Young Rugby Players of 2008
Brent Pope profiles the up and coming, exciting young rugby players to watch in the 2008 Six Nations and the European Cup.
Danny Cipriani is an outrageously talented player. He has all the fundamentals for a great out-half: he's fast, he defends well and he kicks the ball well in open play and from dead ball situations. What sets him apart from other players is that he is extremely confident in his own ability; like Australia's David Campese in the early 1990s. Some of his performances for Wasps in the European Cup have been
oustanding. But his confidence can be his downfall at times - he takes risks in certain parts of the field that other players wouldn't. Whether he contiunues to get away with that at internationl level is difficult to say. But Cipriani is certainly a huge talent, not just among the Six Nations players but in the world game at the moment. Especially at his age, only 20 years.
Although Llanelli performed poorly, the 21 year-old Stoddart is the most exciting new Welsh player in the European Cup this year. He proved for Llanelli that he's an outstanding counter attacker – he's the one player that can open up defences, and the only player who seemed willing to counter in games against Munster. When Wales need a player like that, it is surprising that Gatland hasn't seen his talents and included him in the provisional 28-man squad. He could very well feature later on in the championship.
A big kicking out-half who will come into the Six Nations squad. France have struggled in this position over the past couple of years. They have tried Freddie Michellac, David Skrela but really need to settle on someone this year.
James Hook is Wales' biggest talent at present. He is an excellent out-half and a cool goal-kicker as he proved last year when he kicked winning goals under extreme pressure. Hook will probably start at out-half this year at the expense of Stephen Jones and it will be interesting to watch his development this year given he could possibly start every game. But if, for some reason, Gatland doesn't start him at out-half, he may play Hook in the centres.
Haskell is the outstanding English loose forward in the European Cup. Extremely good on the ground and in the tackle, Haskell puts in the work to claim as much loose ball that he can - a skill and energy that some modern flankers tend not to have. Tenacious in defence, as soon as Haskell makes a tackle he is straight up on his feet trying to win the ball back. He is extremely strong considering he's not a huge player physically. He has lots of power and strength and gets across the gain line when you least expect it.
In the absence of Denis Hickie and with Shane Horgan out of the Leinster side due to injury, Luke Fitzgerald was given a real chance this year to show his talent, and he took it. He has developed into a fine winger, with electric speed and a great step off both feet. Like Cipriani for England, and Stephen Kearney for Ireland, Luke is extremely confident in his own ability. He still has to learn the rudiments of wing play at the highest level, but he acknowledges this himself. It is being touted among rugby pundits that he would be suited as a centre. He will play this Six Nations on the wing but he may well feature in coming years in the centre as a replacement for Brian O'Driscoll. Certainly one to watch and will get game time.
Beattie is playing particularly well for Glasgow in the European Cup, and now has the chance to cement his position in the Scotland team. Jason White is back but there are positions up for grabs in the Scottish back row. Beattie is a big, strong, physical player, and one to watch. Extremely aggressive, he is a good line breaker and gets well over the gain line.
Godman has led Edinburgh very well this year in the out-half position. He is intelligent, has a good half-break, is an excellellent tactical kicker and good goal kicker. He will pribably start at out-half for Scotland. At home he is believed to be the best out-half Scotland has had in a number of years. Scotland have struggled to fill the most important position on the field having tried a few players. They will settle on him, especially given his performances for a successful Edinburgh side in the European Cup this year.
There must to be a starting place Heaslip this year. He has been the outstanding Irish loose forward in the European Cup. He is young, athletic, mobile, has excellent ball skills and is great in the line out. His work-rate is massive: whenever there's a breakdown, Heaslip is there; if there's an inside pass to take, Heaslip is there; where ever the backs go, Heaslip is there in support. The only thing he needs to improve is his ability to control ball at the back of the scrum and the ability to get over the gain line. But other than that he's a huge talent.
At 6 ft 3 in and over 16 stone, Mike Phillips is a big physical player who is unusually adept at the scrum-half position. As second choice to Dwyane Peel for several years he hasn't had many starts for Wales, but this could change in 2008. Wales' new coach, Warren Gatland has already indicated that Peel and Stephen Jones are not necessarily safe as first choice half-backs and Phillips could team up with James Hook in the starting positions. Phillips has the ability to bring something more physical to the game for Wales, especially in wet, stodgy conditions.
Like Cipriani, Flood is one of a new breed of exciting English backs. England have a batch of young talent coming through that Ireland doesn't. The likes of Geraghty, Strettle, Flood and Allen. Flood is an intelligent player. He doesn't always crash and bash the defensive line like Mike Tindall did. Flood plays smart rugby: he kicks intelligently when he should, he has a good turn of speed, and remains cool under pressure which is remarkable given his young age – 22 years.