Scrum Sevens
Teenage dreams
January 20, 2010
England fly-half Jonny Wilkinson, England v Ireland, Five Nations, Twickenham, March 4, 1998
Jonny Wilkinson: In bed by 10, young man. © Getty Images
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Wales coach Warren Gatland has taken a calculated gamble on some stars of the future, teenagers Tom Prydie and Kristian Phillips, by naming them in his Six Nations squad. It's down to the players to impress now, and we've decided to lend a helping hand in the inspiration stakes by looking back at some teenage sensations in our latest Scrum Seven.

Jonny Wilkinson - England

Wilkinson was 18 years and 314 days old when he made his international bow from the bench against Ireland, narrowly missing the record held by Harlequins' Colin Laird since 1927. His second Test came on the infamous 'Tour to Hell' as England were hammered 76-0 by Australia in Brisbane, with Wilkinson one of the few young player to survive the tour unscathed.

He quickly settled into life at Test level and by 2001 had eclipsed Rob Andrew's England points record and played a Lions series. As part of Clive Woodward's new breed of England player, Wilkinson became a national hero and capped it off by slotting a certain drop goal in 2003, before an injury run that made many forget the fresh-faced teen who first cemented England's midfield.

James O'Connor - Australia

O'Connor's Test debut for the Wallabies came against Italy in November 2008, with the baby-faced Western Force fullback all of 18 years of age. He is not the youngest Wallaby, that distinction goes to former Queensland winger Brian Ford, who was 18 years and 90 days old when he was capped against New Zealand in 1957, but he will soon become the most capped teen of them all.

He made his first start against the Barbarians at Twickenham and announced his talents at the start of the 2009 Test season with a hat-trick against Italy in his second Test. His first run in the side came during the Tri-Nations, following an injury to Stirling Mortlock, taking his standing total to 14 Tests.

Claude Dourthe - France

A week after his 18th birthday Dourthe was pulling on the blue of France for the first time against Romania in Bucharest - the year was 1966. A fiery centre with a dollop of French aggression thrown in for good measure, Dourthe faced down the biggest challenges in world rugby before his 20th birthday.

Tests against England, South Africa and New Zealand came and went as the Dax product delivered the goods. A propensity for the odd short arm challenge made him a feared opponent throughout his career, and he passed much of his fire to his son, Richard Dourthe, also an international centre.

Haydn Tanner - Wales

Arguably the most famous schoolboy of them all, the precocious Tanner beat the All Blacks twice in the same calendar year. A scrum-half of considerable talent, Tanner starred for Swansea, alongside his cousin and fellow Gowerton School pupil Willie Davies, as they became the first club side to beat New Zealand in 1935.

All Black skipper Jack Manchester famously pleaded with the press: "Don't tell them back home that we were beaten by schoolboys". He got another look at Tanner two months later, this time at Cardiff Arms Park, where the precocious Welshman was making his Test debut. The result was the same, as Manchester's men fell 13-12, one of only three defeats to Wales.

Sergio Parisse - Italy

Arguably the most important debut in recent memory, Sergio Parisse's emergence as a raw back-row forward with Treviso brought a touch of class to Italian rugby and gave the country a player to pin their hopes on. Born in Argentina to Italian parents, Parisse's rise began with a debut against New Zealand in Hamilton, aged 18.

Parisse played his first Six Nations in 2003 and was included in Italy's World Cup squad, scoring his first Test try against Canada in Canberra during the tournament. In 2005 he left Italy for Paris and Stade Francais, being nominated for the prestigious award of IRB World Player of the Year in 2008. Thanks to his early start in Tests, Parisse still has plenty left in the tank.

Leigh Halfpenny - Wales

Halfpenny's rise to international stardom was something straight out of a fairytale. Cast aside by his native region, the Ospreys, and considering quitting the sport, a chance break in the Cardiff Blues first team brought a host of tries and immediate recognition in the form of a call-up to Wales' November Test squad.

He made his debut against South Africa, and scored his first Test points from the kicking tee. The following week he scored his first tries, against Canada, and then faced the All Blacks. In 2009 he was brought back down to earth by Wales' defeat to France in Paris during his first Six Nations, but a thrilling brace as the Blues routed Gloucester in the Anglo-Welsh Cup final brought the cherry on the cake - selection for the Lions. Injury limited his appearances to one in South Africa, but it was something of a debut season.

Federico Mendez - Argentina

The best way to get yourself noticed is to do something out of the ordinary. Take Argentina prop Federico Mendez who in 1990, aged 18 and playing his second Test, decided to sucker-punch England's veteran lock Paul Ackford. Brave or stupid? Who knows, but Mendez got his marching orders.

It turned out to be an ignominious start to a great career, as the versatile loose-head/hooker played a further 73 Tests, three World Cups and won the Heineken Cup on two occasions, with Bath and Northampton.


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