Scrum Sevens
Rugby World Cup stars in waiting
Tom Hamilton
January 7, 2015
Jonny Gray could be a star of the 2015 Rugby World Cup © Getty Images

World Cup years do strange things to rationality and the natural order of rugby. Players who for all the world seemed nailed-on certainties can drift off the radar and are replaced by bolters. There will be those who experienced a rapid rise in their stock throughout 2014 and will hope to carry that momentum into 2015 emerging as stars of the tournament.

With the World Cup ticking over closer, we came up with a list of those who may just force their way into the reckoning. Why no All Blacks? Well we feel their squad is already established with impressive pedigree in every position so there are likely to be few opportunities for wild cards to break through. So with that in mind, Scrum Sevens picks out a group of players who are worth keeping an eye on and could enjoy remarkable World Cups.

Titi Lamositele - (Saracens, USA)

He is an archetypal example of a World Cup bolter having stayed below the radar, barely featured for Saracens but much is expected of this 19-year-old prop. The Eagles are really excited about his potential and he has won eight Test caps to date with seven coming from the bench. His sternest international test came against Scotland in June last year but he held his own at tight-head. His rugby game time has been limited this season due to a knee injury he picked up in pre-season but if he gets a chance to prove his fitness in the second half of this campaign then the Eagles will be sure to call him up. He has a hugely promising future.

Henry Slade - (Exeter Chiefs, England)

Exeter try-scorer Henry Slade takes the game to Connacht. Exeter Chiefs v Connacht, European Challenge Cup, Sandy Park, Exeter, October 25, 2014.
Henry Slade finds a gap © Getty Images

In terms of centres, Slade appears to tick all the boxes. World Cup-winner Will Greenwood is a huge fan of the 21-year-old and he looks set for a bright future both at Exeter and for England. His versatility could yet see him slot into the World Cup squad. He is equally adept in the centres as he is as fly-half and has been seen at fullback. Even if he lines up at outside centre, Exeter on occasion use him as a first-receiver in some of their attacking plays and he is very much on England's radar. His accurate left boot is also an added bonus and would be attractive for England's penchant for contestable kicking.

Jonny Gray - (Glasgow Warriors, Scotland)

Younger brothers sometimes fail to make their own light when in the shadow of their older brother. You could be forgiven for thinking this is the case with Jonny Gray after all his older brother, Richie, is now a bona fide Lion and is playing Top 14 rugby for Castres. But there is enough about Jonny for him to stand alone as a potentially world-class second-row and not merely being referred to as 'Richie's younger brother'. With eight caps to his name for Scotland he is now established in their team and he could make a World Cup impact similar to what Taulupe Faletau did for Wales in 2011 where he tackled his way into the global rugby consciousness.

Robbie Henshaw - (Connacht, Ireland)

Connacht's Robbie Henshaw, Saracens v Connacht, Heineken Cup, January 18, 2014
Robbie Henshaw has big boots to fill © Getty Images

While Liverpool will have a dilemma over just how they can replace Steven Gerrard when he waltzes off into the American sunset at the end of the season, Ireland had a similar headache following last year's triumphant Six Nations when Brian O'Driscoll hung up his weathered, battered boots. Players are sometimes irreplaceable, there will not be another clone of O'Driscoll but there are those who can offer a point of difference and Robbie Henshaw is that man. His loyalty to Connacht is admirable but he will inevitably be pursued by Leinster as a long-term replacement for O'Driscoll and he could slot into a similar role for Ireland. He started in their victorious November Tests against South Africa and Australia and is the incumbent No.13 for their Six Nations campaign.

Samson Lee - (Scarlets, Wales)

Wales have traditionally loved front-rowers. In the 1970s Pontypool's 'Viet Gwent' of Graham Price, Bobby Windsor and Charlie Faulkner went down in legend as perhaps the finest trio of piano pushers Wales have ever had. Then came the Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones partnership either side of Matthew Rees but Father Time waits for no man. While Adam Jones could yet be handed a Six Nations reprieve owing to Rhodri Jones' injury, he is probably third in the pecking order as a ginger behemoth from Llanelli looks to have established himself as their first-choice tight-head. Lee is everything you want in a modern tight-head and aged just 22 his potential is frightening.

Patricio Fernandez - (Clermont Auvergne, Argentina)

Argentina's Patricio Fernandez looks for the pass, Argentina v Scotland, Auckland, June 20, 2014
Patricio Fernandez has shone at Under-20 level © Getty Images

Those who were at the Parc des Princes for the bronze medal play-off in the 2007 Rugby World Cup witnessed the artistic side of Argentinian rugby. They played with a fluidity that would have made the timeless guitarist Juanjo Dominguez blush. But since then their back line has stuttered and failed to hit the right notes. 'El Mago' Juan Martin Hernandez is now on Toulon's books and any neutral will hope he will find some of his 2007-esque form in time for the World Cup but in Patricio Fernandez they have someone around whom they can build Pumas sides for years to come. He can play at fullback and at fly-half and will inevitably draw comparisons with the aforementioned Hernandez. He is on Clermont's books and has a bright future.

Seabelo Senatla - (Stormers, South Africa)

South Africa has had some fine wingers. In 1995 the World Cup final saw James Small and Chester Williams take the plaudits; 12 years later and it was Bryan Habana and JP Pietersen. The 2007 vintage are still in the frame for the 2015 World Cup but while wingers Cornall Hendricks and Lwazi Mvovo have made some noise since, there is a school of thought there is a gap for one flyer to make a dent in the World Cup squad. If a successful Super Rugby campaign at the Stormers is realised by Senatla then it could be him. He is just 21 but he has already excelled in the famous green and gold shirt having scored four tries on his Under-20 debut in 2013. He was called into the Springboks mix for their recent end-of-year tour but had to wait patiently for his chance. It could come in the Rugby Championship.

Senatla takes flight while on Sevens duty © Getty Images
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.

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