Previously posted by https://rugbybits.com
On December 2021, Antoine Dupont was named the Men’s World Rugby Player of the Year. Dupont is currently 25 years old (born 15 November 1996) and is set to be one of the world’s best players of the 2020s. But who will join Dupont as the players of the 2020s? Who are the future Men’s World Rugby Players of the Year, World XV and 100-test cap stalwarts of the future?
This article will rank the best 25 players who were born after 1 January 1997 (so no Dupont or Taniela Tupou who were born before this date) on their likelihood of winning their own World Rugby Player of the Year titles and being considered one of the world’s best players in the future.
This list will feature players from twelve different test nations and playing from the front row to the back three. While a player’s career to this point is a major factor, this list will try to project a player’s potential more than what players have already done.
This list will also look at the situation a player finds themselves in club and country – are they fighting other players of a similar age to even feature in the test side? Are they currently playing for a club that is winning or may win big titles in the future? Will these players (if they’re playing in the Six Nations or the Rugby Championships) be outshone by players in other test sides playing in the same position?
So let us count down the Top 25 Under 25:
25. Demba Bamba (age 23) | Prop | France (20 caps) | Lyon
Starting this list strong is the French and Lyon prop. If you watched France’s test series against Australia in 2021, you heard how excited the Stan Sport commentators were any time Bamba made a play. It was Bamba impact off the bench with a breakdown and a scrum penalty that secured France’s first win in Australia in three decades.
Why Bamba could be great: Bamba seems to be the next step in the evolution of the modern prop following the likes of Tadhg Furlong, Steven Kitshoff and Taniela Tupou. Bamba is an offloading human wrecking ball, but will need to continue to grow as a scrummager if he really wants to be a test match-winner. Bamba will certainly not be the only French player on this list, but is the only one that can combine his impact in phase play with making an impact in set pieces.
24. Vilimoni Botitu (age 23) | Centre | Fiji (3 caps) | Castres
Botitu made his name in the Fiji Sevens team, making his debut in the 2018 Dubai Sevens Tournament. He established himself as one of the best Sevens players on the circuit and was part of the Fiji team that won the Sevens Olympic gold medal in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Botitu made his debut for the 15s national team in the 2021 Autumn Nations Series against Spain. Hopefully this is the start of a long career playing for Fiji and taking over from the likes of Semi Radradra and Josua Tuisova.
Why Botitu could be great: He has translated what has made him great in Sevens to his form in the French Top 14. Botitu is a devastating runner who can beat defenders one-on-one. But his greatest skill may be his ability to pass out of contact and to create linebreaks or tries for others – Botitu’s 4 try assists place him at 8th in try assists in the Top 14 this season. He is becoming a regular for a strong Castres side and will be looking to cement a spot in the Fijian national team in the coming years.
23. Ruan Nortje (age 23) | Lock | South Africa (uncapped) | Bulls
A personal favourite of mine – Ruan Nortje will be looking to continue the great line of locks that have played for the Bulls and hopefully the Springboks in future. Nortje is one of three uncapped test players on this list. Nortje has already become a lineout general and nuisance to opposing hookers, he carries the ball strongly and makes a big impact when carrying the ball.
Why Nortje could be great? It just seems like we have seen this before, haven’t we? The 5-lock for the Bulls establishing himself as one of the best young locks in the world. If it isn’t Victor Matfield then it is Lood de Jager. Nortje is growing in the Jedi wizardry that Matfield had in the lineout, but he is certainly as hard a worker as Lood de Jager is – hitting rucks, making tackles and carrying the ball up at will. South African locking stocks are deep and the likes of RG Snyman, Salmaan Moerat and JD Schickerling will be fighting for their spots once Eben Etzebeth, Franco Mostert and Lood retires. Nortje looks to maintain the quality the Boks have had at lock for the last 30 years.
22. Rieko Ioane (age 24) | Centre / Wing | New Zealand (47 caps) | Blues
Rieko is possibly the 22nd best player in the world overall, never mind better than most of the players above him on this list right now – that’s what 31 test tries in 47 caps gets you. But this list looks at potential impact in the future, rather than past performance. The negatives for Rieko are that, historically speaking, Rieko has possibly another 20 test caps before the New Zealand wing factory spits him out for the newest bright star (such as his Blues teammate, 22 year old Caleb Clarke). The prospect of playing abroad and earning a massive salary in Europe and Japan with him having had an already extensive All Black career means he may effectively retire from international rugby when his deal with New Zealand Rugby expires in 2022.
