WITH JUST OVER a week to go until Ireland kick off their November test series against Samoa, we’ve decided to take a look at a trio of the lesser known players who could be causing Ireland grief over the coming month.
The more renowned names like Kahn Fotuali’i, Quade Cooper and Kieran Read bring qualities we know all about, but here are a few of the guys who could cause surprises for Ireland.
Charles Piutau (New Zealand)
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Having made his international debut during the summer, Piutau already has seven caps for New Zealand but will feel he still hasn’t had a chance to show his true ability. The Blues fullback came off the bench in five of the All Blacks’ Rugby Championship games, but a total of 77 minutes weren’t sufficient for him to explode into life.
A product of the New Zealand Sevens’ set-up, the 22-year-old had a sensational Super Rugby season in 2013, scoring five tries in 16 games. He possesses all the traits one would expect of a former sevens specialist; dazzling footwork, searing pace and excellent stamina.
What marks Piutau out from other players who haven’t crossed codes so successfully is his strength in contact, understanding of when to counter-attack and ability to field kicks. While there is still an element of rawness to his skills, Piutau will be desperate for starting chances this autumn.
Jack Lam (Samoa)
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A cousin of Connacht coach Pat, the openside flanker only made his international debut in June, starting all three of Samoa’s games at the Quadrangular tournament in South Africa. At 25, Lam had given up hope of winning caps for his native New Zealand and took up the Samoan’s offer of international rugby.
Not to suggest that Lam – who also represented Australia at Schools level – gives anything other than 100% commitment for his country. On the contrary, the Hurricanes back row was hugely aggressive and visible in his three caps against Scotland, Italy and South Africa. Lam is devastatingly effective at the breakdown, and pilfers the ball with regularity.
With three seasons of Super Rugby under his belt, the Waikato man has also developed a strong offloading game, and he invariably gets the hands free when he goes into contact. An intelligent, hard-working, dynamic flanker; Ireland will have their hands full ensuring Lam doesn’t have a telling impact on the result.
Tevita Kuridrani (Australia)
Kuridrani (left) helped the Brumbies to beat the Lions. Rob Griffith/AP/Press Association Images.
The Brumbies centre made his international bow as recently as August in the Rugby Championship, coming off the bench against the All Blacks. There have been four more caps since, and a first try for Australia in the thrilling 41-33 loss to New Zealand two weekends ago.
Kuridrani has improved with each showing for the Wallabies, much like he has done for the Brumbies in Super Rugby over the last two seasons. Standing 6ft 4ins tall and weighing around 102kg, the Fiji-born 22-year-old is very much in the mould of the modern centre. His power was evident in a brilliant performance against the Lions in June.
That sheer strength makes Kuridrani a hard man to put to deck in the tackle, and also means he can offload with regularity. There are certainly still areas where the Namatakula native – the same village that produced Lote Tuqiri – can improve, and Brian O’Driscoll would enjoy the challenge of opening up gaps on either side of him.
Who are the players you think Ireland need to watch out for this month? Beyond the big stars, who are the guys likely to do damage to our chances of recording wins?
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