International: 13 uncapped stars primed for Test debuts in 2023 ahead of the Rugby World Cup

Jared Wright
The new year will provide new opportunities, and with 2023 being a Rugby World Cup year, there is still a good chance that we will see some fresh faces in the Test arena. Ahead of 2023, we have picked out 13 rising stars that could force their way into international reckoning and earn their maiden Test caps.

The new year will provide new opportunities, and with 2023 being a Rugby World Cup year, there is still a good chance that we will see some fresh faces in the Test arena.

Ahead of 2023, we have picked 13 rising stars that could force their way into international reckoning and earn their maiden Test caps.

Tom Pearson – England

With a new head coach at the helm of England rugby, we can only speculate as to what kind of players Steve Borthwick will turn to, but Pearson will have certainly caught his attention.

The London Irish back-rower has been in stellar form for the Exiles this year, shining in all facets of the game.

While Borthwick won’t be short of options in the back-row, Pearson offers versatility across all three positions and is a solid option in the lineouts.

A hard hitter on defence, he is also a robust breakdown operator, averaging more than a turnover a match in the Premiership.

Tom Curry is likely to be a nailed-on starter in 2023, but England’s other back-row positions could still be up for grabs, and Pearson is hitting top form at the right time with the Six Nations around the corner.

Oli Jager – New Zealand

The All Blacks scrum has had its fair share of issues in recent seasons, and in 2022 an injury crisis did not make things any easier for Ian Foster’s side. 

The arrival of Jason Ryan steadied the ship in the latter stages of the year, and the former Crusaders’ coach could turn to Jager to solidify the pack in 2023.

Jager qualifies for New Zealand through residency and has reportedly turned down advances from Ireland to press for All Blacks selection.

“I think I’ve made it pretty clear in the last couple of years that I want to be an All Black,” Jager said in April.

After being the understudy to Michael Alaalatoa and Owen Franks in past seasons, 2023 will be the second year that Jager is the Crusaders’ starting tighthead and can finally realise his dream of representing New Zealand.

Beka Shvangiradze – Georgia

It’s merely a matter of when Shvangiradze will make his Test debut for Georgia rather than if, as the 20-year-old looks to build on a breakout year in 2022.

Those who tuned into Georgia’s U20s Six Nations Summer Series campaign will know of the back-row who stood out in every game for the Lelos.

He was their top tackler and carrier in three of their four games, scoring three tries in the competition. An abrasive ball carrier, Shvangiradze has a remarkable turn of pace, highlighted by his try against Scotland, where he managed to keep up with the rapid winger Shalva Aptsiauri to round off a well-taken try.

There are some superb back-row talents in the senior Georgian squad, and while it might be a tough ask for him to break through the ranks, but head coach Levan Maisashvili has put his trust in youth since taking control of the side, which puts him a strong position for a call-up.

While he impressed at U20 level, his club form could warrant a debut, too, as he has been one of the best back-rowers in the Pro D2 – France’s second division – for Aurillac.

He featured just seven times last season but has quickly cemented himself as a starter this term playing all 13 of the 15 matches, all in the starting XV, predominantly as a flank.

After 15 rounds, he ranks fourth in the league for tackles completing 141 at a success rate of 92 per cent and is somewhat of a chop tackler going low on 133 occasions.

He is already a well-rounded back-row completing eight turnovers at the breakdown, a tally ranking him in the top 20 in the league, and has made 82 carries – the 19th best amongst forwards.

Aurillac have profited from his dominance with the ball in hand as he has tallied up the fifth-best running metres total amongst forwards (304) and has the fourth-most metres in contact (123) in the league.

Edwin Edogbo – Ireland

A player who shot to stardom in 2022, Edogbo is an imposing presence in the Munster engine room.

The 20-year-old earned his first start for Munster against the Bulls earlier in the season and produced a dominant performance against the South African side.

Standing at 6’5″ and weighing over 120 kilograms, Edogbo is just the kind of second-row the Ireland pack has needed in recent years.

Despite his height, the Munsterman is an athletic ball carrier and a brilliant poacher at the breakdown.

Andy Farrell will be keeping tabs on his fitness, and when fit, we may see him get a chance to impress in the green jersey.

Sacha Mngomezulu – South Africa

A debut that almost happened in 2022 as the talented Mngomezulu was called into the Springbok squad dealing with a fly-half availability crisis.

Manie Libbok would go on to debut for South Africa, with Mngomezulu picking up an injury in training, but the highly-rated youngster could still get his chance before the World Cup.

He made his URC debut for the Stormers in last season’s quarter-final and has looked unfazed by the pressure of professional rugby in all of his matches despite playing highly demanding positions.

Mngomezulu has a temperament beyond his years, and after captaining South Africa’s U20s to a Summer Series trophy, he will look to go one better in 2023 and earn a Test debut, something he is more than capable of doing.

Ollie Hassell-Collins – England

Another Exiles prospect that could finally make the step up to international rugby after several inclusions in training squads.

Eddie Jones stuck to the tried and tested during the Autumn Nations Series and gave Henry Arundell a Test debut in Australia, and Hassell-Collins could become the third Exiles’ back to debut in less than a year.

