Leinster, fly-half. Age 21
Joey Carbery started the year playing for Clontarf and finished it with three caps, the first coming against New Zealand in Chicago when he replaced Jonny Sexton with 22 minutes to go and coolly guided his forwards around the field to help Ireland achieve an historic victory over the All Blacks.
His first start for Leinster had come two months before but Carbery kept his nerve and played with an assurance beyond his years. He was promoted early because Ian Madigan became fed up with understudying Sexton and moved to France and Paddy Jackson was unavailable for the international in America. Carbery, who was born in New Zealand but moved to Ireland when he was 11, is a fly-half who stands flat and maximises his attacking options.
It took him three minutes on his first full appearance for Leinster in September to announce himself, receiving the ball on his own 10-metre line against Treviso and confounding three defenders to score the first of two tries. Ireland have a succession plan for Sexton.
Ospreys, wing. Age 18
Keelan Giles turns 19 at the end of January having become the most talked about player in Wales in the autumn. He sat on the bench against Japan but did not come on, because victory was only secured in the final minute. His scoring rate for his region is more than one try a match and he has notched five in six appearances for Wales Under-20s. Comparisons have been made with Shane Williams – quick footwork and acceleration and he is deceptively strong.
It is a case of when he makes his international debut, with Wales inviting him to train with the team at the end of last summer’s tour to New Zealand, after the Junior World Cup, to integrate him early. Japan looked the perfect opportunity with Wales picking experienced three-quarters in Jamie Roberts, Jonathan Davies and Leigh Halfpenny, but a change in playing style from wallop to gallop has bred an initial uncertainty and he was held in reserve.
The Wales coaches need to make a statement to show players they mean what they say and Giles lining up in Rome at the start of the Six Nations would be a loud declaration of intent.
Harlequins, outside-centre. Age 20
Joe Marchant plays like a No13 of old, quick feet and a burst of pace, looking to attack defenders on their outside shoulder. The World Rugby Under-20 Championship final between England and Ireland was ignited by Marchant, who scored a try from 40 metres, stepping out of one tackle and then another before accelerating away.
He has profited from the experience around him at Harlequins, where he has Jamie Roberts and Nick Evans inside and Mike Brown outside, but he is a player who lives off his wits, as he showed when picking up a bouncing ball near his own line against Worcester and sidestepping two tacklers to reach the safety of the 22.
Marchant is in a position where England are hardly struggling for options but, having been called into the 45-man elite player squad on Saturday, he is clearly impressing Eddie Jones, who has talked about the need to work on England’s attack. In Marchant, he has a merchant of menace.
Worcester, second-row. Age 23
Worcester surprised many when they included Scotland-Williamson in their second row at Bristol instead of the vastly more experienced Donncha O’Callaghan. The club’s academy product, who missed most of the past two seasons with a back problem that required surgery, was one of the few Warriors who were up for the relegation fight, scrapping for possession and looking to get his hands on the ball.
At 6ft 9in and more than 19st, he is one of the more imposing forwards in the top flight but injury slowed his progress and he made his Premiership debut this season. Second row is another position where England have ample resources but Jones is not a coach who is ever satisfied. He will be using England’s summer tour to Argentina to look at the next generation of players and someone impressing in a struggling side will not be lost on him.
Scotland-Williamson has been compared to Courtney Lawes with his ability to make dents in defences and haul down ball-carriers, big, strong and athletic.
Bristol, fly-half. Age 20
Billy Searle joined Bristol’s academy in the summer after moving from Plymouth Albion. The intention was to blood him in the Anglo-Welsh Cup but a series of injuries at 10, including their recruit Shane Geraghty, led to him starting in the European Challenge Cup at Bath and he has taken the field in seven of Bristol’s last eight matches, including last week’s basement fight against Worcester despite the return of Tusi Pisi, who was moved to the centre. Searle quickly made an impact, using space created by defenders tightly marking Will Hurrell to make a break and set up Tom Varndell for the first of the wing’s three tries.
If Searle showed signs of inexperience towards the end, throwing risky passes when the need was to keep the lead, he had more than proved his worth, varying his game and dictating in a way his opposite number was unable to, despite having a man advantage for most of the match. He is a modern outside-half and it is no coincidence that since his elevation, Varndell is scoring tries again.
Wasps, flanker. Age 24
Thomas Young has been overlooked by Wales despite his outstanding club form and a footballing ability his country is crying out for. Perhaps it would be different if he were a three-quarter but Wales are at a point where, looking to boost their regional game, they are placing a quota on players who are based outside their country. Size was used as an argument against Young, who stands less than 6ft, but as emphasis shifts to use of the ball it should be time for a rethink.
Young has the handling skills, adept at drawing tacklers and off-loading, he has pace and he has a breakaway’s instinct for being in the right place. There is more than a touch of Martyn Williams about him, a constant link between forwards and backs. He is the perfect fit for Wasps, who look to capitalise in broken play, and if Wales are serious about overhauling their style of play will it make sense to keep overlooking him, even with Justin Tipuric in their squad?