The faces of best Welsh rugby youngsters set to make big breakthroughs this term
Youth is a period of missed opportunities, someone who had obviously never seen Louis Rees-Zammit run in a length-of-the-field try on a rugby pitch once said. Sometimes, chances are taken with two hands by those with time on their side. Sometimes, days are seized.
Read more : Louis Rees-Zammit scores sensational length-of-the-field try to leave TV commentators and viewers drooling And so we cut to those who could make significant breakthroughs in Welsh rugby in the new season. There's nothing guaranteed about this, of course, but the players featured here have considerable talent and are capable of making people sit up and take notice in the months ahead.
Mason Grady (Cardiff, centre)
Let's kick off with Cory Allen's younger brother, so promising that some see him as an outside bet for a place in Wales' World Cup squad.
At 6ft 5in and 17st 4lb, Grady is certainly one to watch, but his first priority will be to secure a regular place in Cardiff's starting line-up. He is still only 20, after all. But his efforts for Wales during the U20 Summer Series were hugely encouraging.
His try against South Africa in the final was particularly memorable. First, he bashed past one opponent like a commuter rushing through a busy railway station trying to catch a train. Then he made ground before veering left to defeat the remaining cover.
It was a sublime finish. He's a player with vast potential, then, by any standard.
Joe Hawkins (Ospreys, centre)Joe Hawkins kicks a penalty (Image: Joe Hawkins kicked the winning penalty)
Another unqualified success for Wales during the U20 Summer Series, Hawkins led Byron Hayward's team and came across as officer class in every respect, from his polished performances in press conferences to his post-match team talks and galvanising influence on the pitch. He is an inside centre with a kicking game sufficiently accomplished that he can switch to fly-half without worries.
The 6ft, 15st 5lb Hawkins can truck the ball up but he also has soft hands and a nice passing game. The Ospreys see him as a player who could go a long way. Without rushing him, they will hope he can step up this term when Owen Watkin and George North are away with Wales.
Chris Tshiunza (Exeter Chiefs, lock or back row)Christ Tshiunza of Wales (Image: Huw Evans Picture Agency Ltd)
Was last season his breakthrough campaign?
Possibly, as he did pick up two senior Wales caps. But he also picked up an injury or two which kept him on the sidelines and it would seem odd to leave him out of a piece on top Welsh prospects who are aiming to bound forward in the coming months Tshiunza is some prospect, able to play at lock or in the back row.
Physically he has real power but he is also mobile and packs a presence at lineouts. The competition will be hot to make Wales' World Cup squad, but don't be surprised if he's one of Wayne Pivac's choices.
Dafydd Jenkins (Exeter Chiefs, lock)Dafydd Jenkins (left) in action for Wales U20s (Image: Huw Evans Picture Agency)
Many words have already been written about the young lock. The 6ft 7in, 18st 4lb forward is a multi-skilled player with a tough mindset who is physically equipped to go a long way.
It'll probably be too soon for the 19-year-old to make the Wales squad in his position in the months ahead, but he'll be looking to build on last term when he played a number of games for Exeter Chiefs and seemed completely at home in that level of rugby. For one so young, his displays were immensely encouraging.
Efan Daniel (Cardiff, hooker)Efan Daniel of Wales (Image: Huw Evans Picture Agency Ltd)
"Efan is going to be a top-class professional player and I'd say a full international, no doubt." So said Wales U20s head coach Byron Hayward of Daniel earlier this year. What is certain is that Wales have some excellent young hookers in the pipeline.
Daniel and Exeter's Oli Burrows battled for the shirt in the U20 Summer Series, with little between them. And Dewi Lake and Ryan Elias are setting a good standard with the senior Wales team. But let's focus on Daniel.
The 19-year-old is 6ft 1in and a quarter-pound or two short of 16st but he also storms around the field and attacks the breakdown with the hunger of a thirsty man looking for a drink in the desert. Maybe he'll need another campaign or so to force his way to true prominence. Maybe not.
He is a youngster with a lot to offer.
Sam Costelow (Scarlets, fly-half)Sam Costelow probes (Image: Huw Evans Picture Agency)
Again, some may argue that he did enough in 2021-22 for it to be described as a breakthrough campaign. Others might feel there could be even more to come from Costelow. The Scarlets are investing in him to the point where they handed him 17 appearances last season.
That's a significant show of belief in a No.
10 who's still only 21. More experience will only benefit the Pencoed product. There were signs towards the end of the campaign that he was improving his game-control, something that's key for a young fly-half.
Rhys Patchell is set to make a renewed claim for the shirt and the Scarlets have Dan Jones as well, but Costelow has enough natural talent to compete.
Harri Deaves (Ospreys, openside flanker)(Image: Huw Evans Agency)
He's a youngster with the 'wow' factor, a player who can't be ignored on a rugby field -- and not just because of the yellow scrum-cap he wears at the behest of his gran, May. "My nan got it for me because she couldn't see me," he explained. Hopefully, the purchase will have helped May.
You can read more about it here. Whatever, he is going places. He may need to be patient at the Ospreys, with Justin Tipuric and Jac Morgan also in the set-up, but at 21 he has time on his side.
Deaves possesses the sixth sense of anticipation that is the hallmark of exceptional opensides, the ability to read play and act while opponents are merely thinking. He is lethal over the ball, courageous in defence and creative in attack. If he gets opportunities, he'll take them.
Joe Roberts (Scarlets, centre)Joe Roberts of Scarlets (Image: Huw Evans Picture Agency)
The Coleg Sir Gar product returned from a nasty injury to confirm signs of significant talent, impressing with his running and passing against Zebre and again catching the eye against Cardiff.
One episode in particular against Cardiff startled former Ospreys coach Sean Holley from his commentary box vantage point. It saw Roberts race 70 metres to well-nigh engulf Matthew Morgan as the Cardiff player went to gather a ball near his 22. "My goodness!" said Holley. "The pace on Joe Roberts.
The kick goes downfield...look at him -- he's like a steam train going down the touchline." At the time the Scarlets were well into the final quarter. Such desire should serve Roberts well in his career. Well thought of out west, he is a key part of the Scarlets' succession planning.
Aneurin Owen (Dragons, centre)Aneurin Owen in action for the Dragons (Image: Huw Evans Picture Agency)
Injury knocked this youngster's season for six last term, curtailing his involvement in early March after he fractured an ankle against Munster.
He will be keen to push on with his game. The hope is he succeeds, if only because he offers something different as a centre who prefers to pick a lock rather than dynamite it. At 5ft 11in and 14st he isn't the biggest to operate but he is bright and can put others into space with clever passing.
His first aim will be to bank game-time after his time out. Keep an eye on him. READ NEXT:
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