Gael Fickou (Toulouse), age 19
Fans of Leicester will recognise this name from last season, as the young centre, just 18 years old at the time, scored a superb solo try to condemn the Tigers to defeat in the pool stages. He is undoubtedly one of the brightest prospects in this year’s tournament, and having played in all but one of Toulouse’s pool matches last season is no stranger to the European environment. He even has a France cap to his name already. With ghost-like movement and an impressive turn of pace for his size, some have likened him to Jeremy Guscott. In a relatively easy-looking pool, expect Fickou to shine again this year.
Cory Allen (Cardiff Blues), age 20
With Jamie Roberts having departed the Blues over the summer, the stage is set for his heir apparent to seize his opportunity for Cardiff and, quite possibly, Wales, if their injury issues in the centre do not sort themselves out soon. He comes into this season brimming with confidence after starring on the sevens circuit, winning IRB try of the tournament in the Hong Kong leg that included one of the more audacious dummies you’ll see. At 6’3″ and 15st 8lb ineveitable comparisons will be drawn with the Welsh behemoths of this generation (think North, Cuthbert, Roberts), and there is no reason why he cannot follow in their footsteps.
Eli Walker (Ospreys), age 21
Walker announced himself to the European audiences this time last year with some dazzling finishes in the group stages of the Heineken Cup, and was duly named in Wales’ squad for the Six Nations (this was around the time when everyone was talking about bolters for the Lions tour, as well, conversations in which Walker’s name certainly featured). He was, however, struck the cruelest of injury blows that saw him sit out the majority of the rest of the season. With Wales’ wing options well stocked, the ‘next Shane Williams’, as he has been dubbed in some quarters, will be keen to use this season’s Heineken Cup to force his way back into the international reckoning.
JJ Hanrahan (Munster), age 21
Hanrahan is another to impress in the ranks of the U20 internationals, having guided the Irish to an historic victory over South Africa during the summer’s JWC. The young fly-half is slowly making his mark in the Munster first team, too, although there’s actually nothing that slow about it – on his first start last season, he scored two tries and was awarded MOTM, and this season won the same award after amassing 21 points. Granted, both games were against Zebre, but to slot into such a pivotal position in a high pressure environment with such ease is no mean feat. He may have to bide his time behind Ian Keatley for parts of the season, but if he continues to grasp his chances with such success a regular starting role cannot be far away.
Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs), age 20
The prodigiously talented prop-cum-hooker injured a knee in pre-season and has not featured yet this campaign, but is set to return over the coming weeks meaning he could play in the back-to-back pool games. He was a key cog in the England U20s side that romped to JWC victory over the summer, and impressed in his short-lived pre-season campaign with some strong carrying and impressive offloading. Exter – and England, for that matter – are not lacking in hookers (although the Devon-based club are struggling with injuries there at the moment), but if Cowan-Dickie continues to progress at this meteoric rate, he could well have a big future.
Which youngsters are you predicting to shine in this year’s tournament?
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images