Super Rugby is on our doorstep and my Fantasy Rugby Draft is a thing of the past, which means I can now reveal the names of the five ‘newbies’ who will make paying for DSTV worthwhile over the coming months.
Super Rugby is a superb launching pad for many players and it is truly the closest thing to Test rugby. Year upon year there are new talents unearthed in the months from February to June as ITM Cup, NRL and Currie Cup players make the step up to Super Rugby. Most publications highlight key players and players to watch in their Super Rugby previews, but I don’t want to bore you with the same old ‘Kieran Read’, ‘Julian Savea and ‘Israel Folau’ sort of nonsense. Rather lets take a gamble and go for some originality with these young bucks. The question is, will they cut the mustard?
Warrick Gelant (Bulls – Fullback)
Super Rugby Caps: 0
The Boogieman from the Southern Cape has been a long time favourite of mine. He lit the scene up for Outeniqua back in 2013 and has grown immensely in stature, having represented the Blitzboks, Baby Boks and Bulls Currie Cup teams already. A midfielder in his school days, he has done a reverse Jesse Kriel and shifted to the back with aplomb. Gelant was a breath of fresh air to the Bulls during the Currie Cup and 2016 will see the fleet-footed outside back get the chance to set the stage alight in front of an international audience. With his slick hands, mean turn of pace and sure footed stepping, the Boogieman is sure to dance his way through your TV and into your lounge as a household name.
Seta Tamanivalu (Chiefs – Centre)
Super Rugby Caps: 6
I am a massive ITM Cup fan and it always gives me the jump on my mates when it comes to fantasy rugby, because I am able to get a look in at the up and coming Kiwi stars. Seta Tamanivalu bought the house down in 2014 when he helped Taranaki lift the title for the first time ever. He struggled to get game time with the Chiefs the following year, due to injury and a mean midfield combo of SBW and Charlie Ngatai. With SBW on the Sevens circuit and Tamanivalu seemingly injury free, expect a big season from the 2014 ITM Cup Player of the Year. I touted him as one of the New Kids on the Block last year and whilst it didn’t quite materialise, you best believe it will this year! SBW is a freak show, but big Seta has a strong tackle busting and offloading game to compliment his partnership with Taranaki team mate Ngatai.
Rob Thompson (Highlanders – Centre)
Super Rugby Caps: 3
Rob Thompson isn’t a newbie to Super Rugby having played a few games for the Crusaders back in 2014, however 2016 will be the midfielders break out year. Like Tamanivalu, Thompson made his name with a title winning ITM Cup campaign. The Canterbury midfielder racked up 10 tries in 12 appearances last year (joint top with George Moala), to go with 16 clean breaks (7th overall), 52 defenders beaten (3rd overall) and a tackle completion of 77%. Like most Kiwi backs these days, Thompson is blessed with explosive speed and power. With the prospect of playing in a backline that features Aaron Smith, Lima Sopoaga, Malakai Fekitoa, Patrick Osborne, Waisake Naholo and Ben Smith, one can’t help but imagine Thompson adding a Super Rugby winners medal to his two ITM Cup titles.
Rieko Ioane (Blues – Outside Back)
Super Rugby Caps: 0
If you haven’t heard of Rieko Ioane yet, then you can’t consider yourself a rugby fan let alone a fundi. The younger brother of Akira is forging his own path and 2016 has already seen him launch into global super stardom with the All Blacks Sevens team. The 2014 New Zealand Schools skipper has torn teams to shreds on the HSBC 7s circuit alongside his brother. Rieko is set to feature in the Blues squad for the first 10 weeks of Super Rugby before heading back to the sevens team. 10 weeks is more than enough time for the slinky Auckland man (boy?) to have an impact, even if he may be too young to legally have a drink in the USA. He also boasts significant rugby heritage with a father (Eddie) who played Test rugby for Samoa and a mother (Sandra Wihongi) who played for the Black Ferns.
Facundo Isa (Jaguares – Loose Forward)
Super Rugby Caps: 0
So you can’t really call Facundo Isa a ‘newbie’ either because of the fact that he has played Test rugby for Argentina and featured at the World Cup. However, technically he is a Super Rugby virgin and as a youngster, many of you may not be aware of this wonderful talent. He was one of my favourites at the World Cup and I thoroughly enjoyed watching him in a preseason match for the Jaguares against the Lions the other day. The powerful loosie is a typically well built Argentinian forward with great defensive and lineout qualities. This tenacious back-rower has good pace and deft skill, making him a great attacking threat too. With the likes of Isa, Leonaro Senatore, Pablo Matera, Javier Ortega Desio and Juan Manuel Leguizamon in their backrow, you can expect the Jaguares to be a powerful force in Super Rugby.