Why Rieko could be great? Rieko may be able to evade the early retirement that other modern All Black wingers have faced in the last two decades if he continues to grow his game as an outside centre. The 2021 season showed that he can hold his own in the position and possess an ability to break a game wide open with his acceleration – it is something that no other 13 in New Zealand or around the world can compete with. His passing and defence seems to be getting better the more he plays in the midfield. If Rieko commits to NZR for a few more years and continues to grow his game at 13 with the Blues playing outside Rugby League convert Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, he may not only secure the All Black 13 jersey in the long term, but add to his 2017 World Rugby Player of the Year nomination (or even win the big prize himself).
21. Evan Roos (age 21) | 8th man | South Africa (uncapped) | Stormers
The final uncapped test player continues the theme of possibly being the chosen one to replace an international superstar. Fakatava is working to replace Aaron Smith and Roos could be the long-term replacement for Duane Vermeulen. Roos has started life in professional rugby with a bang and has translated his form in the domestic competitions in 2020/2021 to form in the United Rugby Championship, being one of the South African franchises best performers so far.
Why Roos could be great: Roos certainly brings the robust ball-carrying ability that Thor has shown for a decade. In the URC, Roos ranks 6th for meters carried (582 meters at 97 meters per game) and 5th for defenders beaten (22 defenders at 3.7 per game). His defensive skills and ability to turn over ball at the breakdown will have to also grow if he is to emulate the Springbok great. Roos will also have a ton of competition to break into the Springbok team with Springbok squad incumbents such as Jasper Wiese and the du Preez twins being of similar age, never mind the likes of Juarno Augustus, Phendulani Buthelezi, Elrigh Louw and Vincent Tshituka waiting for their opportunity. While Roos is just one of the many talented loose forwards the South African rugby factory produces, what is truly special about him is his ability to match or outclass experienced professionals and not be overawed by the occasion – he is always ready to break the game wide open with a barnstorming run.
20. Cameron Redpath (age 22) | Centre | Scotland (1 cap) | Bath
Cameron Redpath introduced himself into test rugby in the first 2021 Six Nations match with an all-round performance helping Scotland to their first win over England in Twickenham since 1983. Whether it was runs, making and breaking tackles, his long punts and turnovers in the ruck, Redpath showed his class at Twickenham. Redpath was actually selected by England for their 2018 tour to South Africa only to suffer an ACL injury to his knee. A neck injury in that England test and an ACL injury to his other knee later in 2021 has stalled his meteoric rise in the game.
Why Redpath could be great: Redpath seems to be the perfect 12 for any backline – be it playing in between Finn Russell and Chris Harris now or between Adam Hastings and Sione Tuipulotu in the future for Scotland or playing in between Orlando Bailey and Jonathan Joseph for Bath. He is in the mould of Jeremy Guscott as a twelve that can help out his flyhalf with kicking and distribution and can make a break for himself (sorry, England – you lost a real one!).
19. Santiago Chocobares (age 22) | Centre | Argentina (11 caps) | Toulouse
Like Redpath, Chocobares’ debut came in a famous victory. His was Argentina’s first win against New Zealand in 2020. In that particular performance, Chocobares showcased the ability to take the ball up to the defensive line and to get as many defenders as possible to stop him. Combined with an ability to pass out of the tackle, Chocobares will look to get a new generation of Argentinian players consistently near the top of world rugby.
Why Chocobares could be great: Chocobares will likely combine with Lucio Cinti (aged 21) to take over from the long-standing centre partnership of Jeronimo de la Fuente and Matias Moroni in the future. Chocobares being the player that can commit defenders to himself and able to offload to Cinti, who showcased his ability to beat defenders for Argentina in the Sevens series. Chocobares is also a wall defensively, Jonathan Davies must wince every time he hears his name after the hit Chocobares put on him in July 2021. Watching Chocobares in the Rugby Championship battling against the likes of Quinn Tupaea and Hunter Paisami for years to come will be a treat!
