Saturday 30 March 2013

New Zealand Future Super Rugby Stars 1/3

These series of posts emphasises another reason why, if you enjoy rugby, you should follow Super Rugby. The list of players compiled are either future household names or players you discover quickly in Super Rugby that might not make it into your household if you didn't watch it.

First up New Zealand

Remember to join the new fantasy league


The Blues have made a great start to the season. Sir John Kirwan has gotten the most out of his young and inexperienced squad such that some of them are being mentioned as potential All Blacks.

Charles Piutau (age 21) Fullback/ Wing

Charles Piutau is undoubtedly the most talented of these. Not 22 until August, he has set the competition alight so far, running in 3 tries in 4 games.

Taken From Green and Gold Rugby

"An exciting, big fullback who can run like the wind, explode into opposition defences and use the ball. At the end of Round 5 of Super Rugby this year he was leading the competition in tackle busts and was equal second in line-breaks.

In 2010, the year after leaving school (Jonah Lomu’s old school, Wesley College), he appeared for Tonga in the IRB Junior World Championships [JWC], and for Auckland in the ITM Cup . In 2011 he represented New Zealand [NZ] in the JWC, and was chosen by Gordon Tietjens for the NZ Sevens team – as well as playing for Auckland again, when available.

In 2012 he was was still with the NZ Sevens for part of the year, but Blues fans got to see him when he started for their team at the end of the Super Rugby season. Afterwards he played brilliantly for Auckland in the ITM Cup, especially in the semi-final against Wellington, and was being talked about as a bolter for the All Black end of year tour [EOYT].

You can see the Sevens upbringing in Piutau and the effects of being developed under the guidance of legendary NZ Sevens coach, Gordon Tietjens. I don’t think that it will be too long before he is sitting on an All Black bench."

One thing is for sure, he will be challenging Israel Dagg for that AB 15 jersey for years to come.

Steven Luatua (age 21) Blinside Flanker / Lock / No.8

Luatua has come into the side straight from Under 20s where he was one of New Zealand's best performers.

He has gone into the Blues team at 6, and is already being proclaimed as the solution to the problem All Black blinside shirt since Jerome Kaino left for Japan. Luatua has made at least 10 tackles in each games so far and at least 10 runs in each game too. He looks even better on the field. One to watch out for.

Other notable future Blues households names

Frank Halai (age 25) Winger

Halai is another who grew up under Tietjens playing 7's. He's had a great start to the season with 4 tries in his first 2 games. Part of an exciting Blues back three

Francis Saili (age 22) Inside Centre
George Moala (age 22) Winger
Waisake Naholo (age 21) Winger
Peter Saili (age 25) No. 8
Baden Kerr (age 23) Out-half / Full-back
Bryn Hall (age 21) Scrum-half


Tim Nanai-Williams (age 23) Outside centre / Winger / Full-back

Cousin of Sonny Bill Williams, Tim is making a name for himself this season. Williams has 4 tries in 5 games this season in an unfamilar position of outside centre. He has looked devastating in attack, scoring two memorable tries in the opening game against the Highlanders.

There are doubts about his size and how he lacks physicality, but he has stood up admirably in defense, with only Kade Poki being able to get through him in the first game. He has matured this season into a devastating player and this and his versatility should mean he features for the All Blacks sooner rather than later.

Tawera Kerr-Barlow (age 22) Scrum-half

Kerr Barlow is already an All Black at the tender age of 22. But I am including him as he only has 2 caps, and the average rugby follower in Ireland wouldn't know his name. They will.

Kerr Barlow, along with Aaron Smith and TJ Peranara are a new breed of All Black scrum-halves, and suddenly one of New Zealand's few "weaknesses" is full of strength in depth. Kerr Barlow is a strong quick player, and is one to watch out for, playing in a winning Chiefs team.

Gareth Anscombe (age 21) Out-Half

Son of Ulster head coach Mark, Big things were expected of Gareth when he was thrown in at the deep end at his favoured position of out-half last year for the Blues. Unfortunately, he was scapegoated for the Blues poor season and Kirwan released him. The Chiefs have picked him up and played him at full back all this year.

New Zealand herald had a great article about it at the time.

