World Rugby

Ten URC Stars Set For An International Breakthrough In 2023

Ten URC Stars Set For An International Breakthrough In 2023

Ten united rugby championship stars set for international rugby breakthroughs in 2023 ahead of the Rugby World Cup.

Jan 3, 2023 by Philip Bendon
Ten URC Stars Set For An International Breakthrough In 2023

As is the way with professional sports, the midpoint of a season can often prove to be the point at which heralded newcomers either stake their claim or fade into the abyss. 

For the 2022/23 United Rugby Championship season the above statement could not be more accurate as round eleven reaffirmed the belief in a number of ‘young guns’.

Rugby Union as a whole is a rather cyclical sport that tends to operate on a four-year rotation as international teams build their programs around the Rugby World Cup.

In a rather neat format, the emergence of young players who are ushered in just as elder statesmen move on often adds an extra layer of excitement to the international calendar.

As fans mull over who will be the next great player for their country, the ten youngsters below all have the potential to make their mark just in time for the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

Antoine Frisch – Munster & Ireland 

French born Frisch’s rise through the Munster ranks must surely have exceeded any expectations that the powers that be at the province had prior to his signing.

Having signed former All Black turned Tongan international Malakai Fekitoa as their marquee signing in the summer, Munster Rugby released glowing statements about the progress of their new star.

Whilst the commotion surrounding Fekitoa ripped through the province like a wildfire, Frisch began to make his mark on Irish Rugby on the rather under the radar Emerging Ireland tour.

As Munster trudged through a disappointing opening few months, the switch from Fekitoa to Frisch aligned with a drastic change in their fortunes. Starting with their dominant victory over South Africa A in Cork, Munster would promote Frisch to the role of first choice number 13.

Since then, he has been nothing short of sublime and is on pace to be the best Munster centre since the great Jean de Villers back in 2009/10.

Whilst Leinster star Garry Ringrose is rightly considered the first choice for the national side, Frisch has every chance to leapfrog Ulster’s James Hume for the role as back-up-cum-challenger to Ringrose heading to the World Cup. 


Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu – DHL Stormers & South Africa

So nearly a Springbok in the Autumn Nations Series, Mngomezulu had his career fast tracked in large part due to the goal kicking woes of the national team.

His late call-up whilst rightly considered to be a bolt from nothing was built on the back of his explosion onto the scene in the URC with the Stormers.

At 20-years-old the flyhalf-cum-centre already possesses an educated boot to go with his pinpoint passing and electric running game.

Feinberg-Mngomezulu broke through initially as a schoolboy star out of Bishops Diocesan College in Cape Town and represented Western Province throughout the age grade system.

Eligible for both England through his father and South Africa through his mother, the Springbok coaching staff will want to cap the young star in the coming season to avoid any deflection away from the green jersey.

Before any international ambitions are realised however he will need to push Stormers incumbent and newly capped Springbok Manie Libbok for the starting role in Cape Town.

As the Stormers hit the road for a mini-European tour, Feinberg-Mngomezulu could make serious inroads with strong performances against tough European teams in the Glasgow Warriors and London Irish.


Ruan Venter – Emirates Lions & South Africa

A giant amongst giants, 20-year-old Ruan Venter is the latest in a long line of bone collecting South African backrows.

At 6’6” and 265lbs, Venters looks set to be the next coming of his club mate Willem Alberts.

Having seen himself shoot to viral fame earlier this season as he swatted away Scottish star Hamish Watson in the same manner a Buffalo blasts a pesky Hyena. Venter has gone on to become a regular starter for the Lions this season and could well be the find of the season for South African Rugby.

One hurdle facing Venter is the sheer depth in quality that South Africa possess in the backrow department. With up to at least 15 international standard options of which two would like to make a World twenty-three, the odds are against the Lions star.

On the flipside of this argument is the Springbok coaching staff’s propensity to operate under the ‘if you’re good enough, you’re old enough’ philosophy in conjunction with their fear of losing talent to European countries. Thus, these two factors combined with further impressive performances could see Venter become a Springbok before the World Cup rolls around.


Jack Crowley – Munster & Ireland

Possibly the most fascinating character on this list for the sheer fact that Irish captain Jonathan Sexton has not had a player capable of replacing him enter the fray in at least a decade.

Whilst Crowley is far from the finished article, early signs are so promising that Irish coach Andy Farrell leapfrogged him ahead of several more established options for the Autumn International Series.

Currently vying for the red number ten shirt with Joey Carbery and Ben Healy, Crowley’s poise and willingness to have a cut at the opposition are just two of the characteristics that make him a perfect modern day flyhalf option.

From a physical standpoint Crowley is not averse to mixing it up defensively and has been seen dominating at the tackle point and even poaching a few rucks so far this season.

Such has been Crowley’s progression that he in conjunction with Carbery look likely to be the two vying for the number ten shirt in the upcoming Six Nations as Sexton left Leinster’s recent clash with a tasty hit to the jaw.

Getting a run of games is necessary for both players and given Crowley’s only start came in Ireland’s recent victory over Australia the opportunity to play multiple games in a row should only further boost his confidence on the international stage.


Ignacio Mendy – Benetton & Argentina 

Benetton’s one cap Puma burst onto the scene in this season’s URC as a slippery running fullback-cum-winger in a similar mould to New Zealand’s Beauden Barrett.

