British rugby has a good number of up-and-coming players ready to make their mark. These five are among those that you should be watching out for in 2014:
The Gloucester and England fly half (and occasional full back) Freddie Burns has already won three caps for his country. He is an attacking player with considerable flair who has sometimes been described as a maverick, often doing the unexpected on the pitch. Compared with his rivals, Burns runs more fluently and has better hands than Owen Farrell and is faster than Toby Flood, but his goal kicking is not as good as either. He was an instrumental figure in England ‘s successful tour of Argentina in the summer and former England players Jeremy Guscott and Andy Gomarsall have both said that he should start ahead of Farrell. Hopefully he will get the chance to pull on the New Canterbury of New Zealand England rugby shirt sometime soon.
Young Welshman Sam Davies won the 2013 IRB Junior Player of the Year 2013 award following the Junior World Championships in France this year. Playing at fly half for Ospreys, the son of former Wales Captain Nigel Davies, Sam has yet to establish himself at the senior level but has an excellent kicking game and controls the game well with great vision. He has to compete for his spot with Dan Biggar and Matthew Morgan but he is definitely a player for the future.
This former rugby league player switched codes in 2011, when he joined Bath as a centre/fullback. An elusive and quick runner, he has drawn comparisons with Jason Robinson, which is testament to his ability. He has two test caps, both earned on the successful England summer tour to Argentina. Eastmond is an exciting player but in an age when players in his position almost inevitably weigh in the 90 to 100 kg range he might struggle at just 80 kg. Given the chance, however, he could just be the man to provide the spark the England back line needs.
England-born, London Irish player Kieran Low’s ancestry allows him to take his pick of the home countries but Scotland’s stand-in coach Scott Johnson was the first to offer him an international opportunity. At around two metres tall he is just as happy playing in the back row, especially open-side, as he is in the boiler room at lock. He offers a versatility that Scotland desperately need. Given the opportunity, he could easily break through and make a big impression on the international stage this season.
From a distinguished Tongan rugby family, new Saracens recruit Billy Vunipola made a name for himself in Under 18 and Under 20 international rugby before bursting onto the full international stage with two good performances on England’s summer tour of Argentina. A try-scoring machine, who at 1.88m and 126kg is just made to be a flanker, Vunipola will be pressing hard for a place in the England side this season. He is an exciting player and a firm favourite with the fans.