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5 young players who have impressed in Super Rugby Aotearoa

Hoskins Sotutu, Caleb Clarke, Marino Mikaele Tu’u, Will Jordan and Cullen Grace have looked good.

SUPER RUGBY AOTEAROA has provided rugby fans with plenty to get excited about over the past two weekends, while it has also allowed the latest generation of high-quality Kiwi players to show their promise.

Here, we pick out five uncapped young players who have underlined their promise in the last fortnight.

Hoskins Sotutu

The 21-year-old Blues back row has picked up where he left off in Super Rugby earlier this year, when he had displaced Akira Ioane from the number eight shirt.

HS Sotutu has been superb for the Blues in 2020.

At 6ft 4ins, Sotutu is a fine lineout forward while his dynamic power and toughness allow him to be dominant in contact. His skill level is what really sets him apart, with his beautiful skip pass assist for Mark Telea’s try against the Chiefs last weekend the latest illustration of that.

Sotutu is a strong offloader of the ball, averaging one per game this year, while he is even a capable kicker – as evidenced by his grubber-kick assist for Telea earlier this year and a good exit kick from the Blues 22 versus the Chiefs last time out.

With a tackle completion rate of 94% this year, as well as four jackal turnovers and another four turnovers forced in tackles, it’s also been obvious that Sotutu is a focused and effective defender.

It’s clear that Sotutu has major potential and could be a truly complete number eight. With Kieran Read having retired from Test rugby, the All Blacks are on the lookout for their next long-term number eight and Sotutu certainly seems to fit the bill.

Cullen Grace

Another promising back row player, 20-year-old Grace also made an impact earlier this year in the curtailed 2020 Super Rugby season.

cullen-grace Cullen Grace is a versatile forward. Source: Photosport/John Davidson/INPHO

Four of his five starts for the Crusaders so far have come at blindside flanker, with the other at number eight, while he can also play in the second row. Grace’s lineout work is a major strength.

An intelligent footballer, he demonstrated his acceleration, awareness and composure in the build-up to Sevu Reece’s early try against the Hurricanes last weekend, drawing in two defenders before releasing the ball to Reece for the right wing’s first touch.

Grace, who played for the New Zealand U20s, clearly likes the physical stuff too and has forced five turnovers in tackles so far this year.

A tough, clever forward with great set-piece skills, his future is bright.

Will Jordan 

Having played nine times in Super Rugby last year, scoring eight tries in those appearances, Jordan is not a newcomer at this level but the 22-year-old is definitely one to watch.

rugby-crusaders-waratahs Jordan is a clever fullback. Source: AAP/PA Images

His return to action at fullback against the Canes last weekend was a timely reminder of his classy skills. Jordan’s positional play in the backfield was strong, while his work off the ball in attack consistently put him in good positions too.

His startling acceleration makes him a major threat on the ball, as demonstrated by several of his kick returns last weekend, as well as some darting runs when he filled in as a first receiver – leaving him with three clean breaks and eight defenders beaten in total.

A nice lofted pass also showed his distribution ability, while Jordan’s kicking game is also improving. In an excellent environment at the Crusaders, he is likely to keep getting better.

Along with classy 22-year-old outside centre Braydon Ennor – already capped at Test level – Jordan could become a regular feature in future All Blacks squads. 

Caleb Clarke

The 21-year-old Blues wing has been part of the New Zealand 7s set-up in recent times but the temporary shutdown of that programme means Clarke has been free to return to his franchise for Super Rugby Aotearoa – to the delight of Blues fans.

caleb-clarke Clarke is a powerful wing. Source: Photosport/Andrew Cornaga/INPHO

Clarke has been a well-known prospect since his teens in Mount Albert Grammar School in Auckland and he made his Super Rugby debut for the Blues back in 2018. 

He was excellent for Auckland in the Mitre 10 Cup last year, scoring five tries in 10 starts, and now looks more confident than ever coming into a Blues team that has been impressive throughout 2020.

Clarke is a powerhouse of a wing, capable of breaking even firm tackle challenges and also changing direction comfortably at high speed.

Over on the other wing for the Blues, the superb Telea is still only 23 and virtually always beats the first defender, ensuring Leon McDonald’s side have serious firepower out wide. 

Marino Mikaele Tu’u

The Highlanders have only played once so far in Super Rugby Aotearoa, having sat out last weekend on a bye, but Marino Mikaele Tu’u's man-of-the-match showing in Round 1 against the Chiefs was a continuation of his form earlier in 2020.

the-highlanders-celebrate-a-try-scored-by-marino-mikaele-tuu The Highlanders celebrate Mikaele Tu'u's try against the Chiefs. Source: Photosport/Joe Allison/INPHO

Mikaele Tu’u, who only turned 23 this month, made his Super Rugby debut for the Highlanders back in 2018 but has really begun to deliver on his potential this year with explosive performances at number eight.

The ultra-dynamic number eight was one of the real bright sparks for the Highlanders as they struggled for form in the curtailed 2020 Super Rugby competition and he looked even better as Aaron Mauger’s side improved against the Chiefs two weekends ago.

Mikaele Tu’u is capable of generating huge power even in limited space, something that many other players simply don’t possess, and while he still has work to do on his defence and lineout skills, he is another player of real interest for the All Blacks moving forward.

Honourable mentions: Tupou Vaa’i [lock/Chiefs], Naitoa Ah Kuoi [lock/Chiefs], Quinn Tupaea [centre/Chiefs].

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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