Top 10 Newcomers To Watch For At The 2022 Rugby Championship
Top 10 Newcomers To Watch For At The 2022 Rugby Championship
Here's a look at 10 of the brightest talents at The Rugby Championship, who have yet to play in the competition, but should make a big impact.
Southern Hemisphere Rugby is back with a bang Aug. 6, as New Zealand renews its feud with old rival South Africa.
Both sides come into the fixture in need of significant improvements, having both suffered historic home defeats in the July test window.
Ian Foster's All Blacks arrive having lost a test series at home to Ireland for the first time, becoming the first All Blacks team in the professional era to lose a series in New Zealand. Losing both the second and third tests brought the All-Black camp to a grinding halt, while making an already difficult task even tougher.
World Champion South Africa will be smarting after dropping a test to a resurgent Welsh team.
Jacques Nienaber's squad did manage to win the series 2-1, saving its best performance for last in the deciding test. The Boks will be only too aware that a wounded All-Blacks squad has the ability to turn them over at home if they are not on their "A" game.
On the other side of the draw, Australia travels to Argentina to take on Los Pumas in two tests. The Wallabies, like the All Blacks, suffered a 2-1 series loss at the hands of England, whilst Argentina eked out a 2-1 series victory over Scotland.
Never before have all four teams come into the tournament under such pressure to perform. Despite their struggles against the Northern Hemisphere's best, the four Southern-Hemisphere giants still possess some of the very best players in the game.
Joining the seasoned veterans are several young guns set to make their championship debuts.
Here's a look at 10 of the brightest talents, who have yet to play in the competition, but should have big impacts for their respective sides.
Suliasi Vunivalu - Australia
The former National Rugby League superstar is one of the most exciting prospects on the 2022 Wallabies squad.
Having made his debut off the bench in the Wallabies 21-17 loss to England, international fans have yet to really get a feel for what Vunivalu is capable of. At 26-years-old, he has been around the block in terms of professional sport, with his early education coming via the highly successful Melbourne Storm rugby league set-up.
He's already an international in rugby league, having played for Fiji in 10 test matches. The bright lights of international Rugby will not phase the big Fijian, as his strike rate of 12 tries in his 10 tests previously demonstrated.
Making the decision to switch back to Rugby Union in 2019, Vunivalu made his Union bow for the Queensland Reds in 2021. Despite not playing the game since he was 18 years old, he impressed immediately, scoring two tries off the match in his side's loss to the Highlanders.
Standing at 6'4" and weighing in at 220 pounds, Vunivalu is a real threat in contesting kicks, whilst also being incredibly effective when given even half a chance on the counterattack.
In a squad still figuring out its best combinations in almost every area of the team, the potential for Vunivalu to make the wing berth his own is right there.
Just over a year out from the World Cup, there's potential to form a partnership with his former Melbourne Storm teammate Marika Koroibeti and Reds teammate Jordan Petaia. The Wallabies could head into the tournament with one of the very best back threes in the game.
Evan Roos - South Africa
The much-heralded heir apparent to incumbent Duane Vermeulen's number eight shirt is having a season to remember.
He was named as player of the season in the United Rugby Championship, spearheading a devastatingly effective Stormers pack. Roos would go from unknown at the start of the season to Springbok by the time the international window rolled around.
It hasn't always been plain sailing for the hulking backrow, who signed for Natal Sharks following his graduation from powerhouse Rugby school Paarl Boys High.
Roos saw very little game time during his time in Durban, in no small part due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Times had become so tough that Roos came incredibly close to walking away from the sport at the age of just 21.
Being overlooked for both the Sharks Super Rugby unlocked and Currie Cup sides lit a fire within Roos. Making the difficult decision to leave the Sharks, despite not achieving what he had hoped, his return to Western Province and the Stormers would be a career-altering decision.
Renowned for his deadly ball-carrying ability and physicality in the tackle, Roos is a throwback style number eight in the mold of former Springbok Bobbie Skinstad.
Benefitting from the physicality of his Springbok colleagues, should he be given the chance in the Championship, he may well establish himself as the Bok number eight heading to the World Cup.