Whilst Mendy is far from the final product that Barrett is, the comparison between the two remains relevant. Both players operate under a run first approach with the ability to control the ball on the boot at full pace.

Mendy’s two tries against Glasgow early in the season in what were very tricky conditions with the rain pouring down from the heavens truly highlighted his ball handling ability.

Heralded as a future star by World Rugby three years ago, Mendy would go on to make his name on the 7s circuit before heading to Benetton.

Now plying his trade in a top level league, it is a matter of time before the young Puma will be a household name on the international stage.


Sam Costelow – Scarlets & Wales

Like Ireland, the Welsh number ten shirt has by and large been held down by current captain Dan Biggar since he made his debut back in 2008. Outside of the odd challenge from players such as Rhys Priestland and Gareth Anscombe, Biggar has rarely been challenged as his 102 test caps attest to.

In Costelow, Wales now appear to have produced a young number ten with the aptitude for test rugby.

At 5’8” and 181lbs, Costelow does not pose an intimidating figure yet his defence to date has been solid as he now looks to have taken control of the starting role for the Scarlets.

Having grown into the starting role as the season has gone on, the young playmaker has put some scintillating performances on tape, most notable his player of the match showing against Bayonne in the Challenge Cup.

It will be interesting just how he factors into the Welsh set-up given Warren Gatland’s return as head coach following Wayne Pivac’s dismissal.

Now just ten months out from the Rugby World Cup 2023 tournament, should Costelow fit into Gatland’s plan it is likely that he will feature heavily in the upcoming Six Nations.


Cameron Hutchison – Edinburgh & Scotland 

Certainly, the bolter of this list, Cameron Hutchison has taken the road less travelled to make it with a URC side.

Having been cut from the Scottish system following a highly successful age grade career, Hutchison found himself in French Rugby’s third division before earning a shot with Edinburgh.

Cut from the same cloth as the recently capped Sione Tuipulotu, Hutchinson offers Scottish coach Gregor Townsend another jumbo-sized midfielder capable of puncturing holes in opposition defences.

At a shade over 6ft and weighing in at 230lbs, Hutchison is in the mould of a modern day with the ability to play in either the inside or outside centre role. Despite being a physical operator, it is Hutchison’s swift feet that sees him find soft shoulders and subtle offloading game that most stand out.

Making his season bow in round 11’s loss to Glasgow, Hutchison has a way to go before getting an international call up. Should he get a run of games with Edinburgh, the potential to make his way into the Scottish set-up throughout the pre–World Cup tests is certainly there.


Jamie Osborne – Leinster & Ireland 

Yet another star in the making from the World class Leinster academy set-up, at 6’4” and 220lbs, Osborne is perhaps Ireland’s most physically imposing back three player to break through since Jacob Stockdale burst onto the scene.

Equally adept at either fullback, wing or centre, Osborne has been one of the finds over the past few seasons and his versatility is a trait coveted by international coaches the world over.

Clearly his ability to play all three positions has caught the eye of Ireland boss Andy Farrell who selected him as part of the Emerging Ireland tour earlier in the season.

Since then, Osborne has been pushing hard to become a regular in the Leinster set-up despite facing the obvious challenge of competing with top level internationals in all three positions.

In a similar vein to Hutchison, Osborne’s most likely path to an international debut in 2023 will come in the pre-World Cup tests. This being said should he continue to get the nod in the Leinster matchday 23s he will be in with a real chance at making the Six Nations squad given the bulk of the squad is likely to come from Leinster. 


Ollie Smith – Glasgow Warriors & Scotland

Scotland’s exciting new fullback comes to the international scene facing a similar challenge to that of Crowley and Costelow in that he has to displace a Scottish legend.

Standing in Smith’s way is the formidable presence of former Scottish captain Stuart Hogg who is on the verge of making his 100th international appearance.

Despite this, Smith has taken to international Rugby like a duck to water making his debut against Argentina in the June test series before getting the nod for the Autumn Series test against Australia.

In both games Smith was a positive presence and showed off his full array of skills most notably his ability to slip a timely pass whilst running at full speed.

Against Australia his well taken try was a glittering display of his sublime balance and explosive power off the mark.

At just 22-years-old Smith has a long career ahead of him and looks to have every chance of pushing Hogg for Scottish number 15 shirt heading into the World Cup.

Whilst certainly a fullback, Smith has shown his ability to operate in the centres which could prove useful to his chances of making the World Cup squad.

Before the World Cup however comes the Six Nations where Smith will have an opportunity to show what he can do against the best sides in Europe. 


Rio Dyer – Dragons & Wales

Having burst onto the scene by making a try scoring debut against New Zealand albeit in a heavy Welsh defeat, Dyer showed he had the makings of a top-notch international winger.

The 23-year-old combines blistering pace with a deft sidestep that has defenders seeing ghosts as he glides by. 

Deceptively tall at 6’1” Dyer is relatively slight at 185lbs thus breaking the mould of Welsh wingers over the past decade many of whom have been well over 220lbs.

Dyer falls into the category of whether he fits the Gatland mould, taking into account that the new Welsh boss was the coach who regularly picked the physically dominant players such as George North and Alex Cuthbert as his wingers.

Should Gatland decide to reward Dyer’s outstanding club form, Wales will have two of the quickest finishers in World Rugby with Louis Rees-Zammit occupying the opposite flank.

Written by Philip Bendon