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Opinion

Ten youngsters who tore up 2020

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28th November, 2020
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2020 has been globally disrupted, but there was still ample opportunity for rugby to be played.

As the international year ends with the conclusion of both the Tri-Nations and Autumn Nations Cups, I select, in no particular order, some youngsters who lit up both the club and international scene.

1. Harry Wilson
A 20-year-old rookie handed his Test debut in Wellington in October, Harry Wilson has been one of Dave Rennie’s bright prospects this year. The Queensland Red eighth man has taken his stellar Super Rugby form into the Wallaby jersey.

Some have compared him to the next Kieran Read, a huge compliment to his soft and delicate hands. Aside from Wilson’s large frame, he has put in some massive shifts in defence and frequently puts in some brutal hits that ignite a crowd. A personal highlight for me was Wilson’s adaptability in being deployed in wider channels, which really utilised his handling and distributive ability – this worked immensely well on Wilson and Filipo Daugunu’s debuts in the 16-16 draw against New Zealand.

2. Jack Willis
England’s squad depth is becoming scary, especially given how young they are. Eddie Jones earlier complained of having no out-and-out opensides when he first took the England role, but now he has a plethora of them in Tom Curry, Sam Underhill, Ben Earl and now Jack Willis.

Jack Willis was in monstrous form as Wasps were runners-up in England. A breakdown juggernaut, his formidable stats included the fact he has secured 13 turnovers in 175 minutes of playing time. This was followed by a try on debut against Georgia. 2021 should be a big year for him.

3. Antoine Dupont
He may not be considered a youngster, but my word Dupont has been sensational this year. Since his debut in Test Rugby, many knew he had it all and 2020 showed us that he really can succeed. He was integral in France narrowly missing out on the Six Nations title. He was a standout performer in many games that saw France secure a ‘Grand Slam’ against the northern hemisphere teams, dispatching all four nations very convincingly with some tricky away trips to Cardiff and Murrayfield.

2023 is the target for Dupont to show us why he’s the very best in the business, but in my eyes he is world player of the year for 2020.

Antoine Dupont of France performs a box-kick

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

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4. Will Jordan
Watching him score two tries in as many minutes against Argentina gave me serious joy. Jordan showed his electrifying pace and agility playing either fullback or wing for the Crusaders in SR Aotearoa with six tries and countless spells of pure brilliance. He is the All Blacks’ answer to Ben Smith and will surely be among the first-choice wingers come 2023.

5. Gregory Alldritt
He has been massive for Les Bleus and he has flourished under Shaun Edwards’ defence system. Brilliant with the ball in hand and a menace in defence, Alldritt has been everywhere for a much-improved French pack. Like Dupont, he put the English and Irish forwards to the sword with his big frame and ability to launch some dominant tackles.

6. Romain Ntamack
He defines French flair. With his immaculate trim, Ntamack has formed an awesome axis with Dupont and one that is only going to get better. His goal kicking and in-play kicking is much improved and this has not stopped his flashes of searing line breaks or cheeky chip-in behinds.

7. Caleb Clarke
Scintillating SRA form led to his first All Blacks start at Eden Park, in which he earned Jonah Lomu comparisons. With an athletic build and great acceleratioon, Caleb Clarke is utterly fearsome with the ball in hand. He had ten defenders beaten in SRA with 348 metres in run carries.

Caleb Clarke fends off two Wallabies players

(Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)

8. Caelan Doris
It is some thing to dislodge CJ Stander from the number 8 jersey, but that’s what young Doris did. He’s quickly led himself to Lions contention as well as improving his ability over the ball and can make some bruising carries.

What differentiates Doris from other back-rowers is his handling and sheer work-rate. He is a tad light for a traditional 6/8 at 106 kg but his engine allows Ireland to benefit from having an agile additional fetcher.

9. Louis Rees-Zammit
The Wales and Gloucester flier has burst onto the scene and scored a hat trick for Gloucester at the age of 18. His nurturing into Test rugby will be difficult in a shaky Wales outfit, but Wayne Pivac’s style of expansive rugby could be one that benefits him. Given that George North and Liam Williams are ageing, LRZ is the future for Welsh rugby. Rees-Zammit and Jonny May on wings for Gloucester is a deadly combination.

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10. Hoskins Sotutu
Last but not least, Hoskins Sotutu was electric in SRA. A valid option to play 6 or 8 for the All Blacks, at 22 Sotutu is ready to be fully thrown into the cauldron. His showing of number 8 passing was exemplary in a try against Australia earlier this season.

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