With the dust settling on the June Tests, attention turns back to Super Rugby this weekend. Francisco Isaac picks five young players lighting up this year's competition

Five young stars of Super Rugby


Games in 2018 13
Points in 2018 30 (6 tries)
Year of debut 2017
International No
Position Full-back/Wing

Solomon Alaimalo is Super Rugby’s Metre Eater as he tops the list with somewhere between 1,109 and 1,333 metres, depending on which source you believe. Whatever the figure, he’s ahead of the competition, with Amanaki Mafi and George Bridge in his rear-view mirror.

A huge problem for rival teams, Alaimalo is always on the lookout to launch an offensive play, making use of his handling skills, awesome acceleration and powerful physique.

His qualities have brought this powerful back-three player 36 clean breaks and 49 tackle busts, and it’s surely only a matter of time before he becomes an All Black. Alaimalo’s ascension made things easier for Colin Cooper and the Chiefs when Damian McKenzie moved from full-back to fulfil the fly-half role previously occupied by Aaron Cruden.

Everybody is talking about Ben Lam (14 tries), but Alaimalo is the New Thing in the New Zealand rugby landscape.

Five young stars of Super Rugby Damian Willemse

Top ten: Stormers’ Damian Willemse has the vision to put himself in the Springbok mix (AFP/Getty)

DAMIAN WILLEMSE (Stormers, 20)

Games in 2018 11
Points in 2018 98 (3 tries, 19 cons, 15 pens)
Year of debut 2017
International South Africa U20
Position Fly-half

It’s not been a good season for the DHL Stormers, as they’re trailing the Lions, Jaguares and Sharks, with grim hopes of getting into the play-offs. The scenario could be much worse if the likes of Damian de Allende, Siya Kolisi and Steven Kitshoff weren’t in top form.

Damian Willemse, the 20-year-old Junior Springbok fly-half, has also had an outstanding season that was rudely interrupted by a knee injury sustained during the U20 World Championship in France at the start of the month. The prognosis was four to six weeks.

Willemse’s mobility is exceptional, enabling him to deliver another type of game for the Stormers. His excellent ball play and vision enable him to open up the tightest of defences, and he likes nothing better than to carry the ball. In fact, there are shades of Beauden Barrett in the flair, energy and attacking skills that he brings.

Willemse is also a talented kicker. He has a success rate of 80% off the tee for the Cape Town franchise, while his in-game kicking is good as well, exerting a lot of pressure, especially against teams who like to blitz the midfield.

Can Willemse outflank Handre Pollard, Elton Jantjies and Pat Lambie as an option for the Springboks No 10 jersey? It will be interesting to see.

Five young stars of Super Rugby Stephen Perofeta

Man of magic: Blues pivot Stephen Perofeta makes a break against the Rebels in Auckland (Getty)


Games in 2018 11
Points in 2018 72 (1 try, 17 cons, 11 pens)
Year of debut 2017
International New Zealand U20
Position Fly-half

Another season, another horrible year for the Blues and even Tana Umaga can’t seem to turn the tables around. Still, some players are producing the goods: Rieko and Akira Ioane, Ofa Tu’ungafasi and the new kid on the block, Stephen Perofeta.

A U20 world champion for the Baby Blacks, the fly-half impressed last summer when the Blues toppled the British & Irish Lions at Eden Park. And he rose this year after Bryn Gatland failed to cut the mustard at ten for the Auckland franchise.

Perofeta is almost unreadable when he starts running and making use of his incredible footwork, wriggling through tackles. His try against the Sharks – one of the best games this season – illustrates what he can do when given space and time.

The young back has to work on his timing in defence as well as his goalkicking (73%) to become a real option for the All Blacks. But his magical skills can make anyone clap for Perofeta, even his rivals!

Five young stars of Super Rugby Warrick Gelant

Tricky customer: Warrick Gelant keeps Jaguares guessing during a Bulls match (Getty)


Games in 2018 12
Points in 2018 35 (7 tries)
Year of debut 2016
International South Africa
Position Full-back/Wing

It says something that, despite the brilliance of Willie le Roux in the South Africa-England series, the Springboks still brought Warrick Gelant in for the final Test in Cape Town. But the full-back is one of those menaces that no teams want to face.

His physicality in contact is one detail that makes him a powerhouse, different to le Roux or Andries Coetzee. He’s averaging ten carries and 52 metres a match in 2018 Super Rugby.

Gelant has other assets: the ability to not only chase kicks but to recapture them and make the try-line, astute reading of the opposition defence, and a kicking subtlety that was shown by the grubber that he put through for Jesse Kriel to score in the Newlands defeat by England.

Bulls coach John Mitchell has been working on Gelant’s consistency and it’s working as he’s been one of the best South African players in Super Rugby this season. That strong build, powerful acceleration, velvety handling skills and gifted rugby mindset will make Gelant a man to emulate in future years.

Five young stars of Super Rugby Brandon Paenga-Amosa

Wallaby material: Reds hooker Brandon Paenga-Amosa has caught the eye of Michael Cheika (Getty)


Games in 2018 13
Points in 2018 20 (4 tries)
Year of debut 2018
International Australia
Position Hooker

What a year it’s been for the Kiwi-born hooker, as he debuted in Super Rugby and made such a strong impact that Michael Cheika called him into the Wallabies training camp. He started all three Tests of the series against Ireland.

Brandon Paenga-Amosa is an accomplished scrummager, working with detail and power to help Queensland Reds win 89% of their own scrums – the best of all of the Australian sides.

Brad Thorn’s side has had their problems but the way their forwards march on in the maul, and the intensity they bring to the breakdown, are good signs for the future.

But does the hooker have any traits that can distinguish him from the competition? Well, his stats can help us understand his quality as an attacking option with just three handling errors in 74 carries, five line breaks and 18 defenders beaten. In 13 games he has run more than 300 metres, emerging as one of the Reds’ best launchpads for an attack.

As for tackling, Paenga-Amosa is a secure player in contact, as his 85% success rate shows. After the retirement of the great Stephen Moore and Tatafu Polota-Nau’s Test-match ‘rest’, an exciting new era beckons at hooker for the Wallabies.