There is a lot of talk and rightly so about the embarrassment of riches Wales have in the back row position, with young stars such as Ellis Jenkins, Ollie Griffiths, Will Boyde, Ollie Cracknell and James Davies to name just a few, who are pushing the current incumbents in those positions in the Welsh national team. However, another position where Wales have some real talent in numbers are in the centre, with a number of Welsh players aged twenty-one and under, playing for the Welsh pro-sides, and this article looks at those young emerging players who this season we believe will be pushing players such as Scott Williams, Jonathan Davies and Jamie Roberts positions in the national squad.
Cardiff Blues regular starters in the centre position most likely will be Willis Halaholo and Rey Leelo, two excellent players, however, on the fringes, you will find new signing Jack Roberts from Leicester Tigers and three young players right in the early stages of their rugby careers in Garyn Smith, Harri Millard and Owen Lane. Smith is twenty-one years of age and has starred for Cardiff Blues a number of times, he has a decent all round game, and never lets the team down, we like what we see in Smith and look forward to seeing him play this season. Millard is twenty years of age and has starred for Wales in different age groups. He is a gifted runner with an eye for a break and has a decent passing game. Lane is nineteen years of age and first came to prominence by making his full debut for Cardiff Blues against Bristol Rugby when only aged seventeen. Lane has played on the wing and also in the centre, but I see his longer time position to be centre. He is a strong ball carrier with decent pace, and if he can stay injury free, could be a real star in the next two to three years if he keeps progressing as he showed last season with Wales U20’s.
The Scarlets have two real stars in Jonathan Davies who showed what a star he is on The Lions tour and Scott Williams in their ranks in the centre position, but they also have two young very capable centres in Ioan Nicholas and Steff Hughes waiting for an opportunity to show their talents. Nicholas made his debut for The Scarlets aged seventeen and is the second youngest debutant for The Scarlets in their history, only behind George North in the record books by three days. Nicholas has good all round skills, is still only nineteen and will be interesting to see how much game time he gets at The Scarlets in next season or so. Steff Hughes is now aged twenty-three but has been beset with injuries, including a serious hamstring injury and a serious knee injury which kept him out of action for over a year. Hughes is a player that ever since a young age, many said to keep an eye out for. He has captained Wales at different age groups, and we just hope he can get over his injuries and reach the potential he undoubtedly has.
At The Dragons under the tutelage of Gavin Henson, the team have players such as Jack Dixon and Sam Beard who have shown some promising signs for things to come, also there is the talent of Welsh international Tyler Morgan who is still only twenty-one years of age.
Morgan over two years ago signed a national dual contract with the WRU which shows the talent they believe they have. Morgan has had a number of injuries which happens to many young players, but when fully fit and in a backline, with attacking ball he can be a real talent, elusive runner also with strength and a big skillset. One to watch this season coming.
The Ospreys in the centre position are very strong, starters could be two of any of the following, James Hook, Kieron Fonotia, Cory Allen and Ashley Beck, however, just under that group are three young Welsh centres worth keeping an eye on, Owen Watkin, Kieran Williams and Joe Thomas. Watkin burst onto the scene two seasons ago and was rumoured to be close to making the Welsh squad that summer that toured New Zealand. Watkin had injury issues last season but is back this pre-season and looking sharp. Watkin is twenty years of age, is a strong physical centre with good distribution with decent pace. If Watkin can find his form and fitness he could very easily get a starting spot next season for The Ospreys. Kieran Williams last season for Wales U20’s looked a real talent, many feel his game has some resemblance to Scott Gibbs, which is high praise indeed. He is a very gifted rugby player and at twenty years of age has many exciting years to come. Thomas is a twenty-one-year-old centre, who again at Welsh youth levels starred and looks a real prospect, has genuine pace and looks to get on the outside of defenders. Will be interesting to see if The Ospreys are able to keep all of these players happy next season and beyond.
So there you have it, some real talented centres at a tender age playing in Wales, going to be great to see how they develop this season and beyond.