The unknown Super 14 soldiers
By Paul Lewis
Paul Lewis previews some of the lesser-known players to keep an eye on in the upcoming Super 14.
BLUES - Troy Flavell
Hardly a new boy but definitely an unknown quantity after so long in the wilderness. A 12-week suspension after a stomping incident settled his non-inclusion in the 2003 All Blacks. Flavell sought refuge in Japan but has always remained on the radar of All Black coach Graham Henry. May miss the early part of Rebel Sport Super 14 but anyone who has seen him play will not doubt his athleticism and skill at loose forward or lock.
BRUMBIES - Daniel Heenan
The forgotten man of Australian rugby after two seasons of injuries, the 1.96m, 111kg Heenan was supposed to have been the Wallaby replacement for the highly respected Owen Finegan. A refugee from the troubled Reds franchise, Heenan will now be filling that role for Finegan's franchise instead. Like Flavell a flanker or lock, he has presence and a hard attitude but has only played 23 Super 12 games and has one test cap, in 2002. One to watch.
BULLS - Jaco Engels
The pick of many observers to do well in Super 14, the Bulls instantly reduced their chances with injuries to key players, including an entire front row in hooker Gary Botha and big props Richard Bands and Gurthro Steenkamp. However, in Engels they have a ready-made replacement. He is 26 and a former centre who, at 1.85m and 118kg, is surprisingly mobile.
CATS - Earl Rose
One of the smallest Super 14 players, the 1.79m, 77kg Rose is a nimble attacking fullback in the Brent Russell mould. He has pace, an eye for a gap and clever hands. A South African national representative in all age-group levels, he gets his chance because of an injury to Springbok Conrad Jantjes. Rose (22) could star, provided his forwards do the business.
CHEETAHS - Kabamba Floors
With a name that could have been designed for headline writers, the slippery Floors (see?) could be poised to make a big impact at flanker. A South African sevens representative, Floors models his game on the French No 7 Olivier Magne. A small man but his speed (he was initially a winger) is used to telling effect from broken play and he scored three tries in one pre-season match.
CHIEFS - Lelia Masaga
Winger Masaga is another flying Fijian from Counties blessed with pace and elusiveness. Coach Ian Foster has already been singing his praises. Only 20, he is being left behind on the Chiefs' first overseas foray in favour of Sitiveni Sivivatu, Sosene Anesi and the try-scoring man from the Bay, Anthony Tahana. But the Super 14's extended season and need for rotation should ensure Masaga plays a role sometime.
CRUSADERS - Steven Yates
Who? A young Burnside winger who has been regularly scoring tries pre-season, Yates is indicative of the current 'building' element in the Crusaders. A number of younger players are being brought through from the NPC team and, while Yates might similarly struggle to displace the likes of Rico Gear, Scott Hamilton and Tony Koonwaiyou, the 22-year-old has a nose for tries.
FORCE - Digby Ioane
A Wallaby wing on the ill-fated 2005 tour of Europe but few have heard of Ioane - the first Samoan Wallaby. If the Force find their feet in Super 14, Ioane could well blast his way into top-drawer recognition. He is quick, tricky, kicks goals and his best is yet to be seen.
HIGHLANDERS - Tim Boys
Think flanker and Otago and names like Josh Blackie and Craig Newby are uppermost. But Boys brings a Richie McCaw-type quality to the back row. Which is no surprise considering the 21-year-old grew up in North Otago's Hakataramea Valley alongside McCaw and attended the same high school, Otago Boys, and is a former New Zealand secondary schools and under-19 rep. Boys may give way once Blackie returns from injury but should be well sighted this year.
HURRICANES - Isaia Toeava
After only one flawed test match, where the All Blacks got a mere pass mark (against Scotland), Toeava may show New Zealand his best this season. Fullback looks the most likely spot as the Hurricanes' midfield and No 10 slots are congested. We may now see what the fuss was about.
REDS - Mitchell Chapman
Most are picking the Queensland franchise to struggle. However, the Reds are mixing experience (like 34-year-old former Wallaby lock Mark Connors) with the youthful promise of the highly athletic Chapman in the pack at lock or No 8. The 1.97m, 110kg former skipper of the Australian schoolboys side is skilful and mobile and was also an Australian schoolboy cricket rep.
SHARKS - Daniel Farani
The next Jonah Lomu? This Wellingtonian and Samoan international provoked the question when Sharks coach Dick Muir placed him on the wing instead of his usual loose forward for a pre-season match this week. At 1.95m and 120kg, he has Lomu-esque proportions and has played sevens for Samoa and NZ, six tests, and 28 matches (scoring eight tries) for Coventry. Yet to seal a place in the Sharks XV but is one of several New Zealand-based players playing for South African franchises this season.
STORMERS - Rayno Benjamin
If the Stormers can get ball, watch out for winger Benjamin. Another with cracking pace, Benjamin is a try-scoring double act with fellow Boland winger Jonghi Nokwe, competing for a place with Tonderai Chavhanga. Only 22, some say he rivals Bryan Habana for pace.
WARATAHS - Tatafu Polota-Nau
The IRB's under-21 international player of the year, this thumping (1.81m, 113kg) hooker is another to win national selection before playing Super 12. Made his test debut against England last year - the test in which the Wallaby front row was mercilessly exposed - but has the maturity and skills to overcome this.
- HERALD ON SUNDAY[/b]