Rugby’s coal face is not for the fainthearted; smashing rucks, disrupting mauls and putting big hits are part of the deal when it comes to being a back row forward.
Looking back on the great teams of the modern era, every squad is defined by a world-class backrow who refuses to take a backward step whilst, in the same vein, acting as a continual thorn in the side of the opposition. In fact, it is little coincidence that the winners of the past four World Cups have been captained by two iconic backrows, Richie McCaw and Siya Kolisi. Yet it is not just these two stalwarts who have played key roles in their team’s ultimate success; Sam Warburton, Michael Hooper, Schalk Burger, and Lawrence Dallaglio were the key game wreckers in their respective teams.
More recently, the likes of Pieter-Steph Du Toit, Caelen Doris, Ardie Savea and Gregory Alldritt have spearheaded the top four sides in the game today.
Given the attritional nature of playing backrow in the test arena, teams can never have too much strength in depth. Thus, the performances of the brightest U20 talent will have fans of the Six Nations licking their lips at the prospect of what their next generation can accomplish.
Seán Edogbo (Ireland)
Cork man Edogbo and his older brother Edwin are two of the most highly touted prospects in Irish Rugby today and for a good reason. Absent from Ireland’s opener away to France, Edogbo entered the fray at a point where Ireland looked set to suffer a historic loss to a mightily impressive Italian side. Entering the action late on, Edogbo immediately burst into action as he seared down the right-hand touchline to score what would prove to be the match-winning try. If last weekend’s debut performance was anything to go by, the 6’5″ and over 100kg rangy number eight looks set to take over the U20 scene in a way his provincial teammate and next player on this list, Brian Gleeson, has over the past two seasons.
Brian Gleeson (England)
Already a regular in the senior Munster matchday-23, Gleeson is unlike any Irish backrow at 6’4″ and 113kg he is already on a par with an backrows in Andy Farrell’s senior Ireland squad in terms of sheer size. In perhaps the biggest compliment possible, Gleeson plays like a player his size as he physically dominates opponents. Yet this isn’t the only component of his game; the Tipperary man does the basics to an exceptionally high standard but has the ability to pull off out-of-this-world offloads. At just 19-years-old it is frightening to think of the heights that Gleeson could reach over the next four years as Munster and Ireland search for a Peter O’Mahony replacement.
Patrick Tuifua (France)
The latest in a long line of gargantuan French forwards, fresh off playing for Hawkes Bay in New Zealand, Tuifua will no doubt become a Top 14 star in the not-too-distant future. His exceptional ball-carrying ability was on full display against Ireland as he drove through the green defensive line from a rather ordinary tap penalty play. Shifting from the openside to the blindside from round one to two, Tuifua was equally impressive as he played a key role in the French pack getting on top of their Scottish counterparts.
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Mathis Castro-Ferreira (France)
Les Bleus U20 captain Castro-Ferreira has already turned out for the Toulouse senior squad this season in the Top 14. Built in a similar mould to current French senior captain Gregory Alldritt, he plays a similar game to the La Rochelle as a strong distributor. Given his well-renowned ability as a ball carrier, the hulking number eight uses this to his advantage to suck in defenders before popping off well-timed passes. Defensively, Castro-Ferreira fills up the dominant tackles stat line at an alarming rate, whilst his ability at the line-out is a major asset to the French team.
👊 Un essai en 𝗽𝘂𝗶𝘀𝘀𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 de l’Homme du match, Mathis Castro-Ferreira ! 🔥
— France Rugby (@FranceRugby) February 12, 2024
Morgan Morse (Wales)
Long touted as the next great Welsh number eight, Morse is a member of a stacked young Ospreys backrow that includes Jac Morgan, Morgan Morris, and Will Hickey. Showcasing his quality on the senior stage earlier this season, Morse scored a crucial try for the Ospreys as they earned a first-ever victory on South African soil by downing the Emirates Lions in the Challenge Cup. Such has been the level of his performances for the Ospreys that there were calls for him to be included in Warren Gatland’s senior squad. However, returning for one more go around with the U20s, Morse offered a real spark to his team as they took on a physical England team in round two and currently tops the tackle charts with a whopping 35 through two rounds. Of all the players on this list, Morse feels the closest to a senior international call-up.
The step, the pace, the power 🤩ADVERTISEMENT
— BKT United Rugby Championship (URC) (@URCOfficial) January 1, 2024
Henry Pollock (England)
Just as Courtney Lawes and Lewis Ludlam depart, Pollock arrives. Yes, the U20 star is so good that he deserves to be in the same conversation as two iconic Saints. In simple terms, his stats so far in this year’s U20 Six Nations are off the charts, with three tries in round one, whilst his 33 carries sees him top the charts in both categories. For Northampton, his elevation as a live option for the senior team combined with the signing of Tom Pearson gives them two key building blocks to build their pack around.
😇 HENRY POLLOCK
Wondering what all the hype is about?
Well here are all of Henry Pollock’s best moments.
He is considered a ‘once in a generation talent’ by Northampton and sees Michael Hooper and Teimana Harrison as his inspiration. pic.twitter.com/xYjYYKEQjo
— RugbyInsideLine (@RugbyInsideLine) February 11, 2024