With the June IRB International series just around the corner there is a great opportunity for some of rugby’s brightest talents to stake a claim for an international place ahead of next years Rugby World Cup. Here are 11 players who aren’t currently international regulars who I think will be well worth keeping an eye on when the first games kick off;
1. Malakai Fekitoa, New Zealand
The Tongan born centre has just been confirmed in Steve Hansen’s All Blacks squad for the international series after a breakthrough season at the Highlanders. Fekitoa has shown he has all the tools that could see him become a mainstay in the All Blacks side for years to come with powerful runs from deep and bone crunching tackles just two weapons in his armoury.
2. Marland Yarde, England
Yarde made his breakthrough for England during last seasons end of year internationals before suffering an injury which kept him out of this years 6 Nations. Yarde is now back to full fitness and has been scoring tries for fun in his last few games for London Irish this season. A powerful runner who seems to bounce off defenders with ease, Yarde has a prime opportunity to stake a claim for one of England’s wing spots.
3. Chris Feauai-Sautia, Australia
Another powerful winger, Feauai-Sautia has been a stand out in a distinctly average Reds side this season and looks to have all the potential to pick up from where former Red and Wallaby Digby Ioane left off. He faces stiff competition out on the wing with Nick Cummins likely to start, however if given a chance I have no doubt Feauai-Sautia will grab it with both hands.
4. Owen Williams, Wales
The fly-half berth has been a persistently troublesome one for Warren Gatland’s Wales side recently with Dan Biggar, Rhys Priestland and James Hook all having failed to press a claim for the spot. Owen Williams seems to be well worth a shot given his excellent form for Leicester Tigers in the latter half of this season, question marks still remain over his kicking but when Leigh Halfpenny returns this shouldn’t be an issue.
5. Michele Campagnaro, Italy
Italian 21 year old centre Campagnaro really broke through earlier this year in the 6 Nations as he announced his arrival on the international scene with a brace of tries against Wales in Cardiff. He went on to have a solid 6 Nations and looks set to be a mainstay in the Italian centres, the up coming internationals represent a huge opportunity for him to nail down the number 13 shirt.
6. Robbie Henshaw, Ireland
With Brian O’Driscoll retiring at the end of the season one of Joe Schmidt’s biggest tasks this summer will be finding a capable long-term replacement who can fill the number 13 shirt long-term. In 20 year-old Connacht back Henshaw Ireland potentially have the ideal candidate, Henshaw is comfortable at full-back but should be given a chance in the centres this June to prove his worth.
7. Luke Jones, Australia
The first Australian to sign a professional contract whilst still in school, Jones has plenty of potential to be a long-term Wallaby. Capable of playing at blindisde or lock, Jones is a fantastic athlete capable of carrying, tackling and jumping and has been described as having a fantastic rugby brain.
8. Jonny Gray, Scotland
Following in the foot steps of older brother Richie, Jonny made his debut for Scotland earlier this year after an impressive start to the season in Glasgow. Jonny is very much in the mould of his brother, a huge lump with great athletic ability and helps act as an additional back rower. It’s easy to imagine the Gray brothers filling Scotland’s engine room at next years World Cup.
9. Beauden Barrett, New Zealand
Barrett has been incredibly unfortunate over the last couple of season to have the likes of Dan Carter and Aaron Cruden ahead of him in the All Blacks pecking order. However with Cruden injured and Carter on sabbatical this June represents an ideal opportunity for Barett to make his claim for the coveted 10 jersey after a sensational season so far for the Hurricanes.
10. Handré Pollard, South Africa
Pollard has stepped up to the 10 shirt for the Bulls this season and looks ready for a chance at international level. His relative lack of experience means he is unlikely to be a started initially for the Springboks but with Pat Lambie out injured he could be given a chance off the bench where he looks like a potential long-term option for the Heyneke Mayers men.
11. Dave Ward, England
Despite staring the season as third choice hooker at Harlequins, Dave Ward has progressed hugely this season and now looks set to be included in Stuart Lancaster’s squad in June. Ward will be aided by a number of key absentees in the hooker department but if given a chance I have no doubt he will deliver. Ward works superbly as an extra back rower and has been responsible for a huge number of turnovers this season.
Who do you think will stand out in the internationals?