The names to look out for in the 16 teams from Ireland, Italy, Scotland, South Africa and Wales


United Rugby Championship Players to Watch 2021-22

New season, new competition. The Pro 14 has rebranded as the United Rugby Championship and expanded to 16 teams, with four South African franchises joining – Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers.

We’ve highlighted players to watch at each of the URC clubs – and don’t miss the in-depth team guides in Rugby World’s start-of-season issue 2021-22.

United Rugby Championship Players to Watch 2021-22


Rhyno Smith brings experience and versatility to a back-line that can look laboured. He could play at full-back or on the wing, or even as an auxiliary fly-half.

Looking home-grown, Riccardo Favretto offers real dynamism across the back five of the scrum.


Marcell Coetzee headlines a robust pack, but don’t be surprised if blindside Elrigh Louw makes a lasting impression. Duane Vermeulen has already tipped the fearless flanker to become a Springbok sooner rather than later.


Ben Thomas, who plays ten, 12 and 15, made his Wales debut against Canada in July. Dai Young turned inexperienced players into internationals in his first stint at the club: think Sam Warburton, Jamie Roberts, Leigh Halfpenny… Now to do the same again.


They’ve brought in Mack Hansen from the Brumbies at full-back and Leva Fifita, the Tonga lock, but the most intriguing recruit is Ireland U20 prop Sam Illo.

The 6ft 1in, 18st tighthead was terrific in the U20 Six Nations. It will be fascinating to see what progress he makes out west.


Ben Carter, 20, has been tipped by Wayne Pivac as a potential successor to Alun Wyn Jones. He won his first cap against Canada this summer, has led Wales at age-group level and played in 20 Dragons games last season – on his debut against Glasgow he made 31 tackles!

He will benefit from having the knowhow of Rowlands alongside.


You have to be seriously good to merit a mention in the context of the Edinburgh back row, but all the signs are that Ben Muncaster will be right in the conversation.

One of the few players to impress in Scotland’s disastrous U20 Six Nations, the No 8 showed up well in the Rainbow Cup and should get more opportunities this year.


Josh McKay arrives from the Crusaders with a reputation that will immediately endear him to a Scotstoun crowd desperate for a quicksilver full-back to latch onto since Stuart Hogg left town.

A world champion with New Zealand U20, he will also be on tap year-round – he is not Scotland-qualified.


Rónan Kelleher is only 23 but it feels like the hooker has been on the scene for ages.

He’s a fantastic footballer; he scored four tries against the USA in July. The Lions called him up and he’ll have learnt a lot. This could be a big season for him.


With Elton Jantjies moving to Japan, Jordan Hendrikse, 20, should have an extended opportunity to develop at fly-half.

The younger brother of new Bok scrum-half Jaden, he has troubled South African defences.


Still only 23, Gavin Coombes was voted the province’s Player of the Season and his try-scoring record is off the scale.


Not a new signing but Gareth Anscombe must feel like a new squad member now he’s finally got back on the pitch after suffering a serious knee injury playing for Wales in 2019.


Corey Baldwin, who plays wing or centre, is back at Scarlets after a tough season at Exeter, where he played just four matches.

Wayne Pivac was a fan of Baldwin when he was in charge at Scarlets; the 22-year-old could attract his attention again with his pace and physicality.


Aphelele Fassi scored with his first touch on his Test debut against Georgia. The full-back is more than a finisher, though; his passing and kicking skills should enhance the Sharks’ approach.


No 8 Evan Roos was one of the top performers in the Currie Cup, and will be tasked with providing further impetus at the collisions and breakdowns in the URC.


James Hume really announced himself last term.

The centre not only put in a steady stream of excellent performances but won his first Ireland cap. He’s a lovely footballer with plenty of steel. Hume could fly this season.


Jacopo Trulla, 21, was elevated to the national team quickly by Franco Smith. It didn’t do the back-three man any favours, his greenness ruthlessly exposed. But a season of solid club rugby could do wonders for his confidence and composure.

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