New Zealand has become a rugby player factory, churning out a lot of talent ever since the game of rugby existed. While we admire the play of our current All Blacks, it’s the future of New Zealand rugby which has many excited. 1st XV rugby has received a lot of exposure over the last few years, allowing the fans to grow in the career and development of these future All Blacks. With the New Zealand Secondary Schools team currently facing off with old foes Australia, guest writer Stizzle runs down his Top 6 New Zealand U20 prospects in the first edition of The Set of Six.
1) Rieko Ioane – Mark my words, by 2018 this kid will be an All Black (if not sooner). He’s already been fortunate enough to train with the top side and has both Super Rugby and Sevens experience. The current NZ midfield stock is solid but lacks explosiveness. And oh boy does Ioane give explosiveness. He can cut open a team at any moment with his blistering pace, size and strength. Inevitably this kid has all the tools to become one of the greats.
2) Sevuloni Reece – Has made a huge impact for the Waikato team this season, with his turn of pace and ability to slice open a team with a deft touch or lazy bit of footwork, memories of Tim Nanai-Williams and Sitiveni Sivivatu come to mind. I expect he’ll find himself in the Chief’s side next season, and will look to push on from there.
3) Alex Fidow – Very rarely are we blessed with witnessing a prop slice open a team with a bit of footwork and pump his way off downfield with the ability to bounce off multiple defenders on one go. This bloke can do that, in the new era of Dane Coles mould front rowers who not only cover their core propping and hooking roles at the rucks, set piece & breakdowns, but can also burst open a game with tremendous pace and vision. Fidow fits this mould, managing to score over 50 tries in his years of 1st XV rugby. Recently he dominated the under 19 national tournament and has featured for the Wellington Lions. Expect him to burst onto the super rugby scene very soon.
4) Peter Umaga-Jensen – The Umaga-Jensen twins were the poster boys of 1st XV rugby in 2015, putting the world on notice with their pace, strength, size, determination and ability to cover all backline positions… quite frankly they would break several tackles with every touch of the ball- this helped provide a deadly trio along with Fidow to dominate the Hurricanes 1st XV region. Peter is currently starting for the Wellington Lions at fullback and is growing with each performance. Expect big things from this kid next season as he inevitably is given opportunities with the Hurricanes and Under 20 sides.
5) Harry Plummer – Still a schoolboy, it may be surprising to find him on this list, but he is… this kid can do it all. Big and strong for a 10, he’s able to not only provide a physical presence on defence but can easily take it to the line and find himself creating holes with his footwork and ability to beat the defender. His performance off the boot is second to none in 1st XV, and the NZSS selectors realise this- selecting him even with his injury woes over recent years.
6) Jordie Barrett – The hype around this talented utility back and Barrett sibling is justified. His brother may currently be the best player in the world but this kid could be better. At 6’4 and 95 kilos he’s a big fella and has certainly proved himself a promising talent in the short period we’ve seen him. He’s able to provide a cool, calm, collected and physical presence, whether it be at fullback or in the midfield. He has a great rugby brain and in the Conrad Smith mould- rarely makes errors. To put it simply, he can do everything and even provides talent off the tee.
Caleb Clarke – Two years in the NZSS’s squad should give a bit of insight into the talent of this kid. Powerful and incredibly fast, he’s sure to make a huge impact in the future.
Josh Mckay – Another promising 10 in the Damien Mckenzie mould- will likely feature for the Under 20’s next season.
Isaia Walker-Leawere – A huge man, great mobility and solid at core roles- constantly gets over the advantage line.
Asafo Aumua – Recently scored a hat-trick for the Wellington Lions, certainly a modern front rower with surprising pace and ability to beat defenders.
Bailyn Sullivan – Has that fluid running motion that is beautiful to the eye. Tall and rangy, he glides through defenses and has great version.