As much fun as it is to see the old guard crashing around a rugby pitch doing their thing, it is the youngsters of the game that really excite. This 2017 top 10 features the best players that will be 25 years old or younger when we welcome 2018. These are the stars of the future, or – in some cases – the stars of now.
10 – Ardie Savea
24-year-old Ardie Savea was one of the very best players in Super Rugby in 2017. His stats – making more clean breaks (19) and beating more defenders (50) than any other forward – speak for themselves. It makes sense then that he was named in the competition’s team of the season.
As an All Black it has been tougher going for the younger Savea. New Zealand is blessed with so many good back row options they can afford to leave Savea on the bench in their biggest games, bringing him on to provide impact and spark.
When he has seen the pitch as a Kiwi though he has been a terror for the opposition and he appeared in all three Tests against the Lions. Savea’s time will come, but he is certainly making the most of the present.
9 – Jacob Stockdale
Jacob Stockdale is a flyer on this list, but his best performances in 2017 were late in the season and therefore fresh in the memory.
The 21-year-old is big and powerful winger with a stunning turn of pace and the ability to score from anywhere on the pitch. He was outstanding for Ireland against Argentina – scoring two brilliant tries – and his Ulster game tape shows him dominating the competition in the Pro14.
Ireland have put together an impressive young backline and Stockdale on the wing is going to score countless tries in green before his career is over.
8 – Stuart Hogg
If Scotland are to contend for the 2018 Six Nations title as many seem to think, then Stuart Hogg will be a big reason why.
The fullback was in simply sensational form in 2017 and he might have been even higher on this list if not for a couple of badly timed injuries that threatened to derail the 25-year-old’s season.
The first of these was the facial injury that cost him his Lions’ tour, while the second ruled him out of the final game os Scotland’s season. Inbetween though he showed the pace, the decision making, and the finishing ability that rank his as one of the world’s very best.
7 – Tadhg Furlong
Bruising tighthead prop Tadhg Furlong was a revelation on the British and Irish Lions tour in 2017. The Leinster sensation put in a string of high calibre performances against the All Blacks, winning the respect of the tour hosts in the process.
The 25-year-old is Leinster through and through – as proven with the recent signing of a new contract with the province – and the Wexford native will be a huge part of the future for both club and country.
A player who wears his heart on his sleeve, Furlong was the first to put his hand up for every collision in 2017, mixing bruising defence with the ability to make metres every time he carried the ball into contact.
6 – Maro Itoje
It is frightening that Maro Itoje is still just 23-years-old. The 1.95m, 116kg Saracens forward has done so much in so little time as a professional rugby union player that by the end of his career he could be one of the most decorated locks/ back row forwards in history.
Itoje has two Aviva Premiership titles, two European Rugby Champions Cup titles, and two Six Nations Championship titles to his name so far. Being on the England team that (along with Ireland) looks to be the greatest challenger to New Zealand’s world domination as we enter 2018 must be more than he could have dreamed of just a few years ago.
Itoje was one of the best players on British Lions tour of New Zealand and if he can remove the silly penalties from his game, then he could be the best at his position in the world.
5 – Damian McKenzie
Damian McKenzie is a player who will rise on this list over the next few seasons. The 22-year-old has been a standout in Super Rugby for the last couple of years, but it was in 2017 that he established himself at the Test level.
The biggest question about McKenzie will be his position moving forward. He has all the skills to make the New Zealand No. 15 shirt his own, but there have been rumours that he will play fly-half for the Chiefs beginning in 2018.
McKenzie’s greatest strengths are his searing pace and his ability to beat defenders. He has the hands and vision to be a world class 10, but would shifting to the pivot position take away much of the magic that makes him great?
4 – Marcus Smith
Harlequins fly-half Marcus Smith does not yet have a full England cap to his name. As we hit 2018, he will have played (at most) 10 games for ‘Quins. In team photos, Smith looks like the boot room boy that snuck into frame just as the picture was being taken.
He is also perhaps the single most promising player in world rugby.
Smith’s rise has been meteoric. This time last year he was playing for Brighton College and in 2017 he became the second youngest debutant in an Aviva Premiership match. Smith doesn’t turn 19 until February, but the poise with which he carries himself at the most difficult position on the pitch to play at a young age is extraordinary.
The sky is the limit is Smith continues to progress.
3 – Malcolm Marx
As the Springboks imploded around him, Malcolm Marx was fighting to steal yet another ball at the breakdown. There are a handful of world class South African players around at the moment, but the 23-year-old hooker would be the only one that could be considered the best at his position on an international scale.
Marx is one of those players that has no idea when he is supposed to be tired and taking a couple of phases off. His work rate in 2017 was just incredible, and he completely took over one of the games against the All Blacks, delivering a clinic on the role of the modern hooker.
Marx combines power, ball-handling, and immense breakdown work, along with that work rate, making him one of the most feared young players in the game.
2 – Marika Koroibete
Cross-code transplants are not supposed to make the game look as simple as Marika Koroibete did in his first rugby union season.
The former Melbourne Rebels rugby league star took to the game like the proverbial duck to water, barely missing a beat as he was fast tracked into the Wallabies set up for the Rugby Championship and their November tour.
The 25-year-old has outstanding acceleration from a standing start and knows how to turn that gas into power when taking contact. Perhaps his best ability is that no matter the code he has a nose for a try while being so new to the game it would seem that he is on an upward trajectory with no end in sight.
One to watch for the 2019 World Cup.
1 – Rieko Ioane
If you expected anyone else, there is a chance you have been living in a box for the past 12 months.
The 20-year-old Auckland born sensation was named Breakthrough Player of the Year in 2017 after dominating at every level he played. The Blues winger began the 2017 Super Rugby season with a hat-trick against the Melbourne Rebels, going on to score 10 tries over the course of the season, the highest individual total on the team.
It was on the international stage through where Ioane shone brightest. After displacing Julian Savea from the All Blacks left wing, Ioane went on to have an outstanding series against the touring British Lions. He saved his best work for the end of the season, dominating the New Zealand game against Wales in Cardiff, where he scored twice and played a major role in two more tries.
Which young players impressed you in 2017? The comments section below would love to know!
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