18. Caelan Doris (age 23) | Flank | Ireland (12 caps) | Leinster
No better way to introduce yourself in international rugby than a player of the match level performance against the All Blacks. Doris try secured that particular win and will live long in the memories of Irish fans. He went to another level with the Irish team in the 2021 Autumn Nations Series and showed his strength and talent as a ball carrier. Doris is fantastic when he gets the ball in some space.
Why Doris can be great: The Doris-Josh van der Flier-Jack Conan loose trio should be a fixture for the next five years. As a combination they balance each other out and allow Doris to carry the ball out wide. Ireland coach Andy Farrell seems to encourage the offloading game and keeping the ball alive. Doris will certainly lead that charge. He showed in that All Blacks game that he not just a flashy player but can roll his sleeves up in the tight-loose. He is a special talent.
17. Jordan Petaia (age 21) | Centre / Fullback | Australia (16 caps) | Reds
Making your debut at a Rugby World Cup and playing in a Rugby World Cup quarterfinal at 19 would make your case strong to be part of this list. Petaia is one of the poster boys from the 2018 under 20 Wallabies team that was a finalist in the World Rugby Under 20 Championships. Petaia has played largely as a centre and wing so far in his career, showing an ability to break defensive lines and run around and over defenders.
Why Petaia could be great: The raw material is there for him to be one of the best-attacking players in the game and a player that will be near the top of every tries scored, try assists and defenders beaten lists every season. The main issue in his career so far have been a number of injuries that have halted his growth as a player (and if he could learn to pass to his wings once in a while). This has meant that he has fallen behind the likes of Len Ikitau and Izaia Perese who are of the same age. Dave Rennie has mooted moving Petaia to fullback on account of his massive left boot, his ability in the air and Australia having a yawning gap in quality in that position. This would be an opportunity to make that position his own and then to catch up to and compete with the best fullbacks in the world. If he can have a season without injury, his growth as a player could be scary!
16. Tate McDermott (age 23) | Scrumhalf | Australia (14 caps) | Reds
McDermott is also part of the recent crop of Junior Wallabies that have been competitive in the Under 20 rugby circuit recently (he was a teammate of Petaia’s in 2018). In senior professional rugby, McDermott has been one of the leading players and match winners for the Reds in their victorious 2021 Super Rugby AU campaign. He has also made his impact in international rugby with commendable performances against New Zealand in 2021. McDermott’s running game around rucks and his ‘Gregan’ pass around the fringes keeps defenders honest and helps sucks defenders in to create space out wide.
Why McDermott could be great: Right now McDermott’s role in the Wallabies is as an impact player replacing senior statesman Nic White, which seems to be a better use of his attacking skillset late in games. He should take over the starting role post-2023 Rugby World Cup and feature prominently in the 2025 British and Irish Lions tour and the 2027 Rugby World Cup that will probably be hosted in Australia. Playing for a Reds side with the bulk of Australia’s young rugby talent that should hit their prime in 2025/2027 (such as Petaia, Harry Wilson, Fraser McReight, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Liam Wright and Tom Lynagh), and with Australia still figuring out who is their flyhalf of the future, McDermott may be the center of the Wallabies attacking game plan and directing traffic from 9.
15. Hoskins Sotutu (age 23) | 8th man | New Zealand (10 caps) | Blues
All abroad the So-CHOO-CHOO train! Sotutu was one of the best players of the 2020 Super Rugby Aotearoa. Sotutu showed maturity beyond his years in controlling the game from 8th man for the Blues. Sotutu is a major threat in the trams where he is able to take advantage of gaps or draw defenders to put backs away.
Why Sotutu can be great: The first question is whether the All Blacks coach Ian Foster sees him as a test-ready player. In trying to find solutions for the All Blacks loose trio, Sotutu has been largely sidelined in 2020 and 2021 by Foster. It makes very little sense when you see him play for the Blues – he not only has the running game but can mix it up physically too. The Rugby Championship will soon feature many young potential superstars at 8th man such as Roos, Joaquin Oviedo and Harry Wilson, but Sotutu is a true game breaker that can step into the void left by Kieran Read.