The 23-year-old was among the top try-scorers in the Premiership last season and has started the 2022/23 season in a similar fashion dotting down nine times in 11 matches.

He continues to improve under the high ball with every passing week and is adding strong defence to his repertoire.

Mason Grady – Wales

The kind of player that is right up Warren Gatland’s alley, Grady is a big athletic back that could well make his Test debut and even feature in Gatland’s World Cup plans.

The 20-year-old was called into Wales’ Autumn Nations Series squad but did not debut in November.

The 110kg back has started just three times for Cardiff this season, but his talent is clear to see. Despite his imposing size, he has a fair bit of pace, and he showed that in the Challenge Cup match against Newcastle, running in a try from inside his own 22.

Grady was another who stood out at youth level in 2022, helping Wales reach the final of the U20 Summer Series, gaining over 300 metres in the five games and scoring a try against South Africa in the final.

While he has featured regularly on the wing for Cardiff, when coming off the bench, his preferred position is outside centre. George North, Owen Watkin and Josh Adams all started in that position for Wales in 2022, and with Jonathan Davies entering the twilight of his career, Gatland could turn to Grady as a long-term option in the position.

Max Llewellyn – Wales

A player that could rival Grady for that Test debut is clubmate, Llewellyn.

The son of Wales great Gareth, Max enjoyed a fine run of form for Cardiff, starting seven of his eight matches in the United Rugby Championship before injury struck.

The 23-year-old is unlikely to debut in the Six Nations due to an ankle injury sustained in December, but he could make a late charge for a place in the World Cup squad.

While Gatland is regarded as a conservative selector for Wales, he does have a history of making some bold calls, even around World Cups, with Rhys Carre going to the tournament in Japan after debuting in the warm-up matches.

Llewellyn is another imposing figure in the backline, and while he can play both midfield positions, he has been stationed more often than not at inside centre.

Paolo Odogwu – Italy

Now plying his trade in the Top 14, Odogwu can decide who he wishes to represent at Test level in 2023, and the Azzurri could benefit from that decision.

A powerful and versatile back, Odogwu starred for Wasps in the Premiership and is delivering similarly brilliant performances for Stade Francais. He was included in one of Eddie Jones’ England squads but could now turn his attention to Italy, who he qualifies for through his father.

Azzurri head coach Kieran Crowley has kept in touch with the 25-year-old, and with a World Cup debut on the cards, he could make the call sooner rather than later.

Ben Healy – Scotland

Another eligibility-driven debut that could happen in 2023, Healy qualifies for Scotland and Ireland.

Reports suggest that the Munster fly-half could move to Edinburgh or Glasgow next season to improve his playing time and press for international honours.

His booming boot is an asset for any side, and with Gregor Townsend reportedly keen on getting him involved in the Scotland team, he could earn a debut as soon as the Six Nations.

Zarn Sullivan – New Zealand

The All Blacks have never been short on options in the outside back department, and Sullivan is another example of New Zealand’s depth.

The talented 22-year-old has become a regular fixture in the Blues backline making 12 appearances in 2022 as the Auckland-based side reached the final of Super Rugby Pacific.

While he has played mostly at full-back, he played fly-half in his youth and has deputised in that role during matches while he can slot into inside centre too.

He is also a handy place-kicker and extremely talented under the high ball. Sullivan impressed for the Maori All Blacks in 2022. If he can string another solid Super Rugby season together with the Blues, he could be in contention for New Zealand during the Rugby Championship.

Nolann Le Garrec – France

Two young scrum-halves caught Fabien Galthie’s eye in 2022, Leo Coly and Le Garrec; the latter might be the first of the two to earn a maiden Test cap.

Antoine Dupont is, without a doubt, Galthie’s go-to man for the starting jersey, and rightfully so, while Maxime Lucu looks to have settled as his deputy.

However, the third scrum-half could be up for grabs despite the performances of Baptiste Couilloud.

Le Garrec has impressed for Racing 92, making the starting nine jersey his own, with his kicking game being one of his strengths. While France earn praise for the attacking style of play, their kicking game has been pivotal to their success, and any scrum-half coming into the squad will need to be exceptional in that facet of the game.

While the 20-year-old kicks well from the base of rucks, he is also accurate from the tee and could make a run for a place in Les Bleus’ squad ahead of their home World Cup.

Martín Bogado – Argentina

Michael Cheika tested the waters in 2022 and had some success in depth as he builds towards the Rugby World Cup.

One player we could see emerge in 2023 is full-back Bogado, who will make his Super Rugby debut for the Highlanders after signing a two-year deal with the Dunedin-based side.

He featured for the Jaguares XV and Olimpia Lions in the Superliga Americana de Rugby competition before a short stint with Bayonne. His performances caught the eye of Cheika, and he earned a spot in the Los Pumas squad for the Autumn Nations Series.

He did not make his debut in November but did play for the Argentina XV against Portugal and Georgia in July.

Juan Cruz Mallia is the go-to option for Cheika at full-back, and while Emiliano Boffelli and Santiago Cordero can fill the position, the former Wallabies boss could look to Bogado as a potential option in the role, especially if he impresses in his debut Super Rugby season.

READ MORE: Seven players to watch in 2023: The experienced figures looking to make an impact with the Rugby World Cup looming