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck - New Zealand
Another former NRL superstar, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck was regarded as one of the very best Rugby League players in the world.
His standing in the game was never higher than in 2018, when he became the first player from the New Zealand Warriors to win the prestigious Daily M medal for the best player in the NRL.
Like many New Zealand backs, RTS is phenomenal with the ball in hand. A physical, fast and powerful runner, his debut season in Super Rugby was highlighted by his barnstorming runs and subtle offloads.
Whilst he is no youngster at 29 years old, he remains one of the most exciting newcomers this season.
For the first time in close to 20 years, the All Blacks midfield is unnervingly unsettled, which is a positive for RTS.
Playing alongside his Blues teammates Beauden Barrett and Reiko Ioane could well form a sensational 10,12,13 combination. Should this happen the All Blacks will possess one of the most potent attacking midfields in the international game.
Leicester Fainga'anuku - New Zealand
New Zealand's next gargantuan winger will be looking to steady the ship following his rather inauspicious start to international rugby.
Making his debut against Ireland, Fainga'anuku would become embroiled in a controversy surrounding refereeing standards in the game.
In an attempted charge down of Ireland winger Mack Hansen's kick, Fainga'anuku clattered into Hansen in a reckless manner. At the time, many fans and pundits felt the incident warranted a red card, rather than the yellow shown.
Though he struggled mightily with the pinpoint Irish kicking and attacking game, he was one of the very best players in Super Rugby.
The question, of course, will be if Fainga'anuku possess the aptitude to thrive in the cutthroat international rugby environment.
A question this Championship certainly will answer, as first up are the world champions.
Should he return to his Super Rugby form, the All Blacks will possess a player in a similar mold to Julian Savea and Joe Rokococko.
Grant Williams - South Africa
Perhaps a lesser-known name on this list, the scrumhalf-cum-winger is lightning in a bottle. His slight frame is reminiscent of his Springbok teammate Cheslin Kolbe, and the comparisons don't stop there.
He possesses a stepping game that could break ankles and a pace to leave a defender for dead. Throw in his versatility, a trait that is highly valued by this Bok management, and Williams could well be the find of the Championship.
South Africa's famed "bomb squad," which sees six forwards on the bench, allowing a near full change of the pack in the second half, and ensures that a premium is placed on the two backline players being able to cover multiple positions.
As a specialist for the scrumhalf or wing berths, Williams faces an uphill battle, due to the quality of players available to the Bok coaching ticket.
In this instance the trump card he holds is his versatility to cover both positions from the bench, setting himself up nicely as a true contender for the number 22 shirt.
Should he get the nod for the bench spot, other teams defenses better do their research and be ready for the threat he brings with ball in hand.
Domingo Miotti - Argentina
A rare inexperienced player in the Argentina squad this season, the 26-year-old Miotti will be challenging veteran Nicholas Sanchez for the starting number 10 shirt.
Coming through the Argentinean age grade systems, Miotti got his first senior opportunity with Argentina sevens squad, before signing for the Super Rugby franchise the Jaguares.
Miotti is a very different style of player to the traditional Argentinean fly-half. Rather than a true kicking force, his first instinct is to attack with ball in hand.
Less of dominant figure in the flyhalf berth, Miotti is more of a facilitator of play offering more freedom to the players around him to step up as first receiver. This has led to him being on the tail end of some fantastic scores as a support runner.
He's currently playing his club rugby with Scottish URC side Glasgow Warriors. Miotti's attacking game has been further enhanced due to the Warriors willingness to employ an attacking game.
It isn't just a strong running game that Miotti possess, but also a slick passing and offloading game, which creates significant opportunities for those around him.
Building toward next year's World Cup, head coach Michael Cheika will be looking to build squad depth throughout the tournament, which is great news for Miotti, who should see significant playing time.
Folau Fakatava - New Zealand
Arguably the most highly touted scrumhalf to come into the All Black setup since the incumbent Aaron Smith, Fakatava appears set to be the future of position for the three-time world champions.
He was offered a scholarship to the prestigious rugby school, Hasting College in New Zealand, due to his immensely impressive performances for the Tongan underage sides.
