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15 Top Young Rugby Players to Watch in 2021

| December 27, 2020 5:26 am PDT
Various Young Rugby Players 2021

Who are the best young rugby players in the world?

It’s a tough question, right? With so many players set to break out in 2021 or make gains on their marvelous efforts in 2020, it’s just too much to squeeze them all into a list with just fifteen spots available. 

But that’s what I have done today. I’ve put together the best young rugby players to watch in 2021. It hasn’t been easy to leave some guys out, but unfortunately, not every player can make the cut. 

So, here are the fifteen young players I expect to shine the brightest in 2021.

Evan Roos

  • Nationality: South Africa
  • Position: Loose Forward

Evan Roos is one of the most exciting young players on the planet. Period.

A versatile loose forward that can play flank, number 8, or lock, it’s only a matter of time before the Sharks prospect becomes a vital player for South Africa. If you are betting on the 2023 Rugby World Cup players of the tournament, this powerful forward might be one to consider.

With a potential golden generation of players set to emerge out of South Africa, expect the Sharks man to be among the best of them.

A future captain of club and country?

Joel Kpoku

  • Nationality: England
  • Position: Lock

Maro Itoje is probably the best rugby player on the planet right now. 

When Saracens and future England teammate lines up next to him in the second row, it will be a scary proposition. 

Kpoku turned 21 in June 2020 and has already shown signs of massive potential. A big, strong, and powerful lock, there is no telling just how far the Londoner can go in the sport. But one thing is clear — he has a very bright future ahead of him.

Louis Rees-Zammit

  • Nationality: Wales
  • Position: Wing

Named the best young player in England in 2020, try-scoring whizz Rees-Zammit has the world at his feet. 

The Welsh youngster began playing the sport in Cardiff before joining Gloucester’s academy, where he broke through as their finest young asset in 2019.

In 2020, he made his test debut for Wales and will be expected to become a key feature in the national side for years to come. 

An exciting talent with countless caps and tries in him.

Izack Rodda

  • Nationality: Australia
  • Position: Lock

I hesitated in putting Rodda on this list simply because he’s already broken through.

But with Australia set to turn the corner with so many young players of quality coming through, I couldn’t resist spending a little time on Rodda. 

The lock already has a Rugby World Cup campaign under his belt and should be involved in at least another three. Providing he can look after that 6’8″ frame and continue to develop as he has been, the Queensland Reds lock could become the very best there is in his position.

A monster of a player.

Isaia Walker-Leawere

  • Nationality: New Zealand
  • Position: Lock

The son of the former Fijian lock and captain, Kele Leawere, Isaia is another player that is set to make a big splash in 2021.

Walker-Leawere is one of the older men on the list, but due to the abundance of exceptional talent in his position, he is yet to feature for New Zealand. In 2021, that could change. 

With the great Sam Whitelock approaching the end of the line, the Hurricanes man could be set for a long and prosperous run in the All Blacks jersey.

Joe Simmonds

  • Nationality: England
  • Position: Fly Half

Made captain of Exeter Chiefs in January 2020, Simmonds went on to lead the club to Premiership and European Rugby Champions Cup titles in the same year.

An unlikely leader, Simmonds is an old head on young shoulders with the ability to control a game like a maestro conducts his orchestra. He has talent in bags, and it’s only a matter of time before Eddie Jones puts him in the English jersey.

He has to, right? Even if Dylan Hartley believes that the media should pull back on the pressure they are putting on Simmonds, his form cannot be ignored. 

Expect 2021 to be a big year for the Exeter chief.

Jack Crowley

  • Nationality: Ireland
  • Position: Fly Half

Set to turn 21 in January 2021, Crowley is a player with huge potential.

With Jonathan Sexton approaching the end of his career in the Irish jersey, Munster’s Crowley is being tipped as his long-term successor. And it’s not hard to figure out why.

A nippy number ten with well-honed fundamentals, Crowley’s game management and composure at the U20 level stand him out above his peers. And that will be important for Ireland, considering Sexton will be 38 by 2023.

He has the tools to become a hugely important player for province and country, and should come on in leaps and bounds in 2021.

Jamie Dobie

  • Nationality: Scotland
  • Position: Scrum-half

Dobie turns 20 in 2021, making him a teenager at the time of writing. 