From NZHerald:
"The contrasting fortunes of Beauden Barrett and Gareth Anscombe illustrate that professional rugby is a more ruthless and fast moving beast than often portrayed.

A year ago, Barrett and Anscombe were New Zealand under-20 team-mates, the latter commanding the No 10 jersey which forced the more versatile former into playing at fullback.

Once they returned, great futures were predicted for both, as they brought a touch of class and composure to their respective ITM Cup teams. Barrett was locked into the Hurricanes, the man they were going to trust to lead them to an improved season, while Anscombe was signed by the Blues, seen more as a bench option in 2012 with a view to running things in 2013.

This weekend showed how quickly things can change; how their respective paths have taken dramatically different routes. Barrett was on the plane to Argentina with the All Blacks last night: about the same time that Anscombe was coming to terms with the news that he's been delisted by the Blues and is now looking at spending 2013 with the Hurricanes - effectively carrying Barrett's coat as it were.

as the downturn taken by Anscombe's. Barrett was in Argentina not just because of doubts about the fitness of Daniel Carter. He is there as a genuine alternative on the bench to Aaron Cruden.

The 21-year-old's kicking game is longer than Cruden's and while there is nothing but admiration and respect for the contribution Cruden has made this year, in the cut-throat world of test football, there is already a sense of Barrett coming up fast on the rails.

It was impossible not to be taken with Barrett throughout Super Rugby: he kicked effortlessly off both feet, ran well, passed well and looked to be the closest thing to a new Carter. Cruden has a trump card with his running game but the last two weeks have shown him to be still someway off being able to control a test with his boot. By next year, or maybe even by the end of this, the pecking order of Carter-Cruden-Barrett may change to Carter-Barrett-Cruden.

And how that must pain Anscombe, who from tomorrow can legally be confirmed as delisted. The Hurricanes, who used the now-departed Daniel Kirkpatrick as cover this year, are believed to be keen. But, unless there is serious injury to Barrett, Anscombe faces a bleak season - 10-minute cameos and the occasional start.

History shows that few last long once they are labelled "back-up" and that's the problem for Anscombe - he plays the game in a style that's not in tune with the way most coaches in New Zealand want to operate.

Anscombe sat in the pocket for the Blues this year - reducing the effectiveness of Ma'a Nonu outside him. It also made the Blues easy to shut down - defences knowing they could close the space by coming up quickly on the outside.

New Blues coach John Kirwan hasn't unveiled his tactical vision for the team yet, but as one of the world's best attacking wings and having tried hard to generate pace and width while coach of Japan, it's a reasonable guess he'll want much the same in his current role.

Anscombe doesn't really fit that vision which is similar to how the Hurricanes want to play as well. This time next year, it wouldn't be a surprise if Anscombe is on his way to the UK. Anscombe looks better suited to Northern Hemisphere rugby and his accurate goal-kicking and astute tactical kicking would be well received there. He's eligible to play for Wales and there is also possibly the option of heading to Ulster, where his father, Mark, is the coach.

Still only 21, if he heads now, he could be qualified to play for Ireland by the time he's 24 as his eligibility was not captured last year. It's not the future he imagined this time last year but it is at least a future that could feature test rugby."

It may have been a gamble, but it's looking like one of the better transfers. He has a remarkable goalkicking percentage, and has been able to develop running lines in a dangerous Chiefs backline. He is another contender to replace Dan Carter when the legend eventually retires.

Green and Gold Rugby seem to rate him highly aswell stating:

"Plays fullback for the Chiefs but is chosen as flyhalf because that is the position where he started for the Blues on a regular basis last year.

He played in the ITM Cup for Auckland in 2010 straight out of school and was the top points scorer at the 2011 JWC when he represented NZ. But when Sir John Kirwan became the new coach at the Blues after the 2012 season he used a new broom.

Although any first five-eighths would have struggled behind such a poor pack, both Anscombe and Michael Hobbs, got de-listed. Anscombe was steady rather than flashy but he was one of the more consistent Blues’ backs in 2012; and he kicked his goals.

Anscombe moved down State Highway One to Hamilton to back up Aaron Cruden as first five-eighth at the Chiefs, but he got to play fullback instead.

