Young guns: five emerging stars from the Rugby World Cup
The 2019 Rugby World Cup has made stars of many young players. AFP looks at some of those who made a huge impact at their first World Cup.
Short for a professional rugby player, standing just 1.72m (5ft 8in) tall and weighing only 80kg (12st 8lb), Cheslin Kolbe has become a giant of the game at his first World Cup and scored the try that sealed it for the Springboks.
The Olympic sevens bronze medallist made his international debut only last year after being previously told he was too small for international 15-a-side rugby but burst onto the greatest rugby stage.
The Toulouse winger, cousin of 400m world-record holder Wayde van Niekerk, scored two sensational tries against Italy, unfortunately also picking up an ankle injury that ruled him out of the semi-final clash with Wales. But he came roaring back in the final, a sizzling burst down the right putting the icing on the cake for South Africa in their 32-12 demolition of England.
At 25, Kolbe is no longer in the first flush of youth but promises to terrorise opposition defences for many years to come. Springbok Coach Rassie Erasmus hailed his talent, saying he was one of the players who “have just got X-factor and can do something out of nothing“.
One of England’s back-row forwards dubbed the “Kamikaze kids” by coach Eddie Jones, Tom Curry has been immense at the 2019 Rugby World Cup and at the tender age of 21 earned a nomination for World Player of the Year.
Part of a youthful back-row that also includes Sam Underhill at 23 and Billy Vunipola at 26, Curry’s work-rate and huge tackling also saw him praised as a “Duracell bunny” by Vunipola.
He won man-of-the-match against Australia where his dominant performance over Wallabies’ famed back-rowers Michael Hooper and David Pocock felt like a changing of the guard. Jones nicknamed him and Underhill the “Kamikaze kids” because they “hit everything that moves” and Curry has bashfully admitted that tackling is his favourite part of the game.
“It’s why we like the game and it is probably hard to explain to your Mum. It is brilliant and you cannot get it any other walk of life,” he said. Curry fell short in the final but his massive hits and appetite for work are likely to feature for England for some time to come.
The 19-year-old Petaia became Australia’s youngest-ever World Cup player with an electric debut against Uruguay, as he crashed over for one try and set up another in a crucial 45-10 bonus-point win. Petaia was the first Wallaby to make his Test debut at a World Cup since Berrick Barnes in 2007, after a series of injuries delayed an even earlier Test debut.
Australia coach Michael Cheika pulled a huge surprise in the quarter-finals against England by selecting him to play at outside centre, where he has lined up for Super Rugby’s Queensland Reds. Paired with powerful runner Samu Kerevi, he showed the world what he was capable of, with his quick feet leading to a couple of half-breaks for the ultimately disappointing Wallabies. All Black wing Sevu Reece was one of only six uncapped players in the preliminary World Cup squad but the 22-year-old forced himself into the first-choice XV with a string of glittering performances.
The Fiji-born Reece, who specialised in the high jump and the 100m as a junior, wowed the World Cup with his pace and athleticism, especially in New Zealand’s dominant performance against Ireland in the quarter-finals.
“Our attack has gone to a new level,” said coach Steve Hansen after that 46-14 demolition, as Reece linked up with another young gun in George Bridge, 24, and star fullback Beauden Barrett to tear the highly fancied Irish backs to shreds.
At only 20, fly-half Romain Ntamack was one of the bright sparks for France in a misfiring campaign that ended in quarter-final defeat to Wales. Son of former back Emile, the Ntamacks became the first father-and-son pair to represent France and Romain’s performances in Japan earned him a nomination as one of World Rugby’s three “breakthrough” players of the year.
Despite France’s early exit from the tournament, they showed glimpses — especially in the first half against Wales — of the flowing rugby they are famous for, and Ntamack’s distribution was key to that. With half-back partner Antoine Dupont only 22, outgoing coach Jacques Brunel insisted France could look forward to a “brighter future” with those two pulling the strings.