14. Paolo Garbisi (age 21) | Flyhalf | Italy (13 caps) | Montpellier
Garbisi is already seen as the next Italian global superstar, taking over the baton from Sergio Parisse. Garbisi made a rapid ascent to be one of the emerging stars of international rugby. In the last few years, Garbisi has gone from the World Rugby Under 20 Championship in 2018, to debuting for Italy in the 2020 Six Nations after two PRO14 games for Benetton. It was in the 2021 PRO14 Rainbow Cup tournament where Garbisi led Benetton to the trophy and a player of the match performance against the Bulls in the final that his talent finally produced silverware.
Why Garbisi can be great: Garbisi’s performances for Italy and Benetton led to a move to Montpellier where he has effectively displaced World Cup-winning flyhalf, Handre Pollard to inside centre. This shows how highly regarded he is already at an early stage of his career, as he has performed at a high level for the high flying Montpellier side this season. A strong runner of the ball who models his game on Dan Carter and Owen Farrell, he has Marco Zanon, Monty Ioane and Federico Mori on his outside that he can connect with to break the game open and hopefully make Italy competitive in the top tier of international rugby.
13. Angus Bell (age 21) | Prop | Australia (15 caps) | Waratahs
It does not seem to be hyperbolic to suggest Bell will have at least 100 test caps for the Wallabies. If all goes well and considering props mature in their late 20s / early 30s and can play 50 minutes a game, if you are a betting man you may as well pick the ‘over’ in an over-under of whether Angus Bell will reach 150 test caps! As a loosehead, he is quite polished already and offers a long term solution to what has been a problem area for the Wallabies for decades.
Why Bell could be great: As evidenced by him holding his own (and helping to win a vital scrum penalty) against the Springboks in the 2021 Rugby Championship victories for the Wallabies, Bell is already a good scrummager that will only get better. He will grow as a scrummager with Taniela Tupou. His ability around the field may not be as flashy as Bamba or Tupou, but he is still able to carry the ball strongly, offload in contact and launch his frame into bone-shattering tackles if you dare run in his channel. As Australia seeks to rebuild in preparation for hosting the British and Irish Lions in 2025 and a Rugby World Cup in 2027, a player like Bell can set the foundation for Australia’s ascent back to the top of world rugby.
12. Cameron Woki (age 23) | Flank / Lock | France (11 caps) | Bordeaux
Woki is one of many loose forwards that have come out of RC Massy, a club in Paris’ which plays in France’s third division. Talanted youngsters such as Sekou Macalou, Yacouba Camara and Jordan Joseph have also come out the ranks at Massy, but it is Woki that looks like the brightest prospect stepping into international rugby. Woki was part of the Les Bleuets team that won the World Rugby Under 20 Championship in 2018, before joining a strong Bordeaux team. Woki combines his speed and passing ability with the ball, with being one of the best jumpers in lineouts and disrupting opposition rolling mauls. Woki finally broke through to the national team, being part of the second string team that took England to extra time in the 2020 Autumn Nations Cup and another second string team that won their first test in Australia since 1990, he has now beaten a litany of loose forward and lock talents to book his spot in the starting team for now.
Why Woki could be great: His performance against the All Blacks in the 2021 Autumn Nations Series shows the extent of his abilities. In that particular game, Woki was selected at lock for the first time in his career and managed to outplay Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock – two of this generation’s greatest locks – completely leaving them in the dust in the loose, while more than holding his own in the set-piece and in contact. The ability to play both lock and flank at a high level should make Woki a frontrunner for the French run-on side. He is not only a great lineout jumper, but is a problem for defenders in open play.
11. Aphelele Fassi (age 23) | Fullback / Wing | South Africa (2 caps) | Sharks
South Africa seems to produce so many of these magical runners with the ball that are threats in broken play like Fassi. Fassi’s catalogue of 50 meter breaks to score or create tries can already fill a library. Fassi though does not vanish if the ball does not come to him, as he is good in the air, he can kick and he will find opportunities to come into the backline when he spots a gap. The 2021 season saw him earn his first two Springbok caps.
