With the year drawing to a close we thought it worth looking ahead to 2017 and 10 players to watch out for in both the club and Test game.
The players vary in their objectives for the coming 12 months as we have an injury returnee, a possible new Bok captain and a code hopper.
Here they are…
Ten players to watch in 2017
2016 was poorer for not having Milner-Skudder tearing defences to pieces for both the Hurricanes and New Zealand and his return to rugby in 2017 is a positive for the global game. 2015 an incredible story for the full-back or wing as he went from relative unknown to household name at the Rugby World Cup. Let’s hope we see that devastating side-step back in full flow in Super Rugby very soon.
Is he the Springbok captain in waiting? With hooker Adriaan Strauss having now retired from international rugby, there is a leadership spot available for South Africa. Whiteley seems to be the front-runner for the role after skippering the Lions well and if he does become captain, he will know to expect plenty of pressure on him after a dismal 2016 for the Boks. Good luck Warren should you get it.
A late inclusion in our list after his arrival from rugby league side Castleford Tigers was announced on December 13. This New Zealander took Super League by storm last season as he ran in 42 tries, an incredible feat for a team that finished sixth in the table. Solomona will hope to continue that form with Sale in the Premiership, with the pressure on him and also fellow new convert Josh Charnley.
It is hard to argue with talk that the Wexford prop will be on the plane to New Zealand after a stellar 2016. His powerful ball carrying stood out for province and country and if he can build on that in the upcoming year, Leinster, Ireland and the British and Irish Lions have a formidable tighthead prop. Furlong only turned 24 last month so his potential to improve is exciting to say the least.
Beale’s debut for Wasps showed his quality with ball in hand, as he made a try-scoring bow at the Ricoh Arena. With Charles Piutau having left big shoes that needed filling at the club, Beale must be at his best in 2017. If he is Wasps could well lift silverware.
It is going to be interesting to see where the British and Irish Lions play Farrell next year. There’s no doubt in our mind that he’ll be included in the touring party as he’s had an outstanding 2016 for Saracens and England. His physicality, running and passing game went to another level in 2016 at 12 but we’d like to see him at 10 for the Lions, calling the shots with Robbie Henshaw outside him.
The Welshman and Lions hopeful has a busy year ahead of him as he’ll join a new club, Saracens, and look to push for a good Six Nations with his country before Warren Gatland names his squad. He should make the tour as he’s been Wales’ strike weapon of late, as his kick returns always test the opposition. New Zealand were impressed by him last June and he’ll want to do similar damage 12 months on.
Just when it seemed he had turned a corner on the discipline front, Hartley was last week handed a six-week suspension for taking out Sean O’Brien with a swinging arm. Seeing red mist is something the hooker has done all too often and by Eddie Jones’ reaction the frustration is evident. How that will affect his England captaincy remains unclear but at club level Jim Mallinder was not impressed. Hartley must keep his cool in 2017 as England look to keep their Six Nations crown. He’ll receive the same message before the Lions tour.
The World Rugby Player of the Year was brilliant this year for the Hurricanes and New Zealand, but he simply cannot go on with such a goal-kicking percentage at Test level. Sooner or later the All Blacks won’t win matches by tries alone and with or without the British and Irish Lions coming, he’ll be putting in the hours with the tee. If he doesn’t improve, Israel Dagg could be asked to take over.
He was unlucky to miss out at number eight in our Team of the Year as Isa, more often than not in a losing side, was brilliant for the Jaguares and Argentina in 2016. The 23-year-old is fast developing into one of the most destructive ball carriers in the game, with subtle skills being added with every match he plays. Both teams need him to spearhead their 2017 so the pressure is on this special talent.