Youngsters push their case for All Blacks selection
April 9, 2013
Ben Afeaki has been impressive for the Chieds this season © Getty Images
Being two years out from New Zealand's defence of the IRB Rugby World Cup in England, it is already apparent that some young players have emerged from the early stages of Super Rugby this year to push their prospects of selection.
Tight-head prop Ben Afeaki is a player who has been affected by injury over the past couple of seasons but whenever he has been on the field for the Chiefs you have seen the effect he has had on their performance. Not only is he a strong, and powerful, scrummager, he has a tremendous work rate and is an intelligent player who carries the ball very strongly. Defensively, he has the ability to be in the right position at the right times to make the right decisions.
Even though Dane Coles has already attracted the attentions of the All Blacks selectors, he continues to grow and is at the forefront of the contenders to assume the mantles occupied by Keven Mealamu and Andrew Hore. He's a dynamic ball carrier, he's worked on his accuracy at lineout time and he's certainly athletic.
There's room for improvement in little things around the set piece and, especially, the contact at scrum time, but there's no doubt he's expected to play a part in the future of All Blacks rugby. At the same time you have to acknowledge the impact made by Rhys Marshall for the Chiefs this year.
You can't not be impressed by what Marshall has done in his short period with the Chiefs In the middle row, the emergence of Dominic Bird in the Crusaders fold is notable. He is the right type of athletic, ball-skilled player that the All Blacks are accustomed to now at lock and if he continues to mature and fill out his physical potential, expect to see him not too far away from the All Blacks frame.
Without a doubt, Steven Luatua is probably the forward around New Zealand who has made the biggest impact in Super Rugby. After experiencing a taste of it in 2012 he continues to be a major force off the side of the scrum for the Blues. He has great leadership potential, is growing his work in and around the breakdown and has become a very strong ball carrier.
If we were looking for a guy to grow into the boots of Jerome Kaino, he's the guy that can do that. And if New Zealand are looking for a physical presence, you need to look no further than the mammoth of a man that is Brad Shields with the Hurricanes. More comfortable, it appears, at this stage at No. 6, he quite clearly has the capability to play No. 8 and as he gets more game time, watch him continue to impress.
On the back of one performance at the weekend New Zealand has a potential superstar in Ardie Savea. A loose forward who has the speed, acceleration and skills of a back, expect to see some special things from him as he starts to get more experience and coaching at the highest level.
It's rare that you see a player make an impact like he made in his first appearance in Super Rugby. Playing against a physical and experienced forward pack like the New South Wales Waratahs, he was able to shine in his work-rate and his decision-making at the breakdown.
He's a different athlete to Richie McCaw, Sam Cane, Luke Braid or Matt Todd. He is more explosive and he's a little more Adam Thomson-like in that he can play out with the backs and at the speed they play at.
Next week: Emerging backs talent