As a first-five he knew a bit about his natural protagonist in the 15 jersey, and but for a few positional lapses, has performed well as a custodian in 2013. From his first game, against the Highlanders, he showed that he has thrived under the mentoring of Chiefs’ coaches, Dave Rennie and Wayne Smith, and he is kicking his goals at 82%.

When he got the news that he was axed by the Blues he said that he wanted to stay in the country because he could learn more in NZ than anywhere else. But the intervention of Rennie, who was not really looking for another first-five, may have stopped the youngster from going offshore

Why? Anscombe has a Welsh passport and father Mark has contacts in Europe – he is Director of Coaching at Ulster."

Rhys Marshall (age 20) Hooker

The young hooker has come in this season and made a number of appearances off the bench. His throwing is accurate, and his scrummaging is solid. But it's his loose play that have the NZ pundits saying that he could be the All Black hooker for a number of years to come.

He was recently featured in GAGR's best young XV of Super Rugby.

"One of the few candidates for the hooking spot, but a good one.

The 20 year-old was a surprise selection by the Chiefs in their 2013 squad because he was under-weight and yet to play provincial rugby. But a stint with the 2012 NZ JWC squad, a lot of gym work, and months with the Chiefs’ training group built him up in both a physical and rugby sense.

As a long term project of the Chiefs he was behind internationals Mahonri Schwalger and Hika Elliot in the pecking order, but has already started in a Super Rugby game. With Schwalger already injured, he found out on the morning of the opening game of the Chiefs’ season, against the Highlanders, that Elliott had failed a fitness test and that he had to run-on. But he kept his nerves under control and played a mature game.

Marshall’s play is similar to that of new All Black hooker, Dan Coles: quick, tough and uncompromising."

Other Chiefs players worth looking out for

Ben Taumefuna (age 21) Tighthead Prop
Ben Afeaki (age 25) Prop
Robbie Robinson (age 23) Full-back
Bundee Aki (age 22) Inside Centre
Charlie Ngatai (age 22) Inside centre


Dominic Bird (age 21) Lock

Dominic Bird came on against the Blues in the first game when there was an injury and hasn't looked back. He was one of the Crusaders best performers that day. I was shocked to learn afterwards that he was only 21, he played with the smarts of a veteran. A number of good locks are being produced by the NZ factory these days, and none better than Bird

Tom Marshall (age 22) Fullback /Winger

Tom Marshall has excelled this year, scoring this belter of a try on his seasonal debut.

Much more to come of this young man.

Jordan Taufua (age 21) Backrow

The player that the Crusader's fans are most excited about. Jordan Taufua hasn't played yet for the Crusaders, but is on the bench this weekend. He is a name to watch out for. He is an openside/ No. 8 spoken in similar terms to Richie McCaw and Kieran Read. Big words, but after an impressive display in the ITM cup last year, much is expected of Taufua.

Other Crusaders to watch out for:

Tyler Bleyendaal (age 22) Out-half
Luke Whitelock (age 22) Blindside Flanker
Ryan Crotty ( age 24) Inside Centre
Johnny McNichol ( age 22) Winger
Joe Moody (age 24) Loosehead Prop
Codie Taylor (age 21) Hooker


Ben Smith (age 26) Outside Centre/ Winger / Full-Back

Ben Smith could be the most well known name on this list. But Smith is on the fringes of starting consistently for the All Blacks. I'll leave the video to tell you more.

Kade Poki (age 25) Winger

Poki made his Super Rugby debut for the Crusaders in 2008 when he played against ACT Brumbies. Aged only 20, he made 10 starts for the team over the course of the season and scored two tries, helping the team to the championship. However, injuries and squad depth limited his chances to build on his freshman season, and he made only 4 more appearances for the Crusaders over the next two seasons.

Poki was left off the Crusaders squad for the 2011 Super Rugby season, and initially not selected by any of the other New Zealand teams. However, an injury to Kurt Baker saw him added to the Highlanders squad on the eve of the season.

Despite initially being an afterthought addition, Poki made the most of his opportunity and claimed a starting spot on the wing for the Highlanders, and emerged as one of the breakout players of the competition. Highlights of this season include a hat-trick in the loss to the Cheetahs.

