Scrum Sevens
Superstars in waiting
Will Macpherson
November 7, 2014
Jared Payne will make his Ireland debut © Getty Images

This week Scrum Sevens casts its eye over this month's autumn internationals and suggests seven new faces that should be on your radar. They've all been playing well for their clubs and the reward is the chance to shine on the biggest of stages. Most get their chance this week, some you'll just have to wait that little bit longer to see in action…

Mark Bennett (Scotland)

The centres have been a problem position for the Scots since the days of Gregor Townsend, John Leslie and Alan Tait at the turn of the century. Now, though, there's a crop of bright young things emerging in the position. Edinburgh's Matt Scott has impressed since debuting in 2012 and is still just 24 but he has a crop of rivals emerging over in Glasgow under Townsend's tutelage. There's Alex Dunbar, Peter Horne and perhaps the best of the lot: Mark Bennett.

At kick-off, Bennett was the only uncapped player in the Glasgow XV that beat Bath on October 18, but by the time the 80 minutes were up, it seemed inconceivable that he'd remain cap-less for long. He scored two of his side's five tries but it was his all-round performance, particularly his dynamic defence, that really caught the eye. He's been doing this all season long for Glasgow in the Pro12 and Champions Cup and if he can translate that form onto Murrayfield's lush new turf, Scotland may just have found the answer to their central malaise. He starts alongside his regular Glasgow partner Dunbar this Saturday against Argentina.

Semesa Rokoduguni (England)

As England boarded their flight home after their blackwash at the hand of the All Blacks in June, the feeling pervaded that they were a world class winger away from being a mighty fine side. On that tour, they'd experimented with Manu Tuilagi, while all of Jonny May, Chris Ashton and Marland Yarde were good going forward but missed too many tackles. Since, Ashton (despite a fine start to the season for Sarries) has been discarded, Tuilagi has returned to the centre before injuring his groin, Jack Nowell has been recalled to the squad, Yarde has been short of form and May has been back to his best. But none of that is the big news. The big news is that Semesa Rokoduguni has been called up.

Rokoduguni, Bath's Fijian-born, bulldozing soldier of a right-winger, has been in simply scintillating form for the Premiership high-flyers this year. He starts against the All Blacks and is joined in matchday squad by his Bath centre Kyle Eastmond. Rokoduguni's pace, power and step are everything England have been seeking and his battle with the world's premier wideman Julian Savea is worth Twickenham's hefty admission fee alone.

Semesa Rokoduguni goes through his paces in training, Pennyhill Park, Surrey, November 6, 2014
Semesa Rokoduguni is in the England squad to face New Zealand © Getty Images

Jared Payne (Ireland)

Joe Schmidt is quietly building something special with Ireland. 2014 couldn't have gone much better so far - they won the Six Nations, triumphed in Argentina for the first time ever and are tracking nicely ahead of the World Cup. Now they're after the southern hemisphere's big three. Schmidt's side for the Test against South Africa is shorn of several quality players due to injury but there's one particularly eye-catching new face that has been a name on the lips of Irish fans for a year or more: Jared Payne. The timing of the 29-year-old's arrival is perfect - Brian O'Driscoll's retirement has left some hole in that midfield.

New Zealand-born Payne has been outstanding at full-back for Ulster but after dabbling with the 13 jersey last season, a more permanent move this campaign has caught headlines. Payne's direct running, steady tackling and cute passing has seen him get the nod to replace Ireland's greatest ever international. He's joined in the centres by Connacht's Robbie Henshaw in a very exciting - if internationally inexperienced - pairing. Watch this space.

Augustine Pulu (New Zealand)

Under Steve Hansen, New Zealand don't often upset the applecart. Debuts must be earned and rarely come in a flurry. 2014's star new boy Malakai Fekitoa has fitted in seamlessly when injuries to Conrad Smith and Ma'a Nonu have allowed him the chance. Continuity is the watchword once more in the squad for the autumn internationals with just one uncapped player, Chiefs' scrum-half Augustine Pulu, in the squad.

Pulu replaces his Chiefs colleague Tawera Kerr-Barlow in the squad and is a half-back in the same mould. He's tall, powerful, has a devil of a pass and deft hands, so offers a different threat to his new colleagues Aaron Smith and Perenara, who are both of a more diminutive, jinky mould. Pulu won his first cap off the bench in the All Blacks' historic trip to Chicago last weekend. He won't feature at Twickenham on Saturday but expect to see more of him this month.

Rhys Webb (Wales)

Rhys Webb is no newbie - he made his Wales debut in 2012, is 25 years of age and started two games in this year's Six Nations. His selection to start at scrum-half against Australia on Saturday wasn't even a great surprise, such has been his outstanding form in Ospreys' superb run at the start of the season and Mike Phillips' failure to hold down a starting spot at Racing Metro. But Webb's selection suggests a shift in Warren Gatland's mindset. Phillips started both the games on tour to South Africa this summer, has 87 caps, is a two-time Lions tourist and has been a veritable stalwart of the Gatland era.

Brumbies' Henry Speight breaks through Western Forces' Nick Cummins, Western Force v Brumbies, Super Rugby, Round Three, nib Stadium, March 1, 2014
Henry Speight is likely to make a dent in any opposition defence © Getty Images

Webb is a smaller man than Phillips - almost all scrum-halves are, of course - but at 6ft still provides a significant physical threat. A large part of the intrigue surrounding his selection comes as a result of his partnership with Dan Biggar, who has been excellent for the Ospreys but has perhaps failed to translate that form onto the international stage. None of Biggar, Rhys Priestland or James Hook has made a convincing case to make the 10 jersey their own yet or maximise the myriad talents of Wales' outside backs. Webb and Biggar have been quite brilliant at half-back for Ospreys so far this year - if Webb clicks then Gatland may have just solved two problems with one change.

Henry Speight (Australia)

Only Julian Savea could claim to have looked more consistently dangerous out wide than Speight in this year's Super 15. Aussie fans haven't had too much to smile about of late - defeat in Argentina, text-gate, Bledisloe blues and the loss of the coach aren't much to cheer - but they eagerly awaited the day when Speight was eligible.

One thing that's not in doubt is that the Wallabies have a plethora of talented backs - some eligible for selection, some not. But in 2014, they have struggled out wide. James O'Connor and Digby Ioane are in Europe, Nick Cummins headed to Japan and Pat McCabe filled in then had to retire. There aren't too many options. In Speight, however, new coach Michael Cheika has a player who would add a new dimension to any team in the world. The Fijian-born wing is a giant, direct runner who has slick hands and a tougher hand-off. Speight will have to wait for his chance: new coach Michael Cheika has plumped for continuity with incumbent wingers Adam Ashley-Cooper and Joe Tomane chosen to take on Wales. Surely Wallabies fans won't have to wait too long to see their star new recruit, though.

Rory Kockott (France)

Kockott was born and raised in South Africa but has spent the necessary 36 months living and playing in France for Castres. Kockott's call-up came as no surprise - he's been simply outstanding as Castres have punched above their weight for the last couple of seasons, winning the Top 14 in 2013 and coming second a year later.

Despite his place of birth, Kockott really is a very French scrum-half. He kicks goals, is snappy from the base and always has his eyes peeled for a snipe. Philippe Saint-Andre's squad has plenty to remedy just a year out from the World Cup and expect Kockott to play a major part in that. He'll start on the bench against Fiji and it's also worth checking out Bayonne full-back Scott Spedding (also South African born) and Racing Metro winger Teddy Thomas who make their first starts in the game. Saint-Andre will hope the trio can help turn around France's woeful recent run.

© Getty Images
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