French Top 14

Five Under-25 Backs To Watch In The 2023-2024 Investec Champions Cup

Five Under-25 Backs To Watch In The 2023-2024 Investec Champions Cup

Henry Arundell, Canan Moodie and others are among the names to keep an eye on when the EPCR Champions Cup kicks off its 2023-2024 edition this weekend.

Dec 8, 2023 by Briar Napier
Five Under-25 Backs To Watch In The 2023-2024 Investec Champions Cup

Young guns are making names for themselves on a worldwide stage across rugby, as evidenced in the recently completed Rugby World Cup, where multiple starlets announced their names to the world with standout performances for their countries.

When the EPCR Champions Cup returns this weekend and the pool stage gets underway, many of those same players — now wearing club shirts — will be playing against one another, building off of the momentum they built in France.

World Cup winners, hat-trick scorers and more will be flying into, and around, defenders this weekend in Europe and South Africa’s top international club rugby competition, and if you couldn’t get enough of the emerging stars who caught your eye at the World Cup, now is your chance to catch more glimpses of those same players before they turn into bona fide superstars — regardless of age.

Here a look at five under-25 backs to keep your eyes on when the 2023-2024 edition of the EPCR Champions Cup gets underway this weekend:

Henry Arundell, Racing 92

If you want an idea of just how stunning Arundell can be on a rugby pitch and how highly regarded he is across the rugby world, just look back at the highlights from his eye-popping five-try game for England against Chile in his first Rugby World Cup appearance. 

Or his hat trick in his debut for Racing 92 a few weeks ago. Or his world-class score against Toulon last year while playing for London Irish, when he ran solo from his own try line and ripped Toulon’s defense to shreds. 

The point is this — Arundell is, has and will be a name to watch in rugby for a long, long time.

Joining the French giants in the summer after the Exiles fell into administration, Arundell has completely hit the ground running in the Top 14 for the league leaders. 

The 21-year-old scored four tries in three appearances (across 187 minutes of play, no less) since joining Racing, and he awaits his Champions Cup debut and a likely spot with England at the upcoming Six Nations early next year. 

Arundell could be the catalyst to a special season for Racing, and the scariest part is that Arundell has a lot of room to grow, even with the level he’s playing at now.

Canan Moodie, Bulls

The seemingly endless conveyor belt of world-class South African backs produces talent on pretty much a routine basis, and the 21-year-old Moodie looks to be the next man in a line of stars. 

A natural winger who has also shown flashes at fullback and center, Moodie, the second-youngest Springbok of all time, rose from relative obscurity in the Bulls Academy to being a starter during the club’s first season of play in the United Rugby Championship (2021-22).

His try on his senior international debut in the Rugby Championship against Australia in 2022 announced his presence to the world as a name to monitor, and Moodie lived up to the hype from that point forward. He scored eight times for the Bulls in the 2022-2023 URC season and made the Springboks’ World Cup squad, scoring a try in the tournament, as South Africa lifted its record-setting fourth Webb Ellis Cup in France earlier this year. 

The Bulls are hoping for more in their second go-round at the Champions Cup, after being eliminated in last year’s Round of 16. It was the first time the tournament was open to South African teams. 

Moodie might be the key to the Bulls making a longer run this time. 

Ange Capuozzo, Toulouse

One of the Italian national team’s best prospects, fullback Capuozzo — born and raised in France, having qualified for the Azzurri through his grandparents — won the World Rugby Men’s 15s Breakthrough Player of the Year in 2022 and came back from a nagging shoulder injury in 2023, which sidelined him for both club and country, to play for Italy at the World Cup, starting all four games and scoring twice. 

A crucial part of Toulouse’s lineup when healthy, Capuozzo scored against Bordeaux-Begles in his Top 14 return from the World Cup and found a try again against Perpignan in Round 6.

He should be a frequent fixture for the continental power, as Toulouse looks to capture its second Champions Cup title in four years this season and take the crown back from La Rochelle, which has won the past two first-place trophies. 

Full of pace and agility while being more than capable of weaving through defenders on his own, Capuozzo often plays much bigger than his 5-foot-10, 180-pound frame, as strong intelligence on the pitch, mixed his with his natural abilities, make him one of the most exciting players to watch in the world today — and a man who easily could turn into one of Italy’s most decorated players ever at club level, if his trajectory stays on the upward path.

Jack Crowley, Munster

Potentially in line to be Ireland’s fly-half of the future after the legendary Johnny Sexton — Ireland’s all-time leading point scorer and a former World Rugby Player of the Year — retired following the conclusion of the World Cup, the 23-year-old Crowley has learned from the best, getting a major declaration of confidence in his abilities when he was selected by coach Andy Farrell to then No. 1-ranked Ireland’s World Cup squad as a replacement No. 10. 

But there’s a reason why some have pinned him as Sexton’s successor: he’s just that good.

Munster’s first-choice fly-half was critical in helping The Red Army capture its first URC title since 2011 earlier this year, scoring a drop goal in the dying embers of a 16-15 win away at Leinster in the semifinals and starting (while booting through two conversions) in Munster’s 19-14 triumph over the Stormers in the final — two performances that undoubtedly helped him win Ireland’s Men’s Young Player of the Year award for 2023. 

Crowley has continued to be on a roll for Munster in the URC since returning from France and likely will make an appearance in his third Champions Cup with the club, looking to build further upon his growing resume as he pushes to possibly fill the void left behind by a national legend.

Louis Bielle-Biarrey, Bordeaux-Bègles

With offseason signing and world-class winger Damian Penaud tearing opposing lines apart for Bordeaux-Begles this year since joining the club from Clermont, you almost forget that his partner on the left at club level has been extremely impressive in his own right, and that’s a shame. 

The right people — like those running the French national team — are noticing what the 20-year-old Bielle-Biarrey can do, however, and after four tries at the World Cup and being nominated for the Breakthrough Player of the Year award (won by New Zealand’s Mark Telea), it’s safe to say Bielle-Biarrey, especially when you focus on him and the way that he plays during matches, is plenty good at putting his own name on the map. 

Having only made his senior debut at club level less than two years ago, Bielle-Biarrey (who became the youngest call-up for France at a World Cup) scored a hat trick for Bordeaux, then in Champions Cup play, and has only grown more comfortable in his role since, making 21 appearances for the club in Top 14 play a season ago and scoring twice in five domestic appearances for Bordeaux this year. 

With Penaud pairing him on the right, Bordeaux has one of the most dangerous 1-2 punches on the wing in Europe, and there are sure to be fireworks whenever the duo plays in the Champions Cup, so keep an eye out for Les Girondins and their high-flying attack throughout the competition.