There has been plenty of focus in the English Premiership this season on star players like Exeter Chiefs’ Sam Simmonds, who have lit up the stadiums whenever they set foot in them. However, there have also been some impressive performances from younger players, particularly those under the age of 23, who could all be the future of the England rugby team. In this data analysis, we will use statistics to look in more detail at six young stars of this season.
Jack van Poortvliet
CLUB: Leicester Tigers
Leicester Tigers have been a much-improved team in 2020/2021, playing with more confidence than they have in recent seasons. However, that is not to say that they have been perfect, with some poor results still creeping in here and there.
Their improvement has been in no small part down to their emerging academy players, with the likes of England flanker George Martin starring on the domestic and international stages this season, helping Leicester to get more on the front foot.
However, one who has added a lot to the Tigers’ play is scrum-half Jack van Poortvliet. He has scored two tries, beaten eight defenders and made four clean breaks in just 11 appearances this season, and has generally added pace to Leicester’s play on the ground, able to pick the ball up and carve open gaps in opposing defences. He has also made 47 kicks from hand, showing his confidence with the ball and ability to direct Leicester’s play from the middle of the pitch.
van Poortvliet is also a good defensive player, with a tackle success rate of 72%, having made 18 successful attempts and missed just seven. That shows how he can stop opposing attacks in their early stages, allowing his teammates to get back and close off the spaces behind. There is no doubting that the young scrum-half is a big part of Leicester Tigers’ future, and, maybe one day, England’s too.
CLUB: Leicester Tigers
When it comes to full-backs, England are a little light on quality, which was highlighted in this year’s Six Nations, but Leicester Tigers could have a long-term solution for that problem, in the shape of Freddie Steward, another of their academy graduates. He has become the Tigers’ first-choice in that position, starting most games this season, and has been one of their standout players throughout.
Steward’s statistics reflect his abilities on the pitch, with 151 carries this season demonstrating his attacking qualities with the ball. We have seen examples this season where he has kicked and then run forward to catch the ball in the midfield, so his determination is also there. He doesn’t score tries too often, only managing one in his 14 league appearances this season, but has beaten 43 defenders, helping him to set up chances for his teammates. Another of his strengths is kicking long-range penalties, which would also benefit England.
A full-back needs to be good defensively as well, and this is where Steward can still improve. His tackle success rate currently stands at 67%, with 31 tackles made and 15 missed, and he has also conceded 23 turnovers. However, he has been a player Leicester boss Steve Borthwick has relied on this season, and that confidence has been reflected in his overall play.
CLUB: Northampton Saints
Northampton Saints have plenty of excellent players, but arguably the most dangerous has been winger Ollie Sleightholme. Whenever he gets the ball, something happens, because he has the pace to find and punish any gaps that opponents leave open.
His statistics prove this, with 33 carries, 15 defenders beaten and 12 clean breaks, all demonstrating how, when he makes a run forward, he is rarely stopped. He also has an end-product, with seven tries in his seven games this season making him the third-highest scorer in the Premiership, as well as the joint-highest scoring winger (alongside Bristol Bears’ Siva Naulago).
Wingers are also defenders too, so need to be good when their team is out of possession. Sleightholme has a very impressive 94% tackle success rate for this season, with 31 tackles made and only two missed. Therefore, he is an excellent option to have at both ends of the pitch, and surely one that England will be keeping an eye on.
CLUB: Sale Sharks
POSITION: Full-back, centre
Unlike the majority of the players in this analysis, Luke James is not a new face this season, but it is easy to forget that the Sale Sharks utility back is only 22 years old. Able to play at centre or full-back, he is someone who Sale have relied on a lot this season.
James’ statistics reflect his mix of strengths. 86 carries made shows how, like Freddie Steward, he is a player who chases his kicks and gets involved with the midfield play, whilst 14 defenders beaten shows how opponents find it difficult to stop him when he gets on the front foot. He has only missed one game this season, playing a major part of Sale’s charge into the play-offs since Alex Sanderson took over as Director of Rugby.
Defensively, he still has work to do, with a tackle