A team for the decade: The 2020s
We sit upon the genesis of a dewy, fresh new decade, the 2020s. By name, it suggest s perfect vision, and said vision has been dolled out across the internet and social media in the form of 'teams of the decade' for every team, league and sporting parlance that graced our screens throughout the 2010s. In a change of pace, Ali Stokes picks a team potential greats for the decade ahead of us.
1. Rhys Carre – Wales, 21
A handy frontrower now under the near-peerless stewardship of the Saracens coaching team, Carre burst into international action with a bounding break in a surprisingly tough Rugby World Cup pool game against Uruguay in Japan late last year, and has appeared calm yet explosive during his fleeting Premiership and Champions Cup appearances to date for his new English club.
At 21 and remarkably springy for a 130kg prop, Carre should by rights go on to become a mainstay for Wales, competing against and claiming silverware alongside his now club mate Mako Vunipola – not a bad mentor.
2. Asafo Aumua – New Zealand, 22
After making his All Blacks debut in 2017 as a 20-year-old from the bench against the Barbarians and then again against a French XV side a week later, the blockbuster hooker has been kept relatively quiet (by his own standards) after succumbing to a wrist injury.
Describe on the All Blacks’ website as a being “blessed with the grunt of a front row forward and sensational speed and sidestep of a winger and plays with pace and power that belies his 108kg frame”, you can appreciate the world beating-potential even without witnessing his Mitre10 Cup and Junior RWC exploits over the last few years.
3. Marcus Street – England, 20
Tighthead prop is easily the hardest position to pick in a XV attempting to gaze into the crystal ball to see those young players set to feature at Test level over the next decade. However, Marcus Street’s name is one I have been hearing for the last few years. I was amazed when I realised he’s still just 20 years old.
Known down in the south of England as somewhat of a scrum specialist before 21, it’s fair to say Street could go on to achieve great things. After all, South Africa proved in the 2019 Rugby World Cup final that there is still great truth in 'no scrum, no win'.
4. Nick Frost – Australia, 20
If there’s one move in a fledgling rugby career that tends to turn heads, it's the decison of a young player to relocate themselves to the most prolific rugby country in the world, New Zealand. This is exactly what young Wallaby lock Nick Frost did, hitting the headlines in 2017 when he opted to turn down local Australian offers in favour of a two-year spell with the most decorated Super Rugby side in history (with 10 wins to their name), New Zealand's Christchurch-based Crusaders.
Armed with rugby nous that will surely have been reinforced ten-fold after his time with the Crusaders and the type of athleticism displayed in this try vs the Ireland u20 side last summer, Frost looks set to reinforce an already healthy Wallabies second row berth having put pen to paper with the Brumbies.
5. James Ryan – Ireland, 23
It feels a little bit like cheating, putting an established, starting international touted for British and Irish Lions greatness in this XV, but the simple – and envious - fact is that Ireland and Leinster powerhouse lock James Ryan is still just 23.
Ryan is an irrefutable monster at senior Test level already, with the kind of heft and strength that makes a tighthead lock that can give opponents nightmares. A mammoth carrier, ironclad tackler and an atlas stone of an object at a defensive breakdown, Ryan is surely the next in a list currently boasting Martin Johnson, Paul O’Connell and Alun Wyn-Jones.
6. Tom Curry – England, 21
Again, it feels like cheating putting England’s Rugby World Cup star in this team, but the favoured of Sale Sharks’ Curry twins is tearing it up as a gnarly openside-come-blindside flanker at Test level.
Curry is a triple threat, adding impressive link skills to his tackling and carrying prowess befitting a backrower fifteen kilograms heavier than his 106kg frame. His breakdown work has been lauded far and wide over the last twelve months while those playing close attention have realised his capability when space opens up. Another name to (cautiously) add to the list of potential future British and Irish Lions greats.
7. Fraser McReight – Australia, 20
Most fans don’t tend to watch the Junior Rugby World Cup each summer, and even fewer take more than a look at the results juinor teasm outside their own nationality. However, anyone that watched even 10 minutes of the Australian u20s side last summer would have been wondering how the Aussies were allowed to field David Pocock in their side.
Fraser McReight, the young Australian skipper, drew an eerie likeness to the now-retired Wallaby great in June. The Reds openside seemed to have his hands in at every breakdown, and almost seemed to pinch the ball on every second attempt – all while showing off some handy carrying skills when there was no need for him to pilfer the pill. Just remember the name.
8. Jordan Joseph – France, 19
It's an unfortunate fact of sport that the non-English speaking countries have a tendency to be overlooked, mostly because of the lack of social media and journalistic crossover. However, Jordan Joseph could speak in an undiscovered dialect while living on the moon and still make this list.
The most prodigious U20 talent are usually those fledgling stars provoking the age-old description of 'a man amongst boys'. Joseph was (and still is at only 19) the kind of ball running, offloading number eights that made boys again of those otherwise standout u20 players.