Why Fassi could be great: The Weekend Special has some competition from Warrick Gelant, Damian Willemse and Tyrone Green to become Willie le Roux’s (immediate?) successor as Springbok fullback. What sets him apart is his speed and ability as a runner in broken play which is combined with his ability to step into the first receiver role in attack like le Roux does for the Springboks. He can still grow as an aerial bomb specialist (when compared to Jordie Barrett or Freddie Steward) and further hone his kicking skills and defence, but the ability to beat defenders and put others away is already world class. Fassi played for the Springboks at wing, offering up the possibility of him deputizing for Makazole Mapimpi in the future and possibly creating a back three with Cheslin Kolbe and one of Gelant, Willemse and Green post-2023 Rugby World Cup.
10. Davit Niniashvili (age 19) | Fullback | Georgia (9 caps) | Lyon
Niniashvili could join the likes of Hugo Porta, Brian Lima and his compatriot Marmuke Gorgodze as world-class rugby players who do not feature in the Six Nations or Rugby Championship. It is a bit of a surprise that Georgia, a country that traditionally prides itself in producing grizzled props and tight forwards, could produce such an exciting outside back like Niniashvili. Not yet 20, he has been a revelation for Lyon and he is 5th for defenders beaten in the Top 14 (35 defenders – 3.2 per game). Niniashvili has translated that ability to international rugby firstly in the Rugby Europe Championship and then against South Africa and France in tests in 2021.
Why Niniashvili could be great: Niniashvili is not just an attacking genius – he provides security under the high ball and is a menace in the breakdown. He has a keen eye for gaps in the defence and has the ability to exploit those gaps. With more Georgian players in the top European leagues, Georgia may start competing with the Tier 1 countries and if they manage to win those games in the next 12+ years, Niniashvili will be a major reason why.
9. Gregory Alldritt (age 24) | 8th man | France (26 caps) | La Rochelle
As discussed with Woki, France seems to have so many talented loose forwards. Alldritt has possibly secured his place in the best French XV. Alldritt does everything that you would ask for an 8th man – his running, passing, tackling, ruck work, work at the back of the scrum and jumping in the lineouts is already so sound. Calling Alldritt a workhorse seems to devalue his great talent and ability, but that is what he is – someone that will tackle and carry the ball up tirelessly and outlast his opponents every game.
Why Alldritt could be great: He links France’s abrasive and hard-working forwards with the exciting backs. A spine of Alldritt, Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack could be as great as combinations like Kieran Read, Aaron Smith and Dan Carter or Lawrence Dallaligo, Matt Dawson and Jonny Wilkinson. Alldritt is a player that affects winning, as he is always where the action is and makes a game-changing impact in each game. Alldritt will set the standard that the likes of Charles Ollivon, Anthony Jelonch and Dylan Cretin will follow in the tight-loose – be it with a massive tackle or a 20 meter carry. It is quite easy to see him as already one of the world’s best 8s and a person that can stay in that position for years to come.
8. Ronan Kelleher (age 23) | Hooker | Ireland (16 caps) | Leinster
Kelleher is possibly the leading front-rower in this age group. Kelleher is a player that makes a massive impact on every phase of play possible. Whether in executing his role in the set-piece as a hooker, or causing damage out wide as a ball carrier, Kelleher is an all-action player. In the 2021 Autumn Nations Series, Kelleher was particularly special.
Why Kelleher could be great: As discussed with Bamba and Bell, front-rowers are not only expected to do their work at the set-piece but also make an impact around the field the whole game. Kelleher excels on both aspects of the game and has combined well with the club and international teammates Tadhg Furlong, Andrew Porter and James Ryan. Kelleher should be part of many successful URC and Champions Cup campaigns in the future and the challenge will be whether he can translate that winning on the international stage.
7. Jordie Barrett (age 24) | Fullback / Centre | New Zealand (36 caps) | Hurricanes
It is finally coming together for Jordie – it has taken some time, admittedly, but Jordie may have just figured the game of rugby out. And that is a scary thought! The last four years have seen him and the All Blacks / Hurricanes try to figure out how best to utilize his singular talent. Should he play from flyhalf and constantly touch the ball? Is he a wing that can finish opportunities and diffuse aerial bombs? Is he better in the midfield where his threat as a runner and a passer can be best utilized, or as a fullback coming into the line at pace and using his 1.96m frame to control the air? The 2021 season was the first season that Jordie could play in one position for most of the year – fullback. He was no longer trying to force things and do everything himself. Jordie is now a player that can come in as a secondary playmaker, coordinate with his back three and has the ice in his veins to sink a 45-meter test-winning penalty kick against the Springboks.
