Getting your shot in the first-team is part of the ongoing battle for rugby hopefuls, but in 2014 this group of starlets took their chance.
Their fine efforts have not gone unnoticed by us here at Planet Rugby and we have consequently cobbled together a XV that although is lacking in caps, it makes up for in fearless exuberance.
Call them freshmen or what you will, several of this group were relative unknowns in the world of 2013 until they made fans and coaches sit up and take note.
Newbie XV of 2014
15 Antony Watson (Bath and England) – An excellent twelve months for the Bath youngster as he grows in confidence game by game at the Rec. Videos of him tearing defences to pieces at schoolboy level are being replicated in the senior game and he subsequently was rewarded for good form with a place in the England squad. Just 20, he is in a great place at Bath to add many more caps to his name.
14 Alipate Ratini (Grenoble and Fiji) – What a year in club colours for the flying Fijian. He currently tops the Top 14 try chart in 2014/15 after coming as if from nowhere from the Cronulla Sharks in rugby league. A fine finisher who Grenoble did well to spot.
13 Malakai Fekitoa (Highlanders and New Zealand) – A few players came to mind such as Glasgow’s Mark Bennett, Taranaki centre Seta Tamanivalu, Bath back Ollie Devoto and Italy’s Michele Campagnaro, but it was always going to be this All Black as our 13. What a year it was; snubbed by the Blues, starred for the Highlanders and then went well for New Zealand. Bags of potential.
12 Owen Williams (Leicester) – Played some rugby at inside centre but his favoured spot for the Tigers has been fly-half. It is because of the 22-year-old’s form – and the amount of options we had at 10 – that we find a spot for the Welshman. Excellent and mature form has seen off-season signing Freddie Burns warming the bench for the most part as Williams continues to bang on the international door.
11 Teddy Thomas (Racing Metro and France) – Spent the first half of 2014 at a struggling Biarritz but the second part of the year saw Thomas show his class. That try for Les Bleus in November will live long in the memory and one hopes he’s now given a long run in the France shirt.
10 Handre Pollard (Bulls and South Africa) – Plenty of players put their hand up for this jersey such as the aforementioned Williams who moves to 12, the impressive Scot Finn Russell, Kiwi duo Richie Mo’unga and Damian McKenzie and Lions fly-half Marnitz Boshoff. However, Pollard backed up his fine JWC form with a superb campaign. He will become more consistent with age.
9 Cobus Reinach (Sharks and South Africa) – Completing our South African half-back duo, the 24-year-old has been outstanding this season and fully deserved his call-up to the Springboks. It came as no surprise that the dynamic scrum-half took his chance with both hands while Fourie du Preez and Ruan Pienaar were out. The big question for Heyneke Meyer now is whether to stick with the in-form Shark or revert back to the experienced duo.
8 Nathan Hughes (Wasps) – What a signing he has been for Wasps. Hughes arrived from Auckland in March 2013 and hasn’t looked back, kicking on in 2014 with excellent performances week in week out alongside Ashley Johnson and James Haskell. Charles Ollivon and Dan Baker deserved mentions after excellent years but Hughes continues to shine, crossing for plenty of tries from number eight.
7 Facundo Isa (Argentina) – At just 21, it is exciting to think how good this flanker can become. Aggressive in the tackle and learning international rugby all the time, Isa has been smashing established players all year with his performance against France in November a highlight. Toulouse’s Yacouba Camara has also shown signs of promise but Isa’s all-action style had to be rewarded.
6 Sean McMahon (Rebels and Australia) – As debut campaigns go this was up there. Sold performances for the Rebels in Super Rugby were rewarded by Ewen McKenzie at international level in November. He stood out off the bench against the Barbarians at Twickenham before finding it somewhat tougher in the full Tests but the foundations are there for a fruitful future for powerful carrier McMahon.
5 Patrick Tuipulotu (Blues and New Zealand) – Firstly a mention for impressive young Argentina lock Tom