The next Storti? 15 promising players in Europe’s emerging nations

Francisco Isaac

Portugal's Raffaele Storti on the charge during the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

Raffaele Storti, Davit Niniashvili, Luka Ivanishvili, Alin Conache, Adrian Motoc and Rodrigo Marta; do you know what they have in common? They were once youth-grade players who amazed the world even before making a breakthrough in the Test match top-level scene.

So, after an incredible Rugby World Cup, it’s time to see who are the potential stars emerging before the 2027 edition in Australia.

Our selection of players obeys just one rule: they are between the ages of 15-20. Also, it’s important to add that these are players already capped at age-grade level for Belgium, Georgia, Spain, Portugal, Romania and Netherlands.

Teun Karst

Nationality: Netherlands
Position: Lock
Age: 18 (12/12/2004)
Club: CA Brive (Pro D2)
Capped: for Netherlands U20

A hulking and powerful presence, that’s the best way to sum up Karst. His U20 Rugby Europe Championship was sensational, helping Netherlands land a first-ever Championship win, and the towering second-rower played a huge role in it.

His carrying game is outstanding, moving and knocking down tacklers like they are bowling pins. He may be the lock of choice for the Dutch national team in the next couple of years.

Manuel Vareiro

Nationality: Portugal
Position: Fly-half / Centre / Full-back
Age: 18 (14/01/2005)
Club: GD Direito (Portugal)
Capped: for Portugal U20

Skillful and resourceful, Vareiro has quickly become one of the most promising players in Portugal, as the 18-year-old has already featured for the Lusitanos franchise and was picked to play in the 2022 7s Rugby World Cup.

A fly-half capable of playing as a centre or full-back, he was one of the best for the Portuguese U18s and U20s, and in 2023 scored 50 points in the U20 Championship, with a 91% conversion rate. He might still need to polish his game a bit but he will be an interesting unit for the “Lobos” in due course.

Luka Tsirekidze

Nationality: Georgia
Position: Full-back
Age: 19 (25/08/2004)
Club: Black Lion (Georgia)
Capped: for Georgia U20

Tsirekidze is a name that you are going to start hearing often, as the Georgian outside back has been making waves in the U18s, U20s, and RE Super Cup, mostly due to his kicking game, aerial security, and sharp attacking skills. He is already a first-team starter for the Black Lion and is only 19 years old, which tells you how impressive he is.

Imagine a world where Georgia has Niniashvili in on the one wing, Akaki Tabutsadze or Luka Khorbaladze in the other, and Luka Tsirekidze out in the back, creating one of the deadliest outside-back trios in the rugby world. Delicious.

Hugo Pichardie

Nationality: Spain
Position: Centre
Age: 18 (10/01/2005)
Club: Stade Toulousain (Top 14)
Capped: for Spain U18

The Pichardie brothers are one of the hottest names in Spanish rugby, be it Mario or Hugo, as both are on the trail to become big for the Leones. The youngest, Hugo, is making a name for himself in the U18 scene and the Espoirs of Stade Toulousain, thanks to his size, speed, and rugby intelligence.

His hand-off can subject most tacklers to a humbling moment, creating huge gaps that he runs through or enables a teammate to make a brutal clean-break. He has the potential to be a breakthrough player for Spain before the end of the 2027 Rugby World Cup cycle.

Luka Saginadze

Nationality: Georgia
Position: Loose forward
Age: 18
Club: Lyon (Top 14)
Capped: for Georgia U18

The Saginadze family seems hell-bent on taking over the loose forward scene, and Luka looks to be on the same pathway as his older sibling, Beka. His off-the-ball work and turnover-poaching skills have made him one of the prime loose forwards in the European U18s, snatching the oval-shaped ball in any given situation and playing it quickly and wisely.

He might still have a long way to go, but the fact that Lyon made an effort to sign him shows he has an incredible potential to become something special for Georgia.

Kit Temperley

Nationality: Netherlands
Position: Winger
Age: 18
Club: Loughborough University (England – BUCS)
Capped: for Netherlands U20

If Netherlands won the 2023 U20 Championship it was because of Temperley’s inputs, and that last deep kick that led to a match-winning try is a small example of his quality and potential. He is a tactical winger who knows when and how to intervene, showcasing a good knowledge of the game and doing so in a flash.

He has a ridiculous kick; his pace lasts for most of the 80 minutes, and he doesn’t break under the high ball. It is safe to say that Netherlands has its 11 jersey sorted for the next decade.

Paul Gérard

Nationality: Belgium
Position: Number eight
Age: 20 (09/10/2023)
Club: ASUB (Belgium)
Capped: for Belgium U20

Who doesn’t like a number eight capable of driving forward from an exit scrum and that munches the gain-line like a child locked inside a candy store? Belgium’s Paul Gérard is a mighty ball carrier and has proven his worth for his country in the U18 and U20 Championships, as well as the RE Super Cup.

He is still taking his first steps into international stardom, but Gérard is one of the finest new talents of Belgium and the Emerging European nation scene.