Why Jordie could be great: It starts with good genetics – Jordie has probably seen the World Rugby Player of the Year trophy at home courtesy of his two-time winning brother, Beauden. Never mind his near 50-cap All Black brother, Scott. Jordie is starting to deliver on all the promise from the early age as the most talented Barrett. He is as dangerous as Beauden in broken play scenarios where he can break the defensive line himself or send a bullet long pass to the wings. Where Beauden is a bit hit-or-miss with his goal kicking, Jordie relishes that challenge for his country. And it seems like there is still more growth to his game still as he enters his seventh professional season. The rumours are that Ian Foster sees him as the solution for New Zealand’s lack of options at inside center, and that might ultimately be his best position. But why displace a player that seems to now ‘get’ his game and how rugby works away from a position that he can dominate in with his physique and his skill? Hopefully, it is not the All Blacks coaches that stall his progress.
6. Freddie Steward (age 21) | Fullback | England (5 caps) | Leicester Tigers
Steward was one of the most talked-about players after the 2021 Autumn Nations Series. Having made his debut for England in July 2021 against the United States, Steward showed his quality from the back. His player of the match performance against the Springboks in November showed he is a triple threat as a runner, defender and a threat in the kick-chase game.
Why Steward could be great: Is it as simple that he is just really damn tall?? He is 1.96m tall and seems to jump another two meters off the ground. The game’s emphasis on tactical kicking means you need a fullback that can position himself well and that is able to get any ball out the air, like Steward does. This is already his fourth season in senior rugby and it won’t be too long until he is considered the best player in his position in the world (.
5. Louis Rees-Zammit (age 20) | Wing | Wales (12 caps) | Gloucester
Rees Lightning already looks like the wing of the 2020s. Every other week it seems like there is a new clip of LRZ running from the other side of the world to score a wonder try or brilliantly finishing a try. Rees-Zammit is not only blitz, he also has a true finishers’ instinct and always finds himself at the right place at the right time. The comparisons with another magical Welsh wing wizard, Shane Williams, are easy to see. Since he broke through as the youngest ever player to represent Gloucester in the Premiership, LRZ has scored tries for fun.
Why Rees-Zammit could be great:
He is maintaining a one-try-every-two-games strike rate for both club and country and seems to only score the most amazing tries. Having already burst onto the scene at such a young age, Rees-Zammit has already become one of the most important players for Wales already. 2021’s Six Nations Rees-Zammit was a contender for player of the tournament, especially after his performance against Scotland in Murrayfield. LRZ was selected for the British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa in 2021 and you can easily imagine he may be back in 2033 with the Lions in South Africa with all the try-scoring records under his name.
4. Marcus Smith (age 22) | Flyhalf | England (5 caps) | Harlequins
Marcus Smith has been the leading cause of near heart attacks in the London area for the last two seasons. The leader of the last-minute Harlequins has orchestrated as many comebacks as Rocky Balboa. What makes Quins and English fans so excited is Smith’s ability to spark an attack to action. He is a threat off the mark, he plays at the gainline and defenders are caught on their feet trying to decide whether he will make the pass to another player or use his speed to take the gap himself. In the 2021 Autumn Nations Series, he was also one of the standout players in England victories over Australia and South Africa. The South Africa victory was especially important, as that was his first ‘big boy’ win without captain Owen Farrell playing on his outside shoulder, with his pack going backwards most of the game, playing a part with the three tries scored against the world champions.
