Aussies plying their rugby trade overseas is nothing new, but increasingly it’s our young guns making the move in their prime, ruling them out of Wallabies selection.
This year we’ve started to see a high number of players at the start of their rugby career deciding to take the overseas route for differing reasons.
Let’s take a look some of the young uncapped players Rugby Australia and the Super Rugby AU franchises should keep a close eye on to monitor their development and bring back to our shores down the line.
Esei Ha’angana (Panasonic Wild Knights)
Haangana became the Rebels’ youngest ever debutant at 18 years and 15 days when he came off the bench against the Lions in 2017. Playing in the second row and with Matt Phillip heading to France in 2021, Ha’angana was set to be a firm fixture in the Rebels line-up next season alongside Trevor Hosea.
But instead he joined the Wild Knights in Ota City under former Wallabies coach Robbie Deans. Hopefully this move will provide regular match experience to take his career to the next level.
Harry Hockings (Suntory Sungoliath)
The backdrop to Hockings’s departure from the Reds was acrimonious, to say the least. His exit, along with that of second-row counterpart Izack Rodda, put a dent in both the Reds and Wallabies second-row stocks this year.
Standing at 206 centimetres and weighing in at around 120 kilograms, Hockings has a similar frame to the world’s leading second-rower, Brodie Retallick, and with the right coaching could become a big player for the Wallabies in the future.
Regular playing time in the Top League alongside compatriots Sean McMahon and Samu Kerevi can aid his development. However, with the Top League not beginning until January, it seems like a missed opportunity not to have played the Super Rugby AU in 2020 before heading overseas in a similar vein to Matt Phillip.
Due to the events that transpired around his departure, any integration back into Australia rugby could be a challenge, but with every Super Rugby AU team requiring more depth in the second row, Hockings will likely have plenty of offers on the table.
Isaac Lucas (Ricoh Black Rams)
Alongside teammates Hockings and Rodda, Lucas was the third player to part ways with the Reds after the Super Rugby side renegotiated contracts earlier this year due to the financial impact of COVID-19. Lucas has had a promising youth career and is widely seen to be the most talented of the Lucas siblings with potential to go on and become a Wallaby.
Splitting his time between the flyhalf and fullback positions at youth level and initially with the Reds, it is important that he focuses and develops in one position. He has likely been brought to the Black Rams as a direct replacement for fellow Aussie Berrick Barnes, who had been playing flyhalf.
Similarly to Hockings, he may have difficulty with winning over fans on any potential Australia return, but if he comes back a better player pushing for Wallabies selection again, he will have his choice of teams.
Louis Lynagh (Harlequins)
Lynagh has come through the English rugby system, resulting in him representing England in junior rugby. However, with his younger brother Tom recently signing a contract with the Reds and the legacy of his 72-cap father Michael in Australian rugby circles, this should be a player Rugby Australia keep a close eye on.
Like his brother, Lynagh is a product of the Harlequins youth team, and as a fullback he has shown an excellent awareness for the game. He’s a very explosive runner and astute defender, which has recently earned him a full debut for Harlequins.
Along with Australia, Lynagh is also eligible to represent both England and Italy at senior level. Out of contract at the end of 2021, there are rumours linking him with a move to Leicester Tigers, but it would be remise for Rugby Australia to not insert itself into the conversation to try and lure him to Super Rugby.
Izaia Perese (Bayonne)
There is no doubting the bags of rugby potential that Perese possesses, and it wasn’t that long ago that he was involved in a Wallabies squad as a development player while at the Reds. A cross-code move to rugby league with the Brisbane Broncos followed by an arrest for drugs possession has seen him move to Bayonne in France. An opportunity to be out of the Australian media spotlight and concentrate on his rugby could do him the world of good in the notoriously tough rugby environment of the Top 14.
So far in 2020 Perese has been getting reasonable game time at outside centre, and with the opportunity to mature, Australian rugby could reap the benefits in a few years time.
