Autumn Nations Series: 10 inexperienced Test players that could make a big impression in the end-of-year internationals

Colin Newboult

Ahead of the Autumn Nations Series, Planet Rugby takes a look at some of the young players that could impress over the next month.

There is a mix of uncapped players and relative newbies to the international scene, but all 10 could play significant roles in their respective country’s fortunes in October and November.

Mateo Carreras (Argentina)

The 22-year-old has really come into his own this season with some sparkling performances for Premiership side Newcastle Falcons, including a ridiculous solo try against Northampton Saints. Carreras is an incredibly elusive runner, with sheer pace and a truly wicked sidestep, who has been there or thereabouts at the top of the metres gained stats in the Premiership. In a Los Pumas side that is scoring more tries and creating a lot more chances, a player like Carreras will have the opportunity to take on defensive lines more often. Head coach Michael Cheika will be hoping the Newcastle man can bring his club form into Test rugby and inject more energy into an already exciting Argentina back three.

Jock Campbell (Australia)

A player who made the most of his opportunities with Australia ‘A’ against Japan, where he showed he has what it takes to make the step up to Test rugby. Campbell is an intelligent player who takes excellent lines as shown by the impressive number of breaks from the Reds star. The 27-year-old is also comfortable playing with those around him, and his rugby smarts on both attack and defence is a huge asset to the teams he plays in. The outside back is on the bench for the first time for Australia’s clash against Scotland on Saturday, where he will be hoping to get some Test minutes under his belt. However, Campbell is likely to feature more prominently against Italy, where he may have more of an opportunity to showcase his skill set.

Cadan Murley (England)

It is always difficult to predict what Eddie Jones will do with young players but Murley must surely be in contention to start against Argentina and then retain his place for the rest of the month. There were only two natural left wings in the squad. One was the Harlequins speedster and the other was Jonny May but, of course, the Gloucester man has since been ruled out for the series. Although Joe Cokanasiga, Jack Nowell, Max Malins and Henry Arundell (if fit) have all played there for England, Murley is the more natural and deserves his opportunity. The 23-year-old has excellent poaching instincts, scoring 15 tries last season and starting 2022/23 in similarly prolific fashion, but he is much more than that. Murley is lightening quick, very strong and good under the high ball, all facets Jones will like.

Matthis Lebel (France)

The Toulouse flyer has earned four caps but has not quite established himself in the squad. However, that could change over the next month with Gabin Villiere’s absence opening a spot on the left wing. Lebel shone in Japan during the mid-year series and could well take his place in the back three for the upcoming Tests. Usual centre Yoram Moefana is another option while Donovan Taofifenua is a talent and Alivereti Raka has returned to the squad, but the Toulouse man is the next in line. He is quick, strong and has excellent footwork, while his basics are very good, which means Villiere’s place could be under threat going forward.

Joe McCarthy (Ireland)

Andy Farrell may well be reluctant to alter a winning formula too much after such a good 2022 so far, but this Leinster starlet could well break into the Ireland 23 for their November internationals. He will almost certainly feature against Fiji, but Farrell could also deem him good enough to be on the bench for the matches with South Africa and Australia. McCarthy has all the attributes to be a Test player. While he is not as quick o athletic as Kieran Treadwell or Ryan Baird, he is superb in the set-piece and incredibly powerful in the tight. Those traits, at the very highest level, are priceless and will stand him in good stead going forward.

Lorenzo Cannone (Italy)

The young Italian starlet has shown more maturity this season for Benetton and has been a shining light in Treviso. Cannone is a physical and hard-working back-row who is willing to do the hard yards for his side. The 21-year-old ranks 14th in the United Rugby Championship for carries completed, with 47 so far this season, and one try to go with it. Cannone is exactly what Italy coach Kieran Crowley will want; a no-nonsense, tireless loose forward who is more than willing to empty the tank. While Michele Lamaro and Sebastian Negri are almost certain to be in the squad, there are a couple of spots open. Toa Halafihi has impressed at number eight for Italy, but interestingly Cannone has been keeping him out of that shirt for Benetton. Crowley may go for experience but, on form, the youngster should get plenty of game time for the Azzurri.

Stephen Perofeta (New Zealand)

Despite being 25, he has barely featured at this level, playing just 50 seconds of Test rugby for the All Blacks. However, Perofeta has proved his worth with the Blues in Super Rugby Pacific, where the Auckland men fell short to the Crusaders in the final. Equally comfortable at 10 or 15, he is such a composed player and one of those who always seems to have more time to make decisions. Couple that with brilliant vision and an all-around skill set, and there is a star in the making. Perofeta gets his chance against Japan this weekend and will need to put in a blockbuster performance to stake a claim for a starting spot in the black jersey.

Cameron Redpath (Scotland)

After such an impressive debut for Gregor Townsend’s men back in 2021 when Scotland ended 38 years of hurt against England at Twickenham, injuries have unfortunately hampered his career since. A series of setbacks have prevented him from becoming a regular in the Scottish set-up, with his only other cap coming against Wales in the 2022 Six Nations. However, Redpath has finally had some consistent game time for Bath this season, playing well despite the West Country outfit’s form in the Premiership. If the centre can stay fit, the 22-year-old will become a key player for the national team with his playmaking talents providing a useful foil to whoever is playing a fly-half.

Manie Libbok (South Africa)

Finally, fans’ and pundits’ calls for the Stormer’s inclusion in the Springboks squad have been answered. It seems bizarre that it has taken so long for the fly-half to be considered for higher honours, particularly after powering the Cape Town side to the United Rugby Championship title last season. Libbok orchestrated the free-flowing and sometimes chaotic Stormers’ attack through a 15-game unbeaten streak and, at times, seemed to unlock defences at will through his vision, powers of distribution and ability to kick confidently off both feet. The playmaker has proved, though, that he is not a one-trick pony and has shown impressive game management skills, consistency off the kicking tee and composure in key moments. Questions are being asked at 10 for the Springboks, and Libbok is an answer. Simple as that. It will do all parties the world of good if the 25-year-old gets a few Test caps under his belt in November.

Christ Tshiunza (Wales)

Called up last year as a teenager, making his debut against Fiji in November 2021, it was quite clear that Tshiunza wasn’t ready for Test rugby. The back-row, who can also play at lock, was far too raw and made a number of rash decisions, but it is a very different story now. The 20-year-old has played the majority of Exeter Chiefs’ Premiership games this campaign and has excelled in every one. His physical and athletic traits are evident but his decision-making has improved immensely, meaning that he is very much one to watch over the next month.

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