. This level of competition will be a big step up for Bazhenov, but if he handles it well, he could soon become “the next Andrei Ostrikov”.
It looks as though Irish will, understandably, be prioritising Premiership survival, something which explains the plethora of young players they have included in their Challenge Cup squad. No one needs to be told about Cokanaisga and the big wing joins fellow England U20 teammate Parton in the back three, as well as England U18 wings/full-backs Loader and Hassell-Collins. Cokanasiga and Parton should both be solid bets to see plenty of action, as could scrum-half Brand and locks/back rowers Basham and Cooke.
Pierre-Louis Barassi and Adrien Seguret, Lyon
With Lyon flying in the Top 14 and currently sitting a comfortable second in the table, there’s a good chance they use the Challenge Cup to rest a number of their regulars. Both centres, Barassi and Seguret could be used to spell the likes of Theo Belan, Thibault Regard and Hemani Paea.
Like Lyon, Newcastle are flying in the Premiership and currently sit second, possibly prompting them to also use the Challenge Cup as a development competition this season. Blamire was one of the England U20 hookers last year, whilst Radwan has made a big impact in the Premiership 7s for the last two seasons. Both players should feature, whilst Wilson, a centre, has impressed previously with England U18s, but may have to be patient for the time being.
The Curry twins are well-known to all, but the likes of Dolly, James and Moore could also push for playing time this season. Dolly and Moore could rotate into the back row, with Sale capable of fielding an all-teenage loose forward trio, whilst James, the younger brother of Sam, is a candidate to start in the midfield. Sturgess, a scrum-half, could be the long-term answer for Sale at a problem position and is worth keeping an eye on.
Stade are a maddeningly difficult team to predict in the Challenge Cup, as sometimes they have no interest, yet in other seasons they will go all-out to win it. Coville, another talented French scrum-half, should feature prominently either way, but Da Silva (tighthead prop) and Francoz (back row) may have to hope the Parisian side takes a developmental approach.
The son of Emile, Ntamack had a productive summer with the French U20 side and caught the eye with his vision and attacking instincts. He should continue that education in the Challenge Cup and it would be a wasted opportunity for Champions Cup regulars Toulouse not to make the most of this season in Europe’s second tier competition.
Giovanni D’Onofrio, Zebre
With Zebre bloodying some noses in the PRO14 this season, what better time to use the Challenge Cup as a competition to rest some stars and give experience to the next generation? D’Onofrio is a talented wing who looks ready for a taste of senior rugby.
Watch every game of the European Rugby Champions Cup streaming live on rugbypass.com, home of the world's best global rugby coverage including news, highlights, previews & reviews, live stats, and more!