World rugby seems awash with a host of talented young players who are already making their mark at the very top levels for both club and country.
With the World Cup just a year away it seems a number of these youngsters could be set for a starring role despite some of them being only one year old when South Africa won on home soil in 1995.
It therefore seems as good a time as any to take a look at the best under 23′s in rugby. In the interests of international uniformity we have included players who are currently aged 23 as they would be eligible to turn out for their national sides Under 23s. Anyway, here are rugby’s best 23 and under’s;
1. George North
Despite being just 22 North has already amassed 42 caps for Wales (bagging 18 tries in the process) and becoming the youngest ever player to score two tries on an international debut against top tier opposition. He also has won a host of honours including a Lions series, Six Nations, Premiership and Challenge Cup since bursting onto the scene.
2. Malakai Fekitoa
Fekitoa may have been a relative unknown at the beginning of 2014, however he has ensured that fans around the world know his name now. The 22-year old had a breakthrough season for the Highlanders this year which earned him a call up to the All Blacks squad were he made his debut in the test series against England in June.
3. Billy Vunipola
Despite being just 21, Vunipola weighs in at nearly 20 stone which he uses to great effect out on the rugby field. A move to Saracens last summer has seen him improve his fitness and work rate allowing him to break into the England starting XV as one of Stuart Lancaster’s most potent ball carriers.
4. Beauden Barrett
Barrett must be one of the unluckiest men in sport having both Aaron Cruden and Dan Carter ahead of him in the international pecking order. Barrett was the stand-out Fly Half in the 2014 Super Rugby season and looks set to add to his All Blacks caps tally in the near future.
5. Will Skelton
At nearly 22 stone Will Skelton has added plenty of ballast to the Warratahs scrum this year in Super Rugby. It is no coincidence that his emergence into the first team has coincided with the Tahs claiming the top spot in the Super Rugby table. It seems inevitable that Skelton will be adding to his international cap and try soon.
6. Michael Hooper
At just 22 years of age Hooper has already amassed 31 caps for the Wallabies and been named captain of his national side. With the finesse of a back and ruggedness of the very best international flankers around he looks set to be a mainstay in the Wallabies side for many years to come.
7. Gaël Fickou
The young French centre has been exciting fans around the Northern Hemisphere for some time now. His powerful running and ability to glide past defenders makes him one of the most potent attacking threats in world rugby.
8. Robbie Henshaw
Touted by many as the natural successor to Brian O’Dirscoll Henshaw looks to have all the characteristics necessary to be a force on the international stage. His positional versatility also makes him a key asset for the Irish team.
9. Pat Lambie
The Springbok fly half was unfortunate to pick up an injury before the June internationals in 2014, however looks to have done enough in Super Rugby so far this season to assure himself of another chance at leading the South African backline .
10. Cory Allen
Young Welsh centre Cory Allen has a job on his hands displacing the established central pairing of Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies, however if his current form is anything to go by it seems a matter of when not if. At 6’3″ and 15st 8lbs he brings physicality with no lack of skill.
11. Eben Etzebeth
It’s hard to believe that Springbok lock Eben Etzebeth is still just 22 years of age. In Etzebeth South Africa seems to have found the long-term successor to Bakkies Botha in the enforcer role, if they can just find someone to partner him in the engine room then they would have a second row that would be the envy of fans around the world.
12. Brodie Retallick
The All Blacks lock is another who it’s hard to believe it still just 23 years of age. He has formed a potent partnership with Sam Whitelock in the New Zealand second row that looks like it could be the cornerstone of the All Blacks scrum for years to come.
13. Manu Tuilagi
Since breaking onto the international scene before the 2011 World Cup Manu Tuilagi has been seen as a star of the international game. It seems inevitable that the England midfield will be built around the powerful Tuilagi for years to come, and at just 23 years of age he has plenty of time to develop his game.
14. Charles Piutau
The raft of talent emerging into the All Blacks is truly terrifying at the moment with Piutau the latest in a line of powerful wingers who seem to cause devastation whenever they play. Piutau has been unfortunate with injuries this year but looks to be a key member of the All Blacks World Cup squad next year.
15. Jules Plisson
Plisson was selected as the starting fly half for France in this years Six Nations championship. Whilst he didn’t flourish he certainly looked assured enough to have a future on the international stage. If he can nail down a place in the French starting XV over the next 12 months he could be key to their World Cup hopes.
16. Michele Campagnaro
Campagnaro made his breakthrough in international rugby as he scored two tries against Wales at the Millennium Stadium in the opening weekend of the 2014 Six Nations. An assured midfielder, Campagnaro is the kind of player that Italy can build a team around for the future.
17. Julian Savea
Savea being included on this list is a bit of a no-brainer really. Hailed as the second coming of Jonah Lomu in some quarters, Savea is quite possibly the best winger in the world right now. For such a big, powerful runner he seems to have an ability to glide past players as easily as he powers over them.
18. Jan Serfontein
The Springboks seems to have struggled to find an established backline in recent years with concerns over how much longer Jean de Villiers will continue to play. In Serfontein they may have the answer as the 21 year old as he looks set to add to his 12 caps sooner rather than later.
19. Johan Goosen
The young Springbok fly half will be a huge loss to the Cheetahs next season having sealed a move to the French capital with Racing Metro. An assured performer who will be challenging Pat Lambie for the Springboks number 10 shirt for years to come.
20. Santiago Cordero
The Argentine national side is going through a bit of a transitional period at the moment as they attempt to replace some of their retiring stars. Cordero proved during the June internationals that he has a bright future for Los Pumas as he caused opponents no end of trouble.
21. Joe Launchbury
Launchbury has established himself as one of the most important players in Stuart Lancaster’s England squad over the last 18 months. The Wasps lock has an incredible engine on him as he plays a key role at the breakdown acting as an extra back row player allowing Morgan or Vunipola to concentrate on making ground.
22. Hugo Bonneval
Despite a disappointing international season, France seem to have found a number of stars for the future, one of which is Hugo Bonneval. It seems entirely possible he could establish himself as the starting full back for France at next years World Cup.
23. Stuart Hogg
In Stuart Hogg Scotland seem to have finally found the kind of attacking talent who can once again get them on the front foot. With a surprising turn of pacs and a rugged determination Hogg has all the attributes to be a top class full back and could easily find himself starting for the Lions in three years time.
Who do you think is the best Under 23′s player in rugby right now?