Ones to Watch: The Brightest Sparks in Rugby Union

The last Rugby World Cup was one of many upsets. The Japan team won the hearts of an international audience as wonderful hosts and a fearsome team of largely unknowns – one good enough to defeat Ireland in the group stages. Uruguay’s shocking victory over Fiji. England’s V formation to face off against the fearsome All Blacks. And finally, a historic victory for South Africa’s Captain Siya Kolisi to lift the World Cup as the first black captain of the Springboks. However, one of the most exciting aspects of any Rugby World Cup has been, and likely always will be, looking out for the youngest, brightest, newest talents.

In 2023, the next World Cup – to be held in France – will be another chance to see those talents on display. In fact, some of the youngest bright sparks playing right now will be the architects of some of the upsets we’re sure to witness all over again in a few years’ time. As such, let’s explore some of the newcomers who may decide the next international Rugby Union competition.

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Rieko Ioane (New Zealand)

Ioane plays like a man far beyond his years. The vibrant winger carved out a spot in the most-feared team in Rugby Union and made it his own well before his 25th birthday. He was the youngest player to make the provincial-level debut in New Zealand rugby history. As an All Black, he is the eighth-youngest debutant, first appearing in the famous strip back in 2016. His ability is verified by 21 tries in twenty tests during the 2018 Rugby championships. Ioane is a man with searing pace and instinctive finishing – underestimate this man at your peril.

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Romain Ntamack (France)

At 21, Romain Ntamack is a lot like Ioane in that you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking he was in his prime with hundreds of caps under his belt. Already a star in the Toulouse first XVI just a short time ago (he helped them retain the Top 14 tournament crown), Romain made his debut for Les Bleus in 2019’s Guinness Six Nations opening game versus Wales. Coming from a family of French Rugby, Romain followed in his father Emile’s footsteps and has since become their lynchpin as the French No.12 and, on occasion, at fly-half. While France was underwhelming at the Japan World Cup, Ntamack was a standout in the last Six Nations and offers huge potential at one of Rugby’s most technical positions.

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Guram Gogichashvili (Georgia)

Wingers and No.12s, while positions that rely on technical ability and physical agility and athleticism are roles that plenty of upcoming, fit athletes can aspire to. However, the role of the loosehead prop isn’t quite so simple, especially when you’re playing for a smaller nation and a less robust defensive line. Enter Guram Gogichashvili – the Georgian beast who has bullied his way into the highest Rugby Union league in France as a regular on the Racing 92 squad.

Making twenty-three appearances in the past season was a reflection of his ability and sheer potential – as a prop known for his speed as much as his 120 kg, six-foot frame. His impact on the Georgian team was clear to see as he helped the relative underdogs to finish above Scotland in the Under-20 World Championships in 2018 – the team’s greatest ever finish.

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The next world cup is still some way off, and the players we’ve mentioned will be entering their physical prime. Right now, the odds aren’t particularly surprising – New Zealand are current favourites at 17/10, although those numbers would prove amongst rugby union betting circles that absolutely nothing is guaranteed.

Whether these young starlets prove to be worth the hype and live up to their considerable potential is frustratingly difficult to ascertain. Avoiding injury, tactical squad choice and sheer luck will all have parts to play. However, all the evidence points to the next World Cup being nothing short of a must-watch event.


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About the Author: Tad Fisher

Prone to fits of apathy. Music specialist. Extreme food enthusiast. Amateur problem solver.

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