With Louis Picamoles' career winding down and no clear owner of Les Blues' eight jersey, the next decade could be Joseph's playground.
9. Craig Casey – Ireland, 20
Young Craig Casey has perhaps one of crispest passing games I’ve ever seen in rugby, only Aaron Smith can truly trump the Munster neophyte’s skills – and even then it’s far from an absolute victory. Smaller than incumbent Ireland scrul-half and fellow Munsterman Conor Murray - 5ft5” to his mentor's 6ft2” - Casey is a nippy scrum-half with supreme rugby intelligence, standing out as one of those ‘men among boys’ individuals that shine during each JRWC.
He’s had to bide his time under Murray and Alby Mathewson at Munster, but Casey has spent significant time under a British and Irish Lion and an All Black these last two seasons and has a major sporting future ahead of him.
10. Marcus Smith – England, 20
After being spotted by current England boss Eddie Jones as a 16-year-old during the Australian’s 2015 Rugby World Cup campaign with the Japanese team, Marcus Smith has gone from strength to strength within senior rugby, becoming a starting Premiership fly-half at just 18 years of age.
A small nifty ten pouring into more of the George Ford mould than the Owen Farrell blueprint, Smith would look quite at home within any Super Rugby or Sevens team as an attacking mastermind. But it is his game management that is under its closest scrutiny at this moment.
As long as the Quins standoff continues to develop, he could make big things happen for England as either one of Jones’s famed ‘finishers’ or the eventual successor to Ford/Farrell in years to come.
11. Reiko Ioane – New Zealand, 22
Selecting an All Black winger to last throughout a decade is quite the risk, considering the short, bright burn of their careers before ultimately disappearing north - Joe Rokocoko and Julian Savea are two names that spring to mind. Indeed, as just 22, Ioane is already close to ebbing further and further away from the Test scene, having turned out to be a star during the 2017 Lions tour only to be leapfrogged by the Crusaders duo of Sevu Reece and George Bridge.
However, Ioane is young enough to fix whatever inefficiencies Steve Hansen saw in him during the lead up to the World Cup in Japan and commands the raw athleticism that gives outside centres and sweeping defenders nightmares. If not, there is surely a burgeoning, cash-rich career in the reckoning within Europe and, hopefully, the Champions Cup.
12. Rikus Pretorius – South Africa, 20
If the rumours are true, the Stormers look set to lose their World Cup-winning inside centre Damien de Allende to Munster. While South Africa will still find their bruising inside centre available for selection following the relaxation of their overseas selection policies, the Stormers are losing one of their most decorated players.
However, waiting in the wings they have Pretorius, a ready-made inside centre with a fend to match de Allende’s and a rangy 6ft2” frame primed for some growing into.
13. Jordan Petaia - Australia, 19
We caught only the briefest of glimpses into the hot-stepping talent that is Jordan Petaia during the World Cup, struggling with a Lisfranc foot injury that kept him sidelined until the big quarter-final clash with England. In an otherwise demoralising defeat to the English, Petaia terrified English fans and coaches during the first-half, breaking the line at will with elusive footwork and extreme speed.
No one should be under any doubt that Petaia has the potential to become the most elusive runner in Test rugby in a Wallabies backline traditionally packed with a strong mixture of ballplayers and big carriers designed to manufacture gaps in defences.
14. Blair Kinghorn – Scotland, 22
Another in the list of current full internationals, Kinghorn is well and truly one of the new breed of outside backs. After breaking through as a fly-half with fanciful footwork and pace, the Edinburgh tyro was shifted to the wider channels, flitting between fullback and wing.
A triple threat runner, playmaker and tactical kicker - and none too small at 6ft4" and 105kg - Kinghorn is willing and ready to serve as Stuart Hogg’s understudy and eventual successor.
Meanwhile, a regular spot on the wing could see yet further dimension to a back three consisting of Hogg and the pint-sized speedster Darcy Graham – the latter of whom is also just 22 years of age and worth at least a cursory mention in this list.
15. Issac Lucas – Australia, 20
Not content with the type of generational talent of McReight, the Reds also boast the spritely talent of fullback/fly-half Issac Lucas – another standout during the latest JRWC in Georgia.
An electric runner and deft passer of the ball, Lucas is yet another in the line of elusive playmaking outside backs quite comfortable in the ten jersey, following in the steps of current Wallaby bright spark Kurtley Beale.
International, Australia, England, Ireland, New Zealand, Scotland, South Africa, Wales, Blues, Brumbies, Edinburgh Rugby, Exeter Chiefs, Hurricanes, Leinster Rugby, Munster, Racing 92, Reds, Sale Sharks, Saracens, Stormers
Written by: Alistair Stokes
Follow: @alistokesrugby · @therugbymag