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11 rising stars to watch at the Autumn Nations Series, from Christ Tshiunza to Craig Casey



Thsiunza, Casey and Tuivasa-Sheck could make a big impact this autumn (Photo: Getty)


Ahead of the Fall Nations Series, I asked Amazon Prime Video’s panel of rugby experts, including former Wales skipper Sam Warburton and South Africa World Cup-winning winger Bryan Habana, to pick their players to watch in November.

Here’s who the experts went for:

Sam Warburton (Wales 2009-17)

I really think there’s one man who could be an x-factor player for Wales going forward, and that’s Christ Tshiunza. He wears number seven for Exeter, but they traditionally play two flankers and so he doesn’t play that open role, and for Wales he’s that perfect six/second line hybrid.

We’re looking for guys to fill the huge void that Alun Wyn Jones will leave. I think he could be a player who could wear that Welsh shirt for the next decade. He’s six-foot-six, he’s from the Congo, he’s physically gifted.

A great rugby player too, a really smart rugby player and he’s really tough, ready to work hard and he’s already been man of the match a few times in the Premiership this year. I just hope Wales give them that chance, whether it’s shirt five or shirt six. Twelve months is a long time in international rugby and I think by next year he could be one of Wales’ superstars at the World Cup if given the chance.

[He was qualified for England too?] Yes, he must not have heard of the $25,000 a game for England! He is very loyal to Wales. I’m not biased, but he was also at my school – obviously not while I was there.

So I saw him from a very young age, and I got to know him and he’s just a lovely guy. So it looks like I’m taking care of an old school friend, I’m not – I honestly think his ceiling is huge.

Andrew Mehrtens (New Zealand 1995-2004)

Mehrtens is excited about the prospect of a cross-code Kiwi this fall (Photo: Getty)

Looking first at New Zealand. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck [who is the All Blacks XV squad to meet Ireland A and the Barbarians]it depends on how much playing time he actually gets because it’s hard to break into this All Black midfield.

He’s been a superstar in rugby league, he comes from a rugby background and I think they’re going to drip feed him because there’s a shared skill set there, but they’re very different in terms of form and timing.

If he has the opportunity, he has a lot of talent, he always goes forward even if he is not the greatest. He’s got crazy feet, and he’s very brave and strong, he punches and he walks.

Thinking of Australia, Jordan Petaia could be an absolute superstar for the Wallabies, he has incredible skill and pace and is a creator whether in the center or on the wings. If he gets chances and the Wallabies perform well, he could be an absolute world leader.

At his side among the Wallabies, Rob Valetini has just gone from strength to strength and his timing and selection of his moments from No. 8 has been extraordinary this year. He brings the volume and the physique but he also brings nice touches and he can run the ball very well.

Rory Lawson (Scotland 2006-10)

I’ll get a Wallaby that fills a Scottish shirt. Jack Dempsey had 14 caps for the Wallabies, moved to sunny Glasgow, became a Glasgow Warrior, and now because he hasn’t played rugby for the Wallabies for three years and has a grandfather Scottish, he is there and he is going to be the key. I think he will bring a different dynamism to the back row alongside Hamish Watson and Jamie Ritchie. It’s a shame that Rory Darge got injured earlier in the season because he was stealing.

The other name is Cameron Redpath. We didn’t see him against Australia last Saturday because he plays for Bath – those are the rules – but he will almost be like another swap for Gregor Townsend, he broke in for his first cap when Scotland won at Twickenham for the first time in almost 40 years [in 2021].

From there he picked up a number of injuries but it’s so good to see him back and he was involved in Bath’s first win of the season. He has the ability to play that second receiver role in the number 12 shirt, which gives Duhan van der Merwe and Darcy Graham and Stuart Hogg the space in the back three to properly cause defensive problems.

He’s a lot more physical than his old man Bryan [former Scotland scrum-half] at five feet nothing. He’s a ball player and he could be key for Scotland this fall.

Simon Zebo (Ireland 2012-17)

My teammate Craig Casey at Munster is our little pocket rocket, he’s quite short at one meter seventy-five, but he’s super quick, he’s got an amazing pass – he’s one of the most promising rugby players in world rugby in his time .

Every time he plays for us or at a higher level, he’s there or thereabouts for the man of the match. I think he will add a lot of dynamism, skill and rhythm to the game. I would like to see him get a lot of playing time in this series and hope he can kick off and become a star.

Bryan Habana (South Africa 2004-16)

Habana hopes Marcus Smith can sprinkle some stardust on the Autumn Nations series (Picture: Getty)

I’m going with Marcus Smith, he has the opportunity this fall to sleep in England’s No. 10 shirt. Everyone is talking about how he fits into an Eddie Jones game plan: to play against South Africa and New Zealand almost on the eve of a World Cup, let’s see how he s come out on top in this leadership role.

I’m very excited about him, he brings something bigger to the game, we talk about the need for him and Finn Russell to bring something different to the top tier nations before a World Cup, and what better opportunity for a 23-year-old than that.

Gwyn Jones (Wales 1996-97)

I am intrigued to see how Wales uses Tommy Refell because he was the outstanding player for Wales on the summer tour, and you also have Christ Tshiunza but they have appointed Justin Tipuric as captain, so you wonder how these combinations will work, where they will play.

We all want to see Louis Rees-Zammit with the ball in his hands, he’s a guy who can open the game for us, in a team that doesn’t score many tries.

And then there’s a guy who came in as a third-choice scrum-half called Danish Blacker, which is normally a reserve for the Scarlets. This is all preparation for the World Cup, and Wales didn’t choose Gareth Davies or Rhys Webb, so this is clearly a No.9 they need to think about a lot, and being a nine in this series, you’re going to get on the pitch at some point.