With an incredible year of rugby drawing to a close, we thought it worth looking ahead to 2016 and ten players to watch out for in what will be yet another fabulous year for both fifteens and sevens.
The players are ranked based on how compelling their storyline is, so go ahead, indulge yourself, and if you think we’ve missed someone, start the conversation in the comments below!
20. Marcus Watson (Newcastle Falcons)
The former England Sevens star signed for Newcastle in the summer and, at first, seemed to struggle somewhat to find his feet. However, Watson is now the top try-scorer in the European Challenge Cup with six tries in four games. The Falcons will need the winger to replicate this explosive form in the Premiership if the North East based club is going to have any chance of survival.
19. Amanaki Mafi (Bath Rugby)
The Tonga-born 25-year-old was one of the stars of the Brave Blossoms’ impressive World Cup campaign, and will leave Japanese club NTT Shining Arcs next month. It will be interesting to see if the star can replicate in the Aviva Premiership with Bath when he joins up with his new teammates at the end of January.
18. Charles Piutau (Wasps)
Ahead of joining Ulster in the summer, Piutau has played this season for Wasps in the Aviva Premiership, impressing everyone with a few outstanding displays, particularly during victories against Toulon and Leinster. The 17-cap All Black is someone that you should keep an eye on at all times due to his insane skill set.
17. Kyle Eastmond (Bath/England)
Former rugby league half-back Eastmond was again linked with a return to rugby league after his release from England’s squad ahead of the World Cup. However, he has continued to ply his trade in Union as a pivotal playmaker for Bath and will be looking to make an impact on the international stage under new head coach Eddie Jones.
16. Dan Biggar (Ospreys/Wales)
2015 couldn’t have been much better for Biggar, but will the Ospreys and Wales star continues his rise up the rugby ranks in 2016? We don’t see why not: being a great goalkicker, pace-setter and playmaker makes him one of the best players in the Pro 12 or even in Europe right now.
15. Ryan Crotty (New Zealand)
Crotty is keen to add to his 15 Test caps for New Zealand, the Crusaders midfield back acknowledging the “opportunity” with the main All Blacks players having exited the Rugby World Cup-winning fold. He missed the cut for the World Cup having featured against Argentina at AMI Stadium during the Rugby Championship, but midfield Test spots will be up for grabs in 2016 with Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith having joined the exodus to France and Sonny Bill Williams concentrating on Sevens. This opening is his chance to become an international star or fade into the background.
14. Will Chudley (Exeter Chiefs/England?)
The scrum-half has made an excellent start to the campaign and was instrumental in an emphatic 41-27 victory for Exeter over Wasps earlier this month. The heartbeat of the Chiefs side, Chudley should, at least, be considered for the Six Nations squad If Eddie Jones is serious about starting a fresh and rewarding the best domestic players. He looks more than ready for the step up.
13. Nehe Milner Skudder (Hurricanes/New Zealand)
It’s been a great year for the winger. A brilliant attacking runner, Nehe Milner-Skudder matured from a solid provincial player into a fierce competitor on the international stage and with many players hanging up their boots it will be fascinating to see if he comes to the forefront of All Black rugby as one of their new poster boys.
12.Cornell du Preez (Edinburgh/Scotland)
The Kiwi-born back-rower will be eligible to pull on the Dark Blue shirt and join Vern Cotter’s resurgent Scotland side when he fulfils the three-year residency rule in October 2016. It will be fascinating to see if he can replicate his fantastic form on the international stage!
11. Dan Carter (Racing Metro)
Needing to replace Johnny Sexton, Racing 92 decided to break the bank to land 33-year-old Dan Carter. While the Kiwi fly-half had his critics over recent years, Carter silenced them with his performance in the World Cup Final. Carter has since won over supporters in Paris after his performance during Racing’s 33-3 win over Northampton. It will be interesting to see if the veteran number 10 can continue his good start and whether he and his team can end the season with any silverware.
10. Bryan Habana (Toulon/ South Africa Sevens)
Another player who is looking to try his hand at the Sevens game in 2016 – which will undoubtedly create a lot of headlines. It’s hard to say whether the rugby legend will be a success though as one wonders how a 32-year-old Habana will cope in this harsh environment. Succeed or struggle. It’ll be well worth a watch for sure either way.
9.Greig Laidlaw (Gloucester/Scotland)
Following a poor Six Nations campaign, Scotland, inspired by their Captain Laidlaw, captured the imaginations of many with their brave and, in the end, controversial exit from the Rugby World Cup. It will be interesting if the scrum-half’s Dark Blues will takea two step forwards or whether they will once again struggle.
8.Stuart McCloskey (Ulster/Ireland)
The centre has been consistently a standout performer this season, impressing in every game he plays. He is definitely worth considering for the Ireland team and could be a potential star for the men in green during the upcoming Six Nations if he is given the opportunity.
7. Luther Burrell (Northampton Saints/England)
Controversially left out of England’s Rugby World Cup squad, 2016 is sure to be a year of redemption for the Northampton Saints centre. Burrell, who has made an exceptional start to the 2015/16 campaign, will be looking for an international recall under Eddie Jones.
6. Henry Slade (Exeter/England)
Exeter are clinging to the hope that Slade, the most talked-about midfielder in England, will be back on his feet sometime before the end of April. It will then be intriguing to see if the fast rising star can pick up from where he left off.
5. Dylan Hartley (Northampton/England)
The uncompromising Hartley, a man, assumed to be likely to start a row in an empty room, appears odds-on to become England Captain under Eddie Jones. That is a massive story itself, and anybody would be sat wide-eyed to see how that decision turns out. It would be a gamble from the new England head coach for sure.
4. Sonny Bill Williams (New Zealand Sevens)
One of world rugby’s beloved figures won’t be in Super Rugby this season due to the next challenge on the personal hit list of the multi-sport champion Williams, the Olympic Games. The two-time Rugby World Cup winner is looking to conquer the Sevens circuit this season and will make his debut in the Wellington showpiece in late January. His skills, power and offloading ability should give New Zealand a boost they need to come away from Rio with a gold medal in the summer.
3. Maro Itoje (Saracens/England?)
New England head Eddie Jones will want to play a fast game, and someone like Itoje would fit well into his gameplan. He’s very quick over the ground, carries well and has a good skill-set to link with both backs and forwards. He had been tipped to captain the side but just seeing him in a white shirt during the six nations would be great to see as one of the world fastest rising talents continues to get better and better. Saracens look odds on to win the Premiership again too while their chances of winning the Champions Cup seem to get better week by week.
2. Leigh Halfpenny (Toulon/Wales)
The Wales full-back continues to deliberate over staying on at Toulon, switching to Wasps or returning to one of the Welsh regions.It will be interesting to see where one the Northern Hemispheres finest talents ends up and how he performs once back from injury.
1. Manu Tuilagi (Leicester Tigers)
Tuilagi has a simple goal in 2016 – to play rugby, a serious amount of rugby, after a 13-month period without action due to a chronic groin problem.The new England head coach has pledged to give everyone ‘a clean slate,’ and will pick on form rather than on reputation. The Tigers man has the chance to impress and he is sure to take the opportunity.