Getting your shot in the first-team is part of the ongoing battle for many rugby hopefuls, but in 2016 these starlets hit the big time.
Their sterling efforts haven’t gone unnoticed by us here at Planet Rugby and we have consequently cobbled together a XV that although lacks in caps, it makes up for in quality that should grow and grow in the future.
Here we go then…
Newbies of the Year
15 Damian McKenzie (Chiefs): The 21-year-old was a breath of fresh air in Super Rugby as he took the competition by storm, carving defences to shreds with his steps and handling. McKenzie topped the competition statistics for carries (215), clean breaks (31), defenders beaten (67) and metres (1304) and fully deserved his New Zealand debut. He will be a marked player in 2017 that is for sure.
14 Rieko Ioane (Blues): Another off the conveyor belt in New Zealand, Ioane impressed on the World Sevens Series and backed that form up when he played for the Blues and later Auckland, for whom he was superb. Like McKenzie, his sparkling form was rewarded with an All Blacks debut in November and he looks to be a long-term Test star for New Zealand, whether that is on the wing or outside centre.
13 Anton Lienert-Brown (Chiefs): Went from strength to strength in 2016 and seems to have nailed down a starting jersey for New Zealand after his impressive performances in the Rugby Championship and November’s Tests. Such an intelligent player who also offers versatility with his ability to play 12 or 13, his balanced running and distribution have seen him shoot up the All Blacks pecking order.
12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg (Lions): What a year it has been for the South African as his ability to get the Lions over the advantage line made him such a handful for opposition. Calls for him to be a Springbok were eventually heard in November, with the centre having good pace for his size that makes him a real issue for defences. Canterbury’s Jordie Barrett deserves a mention after a fine 2016.
11 Reece Hodge (Rebels): The 22-year-old enjoyed an excellent season for the Melbourne franchise, with his rangy stride and long-range goal-kicking catching the eye. Opponents became petrified of giving away penalties even 60 metres out and he got better as the year played out, earning Wallaby starts and looking composed while doing it. More of a centre at Test level but also starred on the wing.
10 Alex Lozowski (Wasps/Saracens): Impressed for Wasps in the second half of 2015/16 but with Danny Cipriani having signed and Charlie Hodgson retiring, a switch to Saracens proved a good option for Lozowski. The 23-year-old slotted in nicely at the champions with his electric pace and solid distribution impressing the coaches while Owen Farrell was away. He has also been training with England.
9 Antoine Dupont (Castres): Such an exciting prospect for France as the 20-year-old ticks many boxes as a scrum-half. A keen eye for a gap, lightening speed to get through said gap and a real physical edge that can shake off tacklers. After playing for the French Barbarians in 2016, surely a senior cap is on the cards in the next year or two as he looks to fulfil the potential he showed at U20 level.
8 Josh van der Flier (Leinster): While he’s been with Leinster since 2014, the past 12 months has arguably been Van der Flier’s breakthrough year. What a wreaking ball he was for Ireland in November, he is one of many fine back-rows currently donning green.
7 Sam Underhill (Ospreys): It says something that Underhill gets our seven shirt even after he suffered an injury that ruled him out for four months back in August. Before that he was making a lot of noise in the PRO12, so much so that there was talk of a call-up to the England squad being mooted. He recently returned for the Ospreys and the 186cm, 103kg flanker is sure to shine again in the near future.
6 Uzair Cassiem (Cheetahs): 26 years old but playing in his first Super Rugby campaign, Cassiem was real workhorse for the Bloemfontein side. He showed a hunger for tries and after impressing for the Cheetahs he then helped Free State win the Currie Cup. Taleni Seu of the Chiefs also impressed this season and the rangy 22-year-old should continue his development in their pack during 2017.
5 Adam Coleman (Force): After biding his time at the Force, this season he has seen come of age. An uncompromising second-row who gave both franchise and country a required hard edge in 2016. Australia needed his rugged style this year and he certainly delivered.
4 Scott Barrett (Canterbury): Steve Hansen said recently that Barrett plays like he’s been an All Black for years, which is praise indeed from the coach. The 23-year-old was outstanding in the Mitre 10 Cup and also shone for New Zealand in November. Next year he’ll look for more starts at the Crusaders and hopefully, for the Barrett family, some games alongside Beauden and Jordie at Test level.
3 Zander Fagerson (Glasgow): The 20-year-old has been excellent in 2016, impressing sufficiently to earn his first Scotland cap against England in February. So much potential here for this 127kg prop, who edged Finlay Bealham and Kalolo Tuiloma as our tighthead.
2 Malcolm Marx (Lions): A brilliant Super Rugby campaign from the young hooker as his hulking frame was complimented nicely by subtle skills. With Adriaan Strauss having now retired, the 22-year-old should claim plenty of Bok caps as a bright future awaits him.
1 Ox Nche (Cheetahs): The young prop has had a meteoric rise this season, from starting as a competent substitute to being Free State’s top front-row performer. He collected an impressive bevy of man-of-the-match performances in the Currie Cup and rightly so after some sensational scrummaging and impressive line-breaks. The challenge now is to continue his journey up the ranks to Bok honours.