Stars in the making
January 3, 2013
Israel Folau could establish himself as a rugby star in 2013 © PA Photos
The New Year is still very much in its infancy, but the world over, rugby players will be setting their goals for 2013. This week's Scrum Sevens has singled out a group of potential stars who could be set for great things in the forthcoming year.
Having turned out in both the National Rugby League and the Australian Football League in Australia, Folau will now look to make his mark in rugby union when he takes to the field for the Waratahs in 2013 in what will be his third code in four years. And do not rule out him pulling on the green and gold shirt of the Wallabies when they host the British & Irish Lions next summer.
He possesses an armoury of the requisite skills for rugby union and has garnered a reputation for being one of the best 'leapers' in Australian sport. Working alongside ex-Crusaders coach Daryl Gibson, expect the crosskick and plenty of high kicks to be utilised by the Waratahs and aimed in Folau's general direction. He also knows his way to the tryline having scored an incredible 73 tries in 90 matches during his four years playing rugby league - first for the Melbourne Storm and then the Brisbane Broncos.
And there is no better place for Folau than the Waratahs. They have blooded two premier Wallabies in the past after they completed cross-code switches - Mat Rogers and Lote Tuqiri. There is a huge hype surrounding Folau's rugby union potential and ex-Wallaby Tim Horan believes he will be a success. Horan said: "I think there is no doubt he will make it. He's a wonderful player and athlete. It will take a bit of time...I think he will be a big success."
The young centre was the star of the 2012 IRB Junior World Championship, scoring four tries in five matches, and he went on to scoop the 2012 IRB Young Player of the Year gong. He has already shone for the Blue Bulls in the Vodacom Cup, having made 20 appearances and scored four tries in the process, and took his bow in the Currie Cup in 2012 for the Pretoria-based side.
The 2013 Super Rugby season could give Serfontein the chance to showcase his talents on the southern hemisphere stage and in front of the global audience. He has been included in the Bulls' 59-man training squad and will look to compete with the likes of Wynand Olivier, Lionel Mapoe and Francois Venter for a spot in the final group. The Sharks' Paul Jordaan, another promising centre, also warrants a mention.
Billy Vunipola is set for a huge 2013 © PA Photos
While 2012 saw Joe Launchbury and Christian Wade hitting the headlines, Wasps boast other youngsters who look set to make their mark in 2013 and no one more so than No.8 Billy Vunipola. The 20-year-old, the younger brother of England prop Maku Vunipola, weighs in at just under 20 stone and although the basic facts may suggest otherwise, he can shift himself around the rugby field.
He has made 28 appearances for the Aviva Premiership side and with his contract up at the end of the season, he is reportedly on Saracens and Leicester's radar. But recent reports suggest that he will follow in Launchbury's footsteps and re-sign with Wasps. He could feature for England in the summer while the British & Irish Lions are touring Down Under and there is every chance that the England XV for the 2015 World Cup will feature two Vunipolas.
Wasps, after a disastrous 2011-12 season, are making all the right noises about re-finding the winning touch of the Lawrence Dallaglio era and have a team forged around experience and youth. Alongside Vunipola, Launchbury and Wade, expect Jack Wallace and Elliot Daly's stock to also rise over the next 365 days.
France boast one of the world's premier scrum-halves in the form of Morgan Parra but his place in Les Bleus' XV is by no means guaranteed following the emergence of another half-back. Racing Metro's Maxime Machenaud is now seemingly in front of Parra in the pecking order for the No.9 berth.
Amid all the rumours of who Racing Metro might be recruiting ahead of next year - the likes of Dan Lydiate, Brian Mujati, Soane Tonga'uiha and even Dan Carter are all said to be on the Parisian's radar - it should be noted that they have not been linked with a new scrum-half. The 24-year-old Machenaud made his debut for France in 2012 and has now got four caps to his name. He scored a try on his debut, which came against Argentina in June, and started two of France's three autumn Tests. He is someone who will only get better so keep a close eye on Machenaud in 2013.
Iain Henderson in Heineken Cup action © PA Photos
Having progressed through the age-grade levels of rugby in Ireland, Henderson played for the U20 side in both the 2011 and 2012 Junior World Championships. The back-rower is contracted to Ulster and he has the perfect role model right on his doorstep - Stephen Ferris.
Much is expected of Henderson in 2013. He is already an Irish international, having made his debut against the Springboks in November and he backed that up with another appearance a fortnight later against Argentina. And on the domestic scene, Henderson has already garnered a reputation as arguably Ireland's most promising back-rower. He has made eight appearances for Ulster so far this season, a campaign he started on a development contract, and they have been quick to retain him after awarding him a three-year deal back in October. He could well be a bolter for the Lions team.
Despite being just 19-years-old, Patchell is being heralded as one of the glimpses of light in what has been a mixed season for the Welsh regions. He made his debut for the Blues against Newcastle back in 2011 but made his first start for the region in the PRO12 this season. And it could not have gone much better for the fly-half.
He scored 11 points for the Blues and helped them to a 16-5 win over the Dragons despite being so nervous that he "sat in bed all day before the game, I didn't do anything". He followed this up with a hugely impressive performance against Montpellier in the Heineken Cup, where he slotted all of the Blues' 24 points, and was immediately suggested alongside the likes of James Hook and Dan Biggar as an option to replace the injured Rhys Priestland in the forthcoming Six Nations. Patchell is adamant that he is not getting carried away but as long as he continues putting in impressive performances beyond his tender years, then the notion of an international call-up will not go away.
It was another huge year for the All Blacks as they went the whole of 2012 unbeaten until they ran into England in December. They scooped the inaugural Rugby Championship while there was further joy for New Zealand rugby with the Chiefs claiming their first Super Rugby title - and central to the Waikato franchise's success was the presence of openside Sam Cane.
Cane seems to have timed his ascent perfectly. With Richie McCaw set to embark on a deserved six-month sabbatical, Cane could get the chance to step into the great openside's shoes in the 2013 Rugby Championship and for their Test series with France in the summer. He has already worn the famous black shirt of the Kiwis on four occasions but he should add to that tally in 2013 and if he shines, then he will immediately be anointed as the next McCaw-in-waiting.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
England must find a way to improve their game by tiny margins and they will get there, writes Phil Vickery
"England remind me of a PlayStation rugby team," John Mitchell on tactics and the search for a first-choice fly-half ahead of the World Cup
Augustine Pulu will return home with little more than 20 minutes rugby in one month on tour. It is time for more midweek games writes Craig Dowd
Samoa's Sivi Tau says the team "come completely prepared", the reality is a world away. Seilala Mapusua on Samoa and building a future