The Rugby Union talent pool is in a constant state of flux.
With a lot of ageing players stuck in inevitable decline, the onus is on young or middle-aged players to develop into stars who’ll eventually take their seats at the top table, ensuring a seamless transition
2017 has seen countless players take their game to the next level, placing them in a much stronger position than they were at the start of the year.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at 2017’s biggest improvers…
1. Sam Simmonds (England/Exeter)
However far Eddie Jones cast his net in his search for a World Cup bolter, it is unlikely that the England head coach would have ever spotted Sam Simmonds, the son of a trawlerman, until the very back end of last season.
Unlike the other young thrusters included in Jones’ 34-man squad, back-row Simmonds did not represent England through the age grades.
This time last year, he was turning out for Cornish Pirates on a dual-registered agreement from Exeter where he had yet to appear in the Aviva Premiership. Fast forward 12 months and the abrasive back-rower is now a Chiefs regular and England international after making his debut during the Autumn Internationals.
2. Rieko Ioane (New Zealand/Blues)
The winger marked his New Zealand debut last November with a try against Italy, but it is in 2017 that he has truly made his mark on the test arena with eight tries in as many starts.
The 20-year-old scored twice in his first start against the British and Irish Lions at Eden Park and claimed another double in his first Bledisloe Cup match in August.
With pace and strength to burn, Ioane finished the Rugby Championship as joint-top try-scorer with five after beating the most defenders, making the most clean breaks and metres in the competition.
He then finished the year by winning the World Rugby Breakthrough player of the year award.