By Alan Dymock
A PUNCH landed in a Bath pub and the 2001 IRB Young Player of the Year landed on the floor.
In last week’s well-publicised fracas between Gavin Henson and team-mate Carl Fearns there was a spill few would be proud of and, the perceived culpability of the punch-drunk Gavin Henson aside, it was yet another slug to the reputation of someone who was once Wales’ most promising talent.
We tend to forget that Henson was deemed the best young player in the world in 2001. However, when you look beyond the Bath back and see the other names on the IRB’s list, there are a few others who never quite grew to match the hype, while some have fulfilled their prodigious talent.
The IRB decided to give an award to the best U19 and U21 player. So while Luke McAlister became the All Black he was meant to be after a fine year at U19 level, South African prop Pat Barnard never quite reached the level an IRB gong would suggest he belongs at. Never threatening to break out and become a full Springbok, he moved to England and played a little bit for Northampton Saints and London Wasps. He is now at Brive who have just been promoted to the Top 14.
The U19 winger Jean-Baptiste Payras-Loustalet, anyone? The Frenchman has just signed for Bordeaux in the Top 14 after playing for Beziers, but again he never turned into the talent many were hoping could tear off his wing and shred defences. Equally, Kiwi U21 winner Ben Atiga never conquered the world. He received one All Black cap and played some Super Rugby, but moved to Scotland last year to meet up with Edinburgh. He was by no means a regular last season but has another term to make himself a must-pick.
Jerome Kaino has been a big success for the All Blacks and a stand out blindside in the world game. Jeremy Thrush, the U19 winner, joined the One-cap Club this year at the age of 28. The Hurricane second-row may go on to collect more caps should fortune (and Steve Hansen) favour him.
No shocks here. Isaia Toeava went on to be a utility go-to for the All Blacks (although he has slinked away to Japan recently) and Tatafu Polota-Nau is a regular Wallaby.
Josh Holmes is not a name that rolls off the tongue, but in 2006 the Aussie scrum-half was the best player at U19 level in the eyes of the IRB and was seen as a pretender to George Gregan’s throne. Time with the ‘Tahs, Brumbies and Western Force played out and now he works a nine to five job and plays Shute Shield rugby at the weekends for Warringah. A steady decline in comparison to the U21 winner, Lionel Beauxis…
Robbie Fruean, the sole winner of an award in ’07, has progressed and impressed for the Canterbury Crusaders. At only 24 he should have plenty of rugby ahead of him, but heart surgery has meant that he will not have any rugby for a good while. One to keep an eye on should he recover as we all hope.
Luke Braid? The brother of Sale Sharks’ All Black flanker Daniel is another one with time on his hands at only 24. He is a regular for the Auckland Blues and has led them on a handful of occasions. His stock is rising, but the talent pool in New Zealand is deep…
Aaron Cruden is now the stand-out selection at stand-off for New Zealand (when Dan Carter doesn’t fancy it). Well, he will be first choice one day.
If you do not know who Julian Savea is by now, you will soon enough. He has his own social problems, having been charged with assault following a domestic incident, and must be condemned, if found guilty. However, his rugby is mightily impressive with 13 tries in 11 Tests for the All Blacks. A worthy winner in 2010, despite the issues that were to come.
The young Leicester Tiger George Ford was touted as the next big thing in 2011. He won the gong and instantly there were calls for Toby Flood to make way for Ford. He didn’t and with Owen Farrell and Freddie Burns the young fly-halves leading England, Ford has melted away. Now at Bath and looking to live up to the promise. Capable, but in need of an outlet.
No hanging around in South Africa for the Baby Boks. Centre Jan Serfontein wins IRB young player award one year, is capped for the Springboks the next. The Bull is another who will have to be watched closely. There’s a World Cup coming up and he could feature heavily.
Sprightly Sam Davies, son of Gloucester head coach Nigel Davies is a fly-half with the Ospreys who has the world at his feet. He is 19; can kick; can run; has vision; has guts. If handled well he could go far. There are a lot of people hoping he doesn’t waver in the way the Welsh winner from thirteen years ago has…