Despite his young age, the Scot has serious potential and could really light up the international scene sooner rather than later. He is the first Scottish player since Blair Kinghorn to bypass the academy system and earn a pro contract from schools level, which is amazing. 

A potential superstar.

Sanele Nohamba

  • Nationality: South Africa
  • Position: Scrum-half

Nohamba is one of the biggest prospects in world rugby. 

The South African youngster is a dynamic, super-fast scrumhalf that can turn an organized defense into a crumbling mess with the turn of one foot. He is excellent at reading a game and appears to have a rugby brain that operates as quick as his feet. 

I expect Nohamba to be South Africa’s starting scrum-half in the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

Tanielu Teleʻa

  • Nationality: New Zealand
  • Position: Center

I have heard Blues center Tele’a being compared to All Blacks legends Tana Umaga and Ma Nonu.

That’s some serious praise to get from any New Zealander, given how well both of those guys are revered in the rugby-mad country. 

And while I’m not sure that Tele’a fits the mold of either of those guys, I am confident that he will become one of the best centers in New Zealand in 2021. He’s almost there, but providing he can put some big performances for the Blues in, his career trajectory will be much clearer.

Jack Willis

  • Nationality: England
  • Position: Flank

Voted 2020 player’s player of the year at the Rugby Players’ Association awards, Willis’ talents are no secret. 

He is arguably the best young talent in an England jersey and has already added two caps and one try to his resume.

In 2021, we should see more of the Wasp’s flanker on the international scene. But with England’s Tom Curry and Sam Underhill first choice at 6 and 7, Willis will have to continue to perform to his already sky-high standards to have a shot at usurping the dynamic duo.

Salmaan Moerat

  • Nationality: South Africa
  • Position: Lock

Injuries might have curtailed the progress of the former Baby Boks captain, but expect a big year in 2021.

Moerat, the Stormers lock, is one of a bunch of players for South Africa that have big futures ahead of them. And given the quality of second rows produced by the Springboks, when one is bigged up like this, it is usually enough of a reason to get excited.

Could Moerat lead the Springboks to glory in 2023? That’s unknown. But there is no doubt that he will be a major part of the side that plays at France 2023.

Caelan Doris

  • Nationality: Ireland
  • Position: Number 8

The emergence of Leinster number 8 Caelan Doris has been one of the few positives Ireland has taken from 2020. 

A strong, dynamic loose forward, Doris’s potential is huge. He is nailed on to take the number 8 shirt for his country, given how seamlessly he has fit into the national setup.

Although Billy Vunipola gets my nod in my early 2021 British and Irish Lions XV, Doris will not be far behind the Englishman. Providing he has a solid Six Nations, he will almost certainly be on the plane to South Africa. 

Jordan Petaia

  • Nationality: Australia
  • Position: Wing/Center

One of the very best young players in the world, Jordan Petaia is part of a potential renaissance in Australian rugby.

The 6’3″ man is powerful in attack, boasts good speed for his size, and has excellent handling skills. He is the ultimate package.

Petaia turns 21 in March 2021, and it will be a massive year for his career. 

I can’t wait to see more of this guy.

Jordan Joseph

  • Nationality: France
  • Position: Back Row

Where do I start with this guy?

World Rugby Junior Player of the Year. A two time World Rugby Under 20 Championship winner. Perhaps the best young prospect in rugby.

The Stade Francais back-rower is a phenomenal talent that will show the world what he is made of in 2021. He is part of a batch of young players that will come good in the 2023 Rugby World Cup, which I believe the hosts, France, will win. 

Joseph is a future legend of the sport. 

Will These Be Rugby’s Best Youngsters in 2021?

There are so many players that I wanted to add to the list above. 

But unfortunately, some just did not make the cut. Now, that’s not to say that some of the guys that missed out won’t go on to do even better than those above, but you can’t argue with the talent in this list. Well, hopefully not, anyway.

I’d love to hear what you think of this list. So, if there are any players you think should have made it onto my 15 best young rugby players, feel free to let me know in the comments section below.

That’s it for now. Remember to check out our rugby blog for more as we approach a new year in the sport!

Adam Haynes
Adam Haynes

Adam is a sports writer and tipster with a strong background in MMA, boxing, and combat sports.

When Adam isn't writing about those, as well as politics, rugby, and Gaelic Games, he can be found working on methods and strategies to beat the bookies.

For his troubles, Adam is a fan of Leinster Rugby, Glasgow Celtic, and trusting the process.

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