The nippy scrumhalf has been learning from the best, as Smith has mentored him at both
Super Rugby level with the Highlanders, and now with the All Blacks.
With the prototypical build for a scrumhalf standing at 5'10" and weighing in at a shade over 175 pounds, Fakatava's greatest strength is his ability to decimate defenses from the base of the ruck.
His pace around the breakdown sets him apart and is crucial in the modern game, as the rush defense continues to put pressure on team's attacking games. Having a constant threat like Fakatava will keep teams honest as they have to marshal the ruck to avoid being ripped open.
Once he has made a break, it is his ability to pop an offload or throw an accurate pass that makes Fakatava truly special. So often a play comes to a halt when a player cannot accurately get the ball away.
With the Springboks just around the corner, Fakatava's ability to up the tempo from the bench could well cause the world champions some serious issues.
Having now made his debut off the bench against Ireland, a strong Championship could cement his role as the backup to Smith ahead of next year's World Cup.
Elrigh Louw - South Africa
Whilst all of the fanfare was correctly directed at Evan Roos throughout the URC season, Louw was developing his trade under the watchful eye of World Cup-winning coach Jake White at the Blue Bulls.
The 22-year-old is an absolute physical specimen, coming in at 6'5" and weighing a whopping 250 pounds. Despite his significant physique, Louw is incredibly mobile around the park and was utterly dominant at the contact point all season.
Making his debut in the first test against Wales, Louw's game is reminiscent of his Springbok teammate, the former world player of the year Pieter-Steph Du Toit. Currently plying his trade in the number eight shirt, Louw is equally adept in the number seven shirt and offers the Boks yet another giant line-out option.
As Du Toit continues to battle with finding his form following career threatening injuries, Louw could find himself being deployed significantly from the bench as a like-for-like replacement for Du Toit.
A key component to the Springboks World Cup victory in 2019 was their bench, which would physically beat down tiring opposition defenses.
There can be no doubting that Louw will see time as a long-term starter. His physical build and skillset could see him fill a similar role to former Springbok World Cup winner Danie Rossouw as utility forward. Once again, a trait that is seen as highly valuable by the current Springbok management.
Nick Frost - Australia
A prototypical second row, the 6'9" giant is a godsend for the Wallabies forward pack.
He's physically imposing, dynamic with ball in hand and a menace at the line-out, Frost has offered the Wallabies a true second row to build around, in both the short- and long-term.
Having recently recommitted to Australian Rugby and the Brumbies through the end of the 2025 season, his development will be crucial for the Wallabies chances at next year's World Cup.
Not short of suitors from both European and Japanese clubs, his re-signing is a major boost to Australian Rugby as a whole. As the hosts of the 2027 World Cup, the Wallabies will hope Frost could have 80+ test caps under his belt and be hitting his true peak as the tournament gets underway.
With the behemoth figure of Will Skelton still in the international wilderness, Frost will be tasked with filling the role of enforcer throughout the Championship.
That by no means is an easy task with experienced operators, such as Eben Etzabeth, Brodie Retallick and Tomas Lavinini to contend with. If early indications are anything to go by, Frost looks set to flourish in the international game.
Deon Fourie - South Africa
A unique rugby story, the 35-year-old has enjoyed an Indian summer of sorts, as he enters the twilight of his career.
As a versatile hooker-cum-backrow, Fourie will be tasked with filling the gap left by the dynamic Schalk Brits. Unusually for South African forwards, Fourie is not a physically imposing figure, standing at 5'9" and weighing just a touch over 220 pounds.
Despite his relatively lighter frame, his physicality and work rate around the breakdown have made him a menace for opposition attacks.
In a similar mold to former Springbok poacher Henrich Brussow, Fourie is neigh on impossible to move once he is latched onto the ball. As a leading force in the turnover category in the URC, the Springbok management will hope he can be just as effective on the international stage.
Benefitting from the physicality from the likes of Siya Kolisi, Eben Etzabeth and others, Fourie's role likely will involve getting over the ball early following a tackle. This would help see an already stingy Springbok defense go to another level and could go a long way to unsettling the potent backlines they will face in this season's Championship.
Written by Philip Bendon
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