Other Highlanders to look out for:

Jason Emery (age 19) Outside centre
Elliott Dixon (age 23) no. 8
FumaikiTanaka (age 28) Scrum-half - The first player from Japan to play Super Rugby.
Declan O'Donnell (age 22) Winger *Irish Descent
Ma'afu Fia (age 23) Prop


Andre Taylor (age 25) Full back/ Winger

Taylor was a World Cup winner with the New Zealand under 20 team in 2008, and had played for the New Zealand Secondary Schools and New Zealand Under 17 sides. He also was part of the triumphant New Zealand Maori side that won the 2010 Maori centenary series against the New Zealand Barbarians, Ireland and England.

He first joined the Hurricanes in 2010 on the back of an exciting NPC in which he proved a constant threat for opposition defences. Taylor capped off an excellent season by scoring 27 points in the Turbos’ final game of the 2009 season against North Harbour. He earned five caps for the Hurricanes in his first season, making his starting debut on the wing against the Central Cheetahs. 

He was the leading try scorer in the 2012 Super Rugby season with 10 tries. This year Taylor has yet to score, and has been in poor form. But is one to watch in the future to see if he can reach the same heights.

TJ Peranara (age 21) Scrum-half

"Made a good comeback since he broke his ankle playing against the Reds last year in a non-competition match. He was having a top debut season but the injury to the Hurricanes Rookie of the Year ended his rugby in 2012, and any outside hope of an EOYT with the All Blacks.

Perenara is a precocious talent. In 2010 he played for NZ Schools and instead of doing his homework played for Wellington in the ITM Cup. In 2011 he represented NZ when they won the JWC.

He is full of rugby mischief and is deadly on the snipe near the goal-line, even when opponents know what he is going to do."
Ardie Savea (age 19) Openside Flanker

Ardie Savea is the younger brother of All Black winger Julian Savea who came to Irish attention last summer scoring a hat-trick in the first test. Ardie is a young flanker who is going to make his own name.

Here is an article from New Zealand Herald about him;

"These are heady PM days in sport. I'm not meaning the Prime Minister who is talking up tourism and swinging his way through The Hills in Queenstown. These are the post-McCaw days in a loose sense.

The remarkable flanker who has been such a star for the Crusaders and All Blacks was spotted recently in the crowd at the David Letterman Studios in New York.

McCaw is on his sabbatical, taking time out from the game he has adorned at the highest levels for more than a decade. He intends to return in the middle of the year and resume his sporting career. But who knows.

He may be swamped by some other interest in his time out, offered a job he can't refuse or struck down by Cupid's arrow.

The rugby warrior needed a break from the mental strains of his work and this interval will revive his battered frame. Any change helps, as former Wallaby flanker George Smith showed this week when he returned to the Brumbies and perhaps a repeat tilt at the Lions after several years north of the equator.

But in McCaw's absence we can think about what happens if he does not come back, what if his form dips?

The majority of the rugby-watching population will scoff and the All Black selectors will hold similar thoughts.

Not so long ago they might have felt the same way about centre.

But Richard Kahui's decision to leave, the injury to Tamati Ellison, questions about Conrad Smith's durability and rumours about Rene Ranger's exit, have opened up all sorts of conjecture.

The famous black No7 jersey could be the same.

Leading the contenders for the tests against France in June is Sam Cane, who has deputised five times since his selection last season.

Matt Todd and Luke Braid, who went around last night at Eden Park, have been on the edge of national inclusion while there have been others pushing the value and work rate of John Hardie or Karl Lowe.

But it might be another teenage rooster who provokes most inspection from the national panel.

Ardie Savea is cooling his flashing heels because of a high tackle ban.

But when he makes his Super 15 debut, he could emulate elder brother Julian in black.

Savea the younger captained the New Zealand secondary school side, was head boy at Rongotai College and was a standout on the international sevens circuit.

He is a special talent who should be an All Black if he continues to develop.

Savea makes things happen, he has instincts which can't be taught, his game would add another dimension to the All Blacks.

McCaw was nearly 21 when he stepped out for the All Blacks, Cane was even younger but Savea could pip them both."

Other Hurricanes to look out for:

James Marshall (age 24) Fly-half/ Full back
Jeffrey Toomuga-Allen (age 22) Tighthead Prop
Blade Thomson (age 22) Flanker

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