Harry Potter (Leicester Tigers)
Having lived in the UK for a decade before his family emigrated to Melbourne, Potter is eligible to represent both England and Australia. He played at NSW Country Eagles and Melbourne Rising in Australia’s National Rugby Championship before signing a professional contract with the Rebels in 2019. With the Rebels being blessed in the wing positions, the Leicester Tigers went on to sign Potter in the summer of 2020.
He made six appearances for the Tigers after the restart of the COVID-hit 2019-20 season across the wing and centre positions, claiming his first try in the Premiership game at Gloucester and then scoring in the European Challenge Cup semi-final in Toulon. Potter is joined at Leicester by former Brumby outside back Guy Porter, who similarly was born in the UK and moved to Australia at a young age coming through the Australian rugby system.
Charlie Rorke (Stade Francais)
Former Australian rugby schoolboys star and Canberra Raiders recruit Charlie Rorke hit the headlines recently when he was red-carded for an alleged squirrel grip on Benetton Treviso’s Leonardo Sarto while playing in his debut match for Stade Francais in the European Challenge Cup. Rorke is a well-known talent in Australian rugby circles after emerging as a star of the future in 2016 and 2017 while playing at St Ignatius’ College and for the NSW and Australian schoolboys teams.
Rorke was subject to a tug of war between codes and elected to sign with the Canberra Raiders in 2017. He signed with the North Sydney Bears in late 2019 but after the Canterbury Cup was cancelled in 2020 he joined Stade Francais this year and was playing in his first game in the back row when he was red-carded.
Pat Tafa (NEC Green Rockets)
A member of the 2018 and 2019 Junior Wallabies, Tafa is a powerful back-rower coming from a rugby family, with his father having played for Manu Samoa. With the many departures from the Waratahs in the back row, it would have seemed that Tafa would have had an opportunity in 2021 to stake a claim to a regular starting berth. However, plenty of game time in the Top League could provide him with the push to put him back on the radar of Australian Super Rugby teams.
Sione Tui (Stade Francais)
Another member of the 2019 Junior Wallabies, Tui was unable to break into the Rebels team in 2020 and in 2021 was likely to be behind flyers Marika Korobiete, Illy Vudogo, Lachie Anderson and Tom Pincus. Instead he has made his way to the French capital. Already utilised at both fullback and on the wing this season for Stade Francais, he is playing alongside former Rebels Telusa Veainu and Sefa Naivalu and has the chance to hone his skills learning from two top professionals.
Semisi Tupou (Panasonic Wild Knights)
Esei Ha’angana is joined in Gunma by former Rebels teammate Semisi Tupou. Aged just 18, Tupou also burst on to the Super Rugby scene early. A valued member of the Junior Wallabies side, Tupou would go on to make nine appearances for the Rebels after his first season of Super Rugby in 2017.
Unfortunately major injuries hampered Tupou’s ability to build on his impressive debut season and he found himself unable to force his way to be a regular starter. Regular game time in Japan will hopefully reignite Tupou’s career and help him find the form that made him a star to watch.
Jack Walsh (Exeter Chiefs)
The COVID pandemic resulted in Walsh, whose previous contract offer from the Waratahs was revoked, to look offshore for playing opportunities. That opportunity came courtesy of the Exeter Chiefs in South West England for the talented flyhalf. Under the tutelage of Rob Baxter and former flyhalf and now coach Gareth Steenson, Walsh will have the chance to develop his game as understudy to Sam Simmonds, who has been the stand out flyhalf in England in recent seasons but somehow is not part of Eddie Jones squad.
Walsh is eligible to represent not only Australia but also England and the USA through birth, so should he reach the level he is capable of, he will not be short of international attention.
Tamaiti Williams (Canterbury Crusaders)
The Perth-born prop stated out at the Kalamunda Rugby Club in Western Australia and also played in the same Western Australia age group team as Carlo Tizzano before heading across the ditch to complete his education at Saint Kentigern College in New Zealand. He is now recognised as one of the most promising props in world rugby, which has seen him selected for the New Zealand under-20s and New Zealand Maori squads.
He is likely to be a regular fixture in the Crusaders Super Rugby squad next season, which could well be his breakout year. He is likely lost to Australian rugby, but if he is ever tempted on heading back to the west coast of Australia, it is one that Australian fans would relish.