Why Smith could be great: Smith has become one of the ‘stop everything and watch him when he is on’ rugby players in the world. For Harlequins and their ultra-attacking philosophy, he can combine with other explosive players like Alex Dormbrandt, Joe Marchant, Louis Lynagh and the South African duo of Andre Esterhuizen and Tyrone Green for full chaos. He has been directly involved in the second most tries (17) in the Premiership since the 2020/21 season. Smith leading Harlequins to win the 2021 Premiership showed that his attacking game can also bring home silverware. As the Home Nations transition from the Farrell, Dan Biggar, Jonny Sexton and Finn Russell era, Marcus Smith will be leading the pack in the future.
3. Romain Ntamack (age 22) | Flyhalf | France (23 caps) | Toulouse
It does help to be the partner-in-crime of the current World Rugby Player of the Year. Romain Ntamack threatens to steal the headlines from his Toulouse and France halfback partner. The play that sums up Ntamack was probably the moment of the 2021 Autumn Nations Series against the All Blacks. Just look at the audacity, the cold-bloodedness and the cheek to pull this off against the All Blacks with the game on the balance!
Why Ntamack could be great: Ntamack has already won at almost every level of the game – from the 2018 World Rugby U20 Championship, to Top 14s and Heineken Champions Cups for Toulouse. Ntamack is not just a playmaker (he is second for try assists in the Top 14 with 5), he does not shy away from his defensive duties and is able to fill in at inside center if need be. Ntamack will have to perform at his absolute best to keep the French 10 jersey – the likes of Leo Berdeu, Louis Carbonel and (a player that many consider to be even better than Ntamack) Mathieu Jalibert will keep him honest. It is hoped that Galthie will continue the experiment of playing Jalibert and Ntamack (or ‘Jali-Ntamack’) together in the future. These domestic battles will prime him to battle to become the generation’s premier flyhalf.
2. Will Jordan (age 23) | Wing / Fullback | New Zealand (13 caps) | Crusaders
The reigning World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year of course has to feature on this list. Jordan has more test tries (17) than test caps (13). Jordan has quickly become a key player for the Crusaders since 2020 Super Rugby Aotearoa. His ability to break the game wide open and create scoring opportunities from nothing means that he is always a factor in games and that he has managed to win games both for the Crusaders and internationally.
Why Jordan could be great: In any other country, Jordan would be assured of obtaining at least 100 test caps, but this is again New Zealand where world class wingers fall out of the sky. What will sustain Jordan’s international career? He has a Ben Smith-like quality of being able to have linebreaks and to create for players around him. Jordan can play both at fullback and wing, meaning that he won’t be seen solely as a winger like some of his competitors (such as Crusaders teammate Sevu Reece). He is also not just an efficient finisher, but a creator and playmaker for his team (more than his other Crusaders teammate George Bridge). Finally, he seems to always attract winning – 16 of his 17 international tries came in New Zealand wins. He has won Super Rugby Aotearoa twice in his career already. He was even part of the Tasman side that won the 2019 Mitre 10 Cup. Jordan may be the best candidate to actually break Doug Howlett’s All Black try scoring record.
1. Tom Curry (age 23) | Flank | England (36 caps) | Sale Sharks
Finally the top rugby player in the world under 25 right now – Tom Curry. Curry does everything you can ask a loose forward to do in today’s game as a ball carrier, a player that can pass out of contact, a nuisance at the breakdown and an uncompromising tackler. Still 19, Curry won his first cap for England in June 2017 and became the youngest England forward in a century. At the 2019 Rugby World Cup, Curry truly established himself as one of the best players in the world forming the Kamikaze duo with fellow flanker Sam Underhill and setting the tone in physicality and dynamism that the English forwards played in.
Why Curry could be great: Curry has already packed in a lot of experience for both club and country in such a short period of time – from playing for a struggling club to one that is now a regular threat at the top of the Premiership. From playing for a Six Nations winning and Rugby World Cup finalist England, to one that finished 5th in the 2021 Six Nations. Curry has a quality best evidenced by Michael Hooper of being able to look world class even when his team is being beaten. There seems to be so many world class loose forwards in the game including Hooper, Siya Kolisi, Hamish Watson and Ardie Savea. What sets Curry apart is how robust he is either with or without the ball and that he can impact the game in any way. He will go from turning the ball over on his try line, to breaking the line to putting a winger away, to making a last-ditch tackle for his side. While other players on this list may be flashier, Curry does the things that help teams win. He is the leader of the new school.