Gabriel Rocaries

Nationality: Spain
Position: Outside back
Age: 19 (03/10/2004)
Club: CRC Pozuelo (Spain)
Capped: for Spain U20

Spain had a grand year in the U20s, as they conquered the World Rugby Trophy and promotion to next year’s U20 Rugby World Cup and Rocaries played a major role in reaching that outcome.

The full-back is like fireworks in human form, tricking tacklers and pursuers and opening a titanic runaway toward the try area. Adding to his trickster side, his kicking game is an ace in a hole, driving the opposition back. Fans will fall immediately in love with him and demand that he become an A-List unit for Spain.

José Lavos

Nationality: Portuguese
Position: Tighthead prop​
Age: 18 (18/05/2005)
Club: GDS Cascais (Portugal)
Capped: for Portugal U18

Francisco Fernandes and Anthony Alves might be on their way out of the professional game, but Portuguese fans shouldn’t panic, as there are a couple of new “big boys” scratching the international scene. Tighthead prop Lavos is one of them, and after another successful run in the U18 Championship, he is ready to reach new heights.

A gifted scrummager, Lavos can be a driving force for his team either in the set-piece or out in open play, as his pace and agility are just special and out of the ordinary. Ah, a last-minute detail… he also played as a lock and loose forward. A Portuguese army knife!

Luka Khorbaladze

Nationality: Georgia
Position: Full-back / Wing
Age: 19 (10/03/2024)
Club: Lyon (Top14)
Capped: for Georgia U20

He might have arrived in France later than Niniashvili, but Khorbaladze has the potential to be as good as his teammate and in due time, he will prove it to everyone. With insane and unreal handling and feet skills, the outside back is just a delicious mystery that most defenders don’t know how to unravel.

Combining those skills with his speed, acceleration, and lethal pace makes Khorbaladze of the most promising units in the European Tier 2 scene and we wait for his “Lelos” debut after rocking in the U20 Rugby World Cup 2023 with three tries and helping Georgia defeat Argentina and Italy.

Martim do Souto

Nationality: Portugal
Position: Tighthead prop
Age: 18 (14/04/2005)
Club: US Montauban (Pro D2)
Capped: for Portugal U18

Another Portuguese prop makes the list, and deservedly so, as Do Souto is on track to become a rising star for the “Lobos”. He got noticed at a very early age because of his scrummaging work, aggressive tackling and poaching skills, and dominant physicality. In 2022 US Montauban recruited the prop for their crabos team, and he made his debut for the espoirs in 2023, a small proof of his outstanding potential. Do Souto will certainly become a special player for Portugal in the near future, and you might want to keep your attention on him.

Théo Adaba

Nationality: Belgium
Position: Centre
Age: 20 (13/02/2020)
Club: US Montauban (Pro D2)​
Capped: for Belgium U20

Unreal offloading skills are the best way to start talking about Adaba, Belgium’s and Montauban’s prolific centre who will certainly grab the Test match spotlight in 2024. His input was vital for how well Belgium did in the 2023 U20 Rugby Europe Championship, launching a series of offensive plays that set the game on fire. But Adaba isn’t only superb in attack, as his tactical approach has stopped his team from conceding metres or tries. He is the full set and only needs to keep progressing to become one of the most enthusiastic and impactful units in the European Tier two landscape.

Sebastien Tofan

Nationality: Romania
Position: Centre
Age: 17 (2006)
Club: CSS Barlad (Romania)
Capped: for Romania U18

Tofan is the only Romanian player making up the list, and there are a couple of good reasons for his inclusion: leadership, defensive ability, and ball carrying skills. At this point, it might sound repetitive, but Tofan is a shoo-in in the most promising European players, and his displays in the U18 Championship in the XV and 7s were highlighted in Romanian media. He is eccentric, exciting, and a true dynamo; all things that Romania needs if they want to challenge Georgia, Portugal and Spain in the future.

Alvaro García

Nationality: Spain
Position: Hooker
Age: 20 (22/08/2023)
Club: Stade Français (Top 14)
Capped: for Spain U20

What to say about one of the finest young hookers in the whole of Europe? Captain García led Spain to conquer the World Rugby Trophy 2023 and no other deserved it more than him.

His work-rate, sacrifice, physical delivery, and blasting tackles have been inspirational and captured Stade Français’ attention, who signed the hooker back in 2022. He still has a couple of hurdles ahead, but his potential is ridiculous, and he will be part of the Spanish setup in 2024 or 2025.

Adam Zapedowski

Nationality: Poland
Position: Lock
Age: 17
Club: Union Bordeaux-Bègles (Top 14)
Capped: for Poland U18

Tall as a tower, quicker than the wind, and more ferocious than any lion, he is Zapedowski, Poland’s biggest hope for the future. The lock was a commandeering presence in the U18 Championship, pushing tacklers like they were domino pieces and crashing valiantly to win the gain line over, and over again.

In 2023 the lock was called to be part of Poland’s senior training camp and signed with the French UBB, all of this achieved as a 17-year-old. He seems destined to rise to greatness, and the Top 14 is the next step for the Polish giant.

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