15 for 2015

From domestic club league to the World Cup in the autumn, expect this lot to be making rugby headlines this year, says Gavin Howarth.

15 for 2015

EUROSTARS

Leigh Halfpenny (Toulon)

Despite recent threats Toulon would cancel his contract because of injury, Halfpenny is set to make his debut before European action kicks off. Finally, at club level the Welsh full-back will play in a top team which will allow him to showcase his attacking talents and his kicking off the tee should ensure Jonny Wilkinson is not missed.

Marland Yarde (Harlequins)

The 22-year-old has moved from London Irish to join Conor O’Shea’s set-up, but has already made waves at Test level (four tries in five games for England). Although defensively naive at times, at 6ft and 95kg Yarde is the perfect explosive prototype for European Cup rugby. Leinster beware.

Zac Guildford (Clermont Auvergne)

The Kiwi’s alcohol issues are well documented, but if he can remain focused then Clermont will reap the benefits. Guildford was one of the most promising wingers of a generation in New Zealand, scoring 29 tries in Super Rugby and six in 10 games for the All Blacks. Now 25 he still possesses game-breaking pace.

CJ Stander (Munster)

The South African’s physicality and talent were clear, but it took the previous management team a long time to trust him. A full-time role at open side would suit him best and, if Anthony Foley can team him up with Peter O’Mahony and Robin Copeland, Munster will boast a perfect balance of power and aggression in their back row.

Brice Dulin (Racing Metro)

Leinster fans will remember Dulin for his dangerous Castres displays last season as he became one of France’s most potent weapons. A classic full back in all of the best gallic traditions, he runs the kind of lines that will put a smile on Johnny Sexton’s face after Dulin’s close-season move to Paris.

WORLD CUP BOLTERS

Robin Copeland (Munster)

World Cup squads always require the second-row/back-row hybrid and Copeland could occupy the role Alan Quinlan and Donnacha Ryan have in the past. He will have to see off Iain Henderson for consideration, but a breakout year for Munster could put the Wexford man in pole position of a very competitive group.

Dave McSharry (Connacht)

With Robbie Henshaw eyed up as Ireland’s outside centre, his midfield partner deserves consideration — if he can stay fit. At Leinster Joe Schmidt tried to develop a couple of power options from the academy at No 12, but McSharry and Eamonn Sheridan could not avoid the treatment table. Was considered for 2012 November Series before injury struck.

James Cronin (Munster)

Cian Healy’s latest injury reminds us nobody is infallible and the Dolphin man is primed to step if Healy or Jack McGrath are unavailable. Coaches appreciate his eagerness to learn and his rate of development over the past 12 months encouraged Schmidt to take him on tour to Argentina. Needs to keep Dave Kilcoyne out of Munster’s first XV.

Jared Payne (Ulster)

His continued deployment at outside centre in 2014 speaks to the theory Schmidt is eager to trial him at that position for Ireland this November. This will come at the cost of Darren Cave for both province and country, but nobody can deny that Payne has more upside.

Dave Foley (Munster)

Ireland are only an injury or two away from a crisis at second-row and Foley is becoming a live option as a reserve. At 6ft 6ins Foley is one of a limited pool of players with a genuine reach for playing the position. Learning alongside Paul O’Connell and playing European rugby can elevate him into contention.

HOMEMADE BREAK-OUTS

Ian Hirst (Clontarf)

As a prop Hirst made it into contention for Ulster Bank League Division 1A player of the year last season amongst some top attacking talent which is an achievement in itself. A powerful mobile front row, the former Trinity man is not just there to hold up the scrum.

Mark Roche (Lansdowne)

Munster fans may remember seeing the diminutive centre in action for the province during the Limerick Sevens. The Dubliner has been involved at U20s for Ireland and Leinster but despite his superb footwork, finishing ability and piercing running lines he has been left to carve it up on the club scene.

John Quill (Dolphin)

Injury derailed the flanker’s efforts to secure a professional contract with London Irish, while a trial period with London Welsh, that started last February, failed to materialise into anything more concrete. Capped by the USA, Quill is now back in harness at Dolphin as he awaits another opportunity to prove his worth.

Stuart Morrow (Ballynahinch)

Age is no asset to Morrow who has turned 30, but he has been a consistent threat for Ballynahinch for a long time now and within the club scene his name is well known by coaches and players across all four provinces. The centre has Ulster Bank Player of the Year and Club International honours to his name.

Cathal Marsh (St Mary’s)

The slight caveat here is that Marsh is already inked to an academy deal with Leinster, but the out-half is far too good to be playing club rugby. However, with Jimmy Gopperth and Ian Madigan in situ and Johnny Sexton returning next season his pathway is blocked. Deserves a shot at another province of Premiership club.

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