With the first matches in the 2013/14 RaboDirect PRO12 imminent, it’s time to look at a few youngsters who could make a name for themselves at the Celtic clubs.
Sam Davies (Wales)
Despite only playing a total of four games for the Ospreys in the last two seasons, Davies’ stock has never been higher. The Wales U20 fly-half became the first Welshman to win the IRB’s Junior Player of the Year award since 2001 after shining in this year’s tournament. The young Welshmen were defeated by England in the final, but Davies was composed and talismanic throughout. It is an important season for him as he looks to push Dan Biggar all the way for the Ospreys number 10 shirt. Davies will hope his international future is brighter than that of the Welshman who last won the Young Player award 12 years ago – a certain Gavin Henson.
Cory Allen (Wales)
Jamie Roberts’ departure for Racing Metro leaves a sizeable gap in the Cardiff Blues’ midfield. They are massive boots to fill, but lying in wait is another Welsh monster who has been impressing on the Sevens circuit this past year. 20-year-old Cory Allen stands at 6ft 3in, tips the scales at over 15stone and could be Roberts’ natural successor in both the blue of Cardiff and red of Wales. His try against Fiji in the Hong Kong Sevens this year was voted IRB try of the tournament and after three LV=Cup appearances for the region last year he will be an exciting prospect to watch as the Blues begin life after Jamie.
Niall Annett (Ireland)
22-year-old Hooker Annett does not have the easiest task on his hands in order to establish himself in the Ulster side. Behind captain and prodigal son Rory Best in the pecking order, the 2009 Ulster Schools’ and Ireland U20 captain only signed a full contract at the beginning of last season, but is cut from the same leadership cloth as Best. Annett gets around the park very well – as demanded of modern hookers – but his accuracy at the line-out is particularly impressive. As Best turns the corner past 30, maybe this season will see Annett appear more in the Ulster front row.
Jamie Farndale (Scotland)
Tied in second place on the IRB Junior World Championship’s all-time top try scorer list is 19-year-old winger Jamie Farndale. He has scored eight tries in two competition appearances and will still be eligible for the 2014 tournament in New Zealand – an indicator of his talent. Farndale’s first and only taste of pro rugby with Edinburgh came in the last away match of the 2011/12 season before he suffered injury, but the former Edinburgh Accies flyer is keen to push on this season. He faces stiff competition on the Edinburgh wings from the likes of internationals Tim Visser and Lee Jones, but with time on his side expect to see and hear more of Farndale very soon.
Jonny Gray (Scotland)
Just as big, with almost as shocking a head of blond hair, as his older brother Richie, Jonny Gray is embarking on his first full season in earnest for Glasgow Warriors after joining in summer 2012. The Scotland U20 captain has spent time playing in New Zealand after winning the 2012 John Macphail Scholarship and will return tougher for it. Having been called up to the Scotland U20 set-up aged only 17 last year, Gray will look to establish himself alongside former Scotland captain Al Kellock in the Warriors engine room. With a good enough season behind him, it would not surprise to see Gray fast-tracked into the senior side by this time next year.
By Tom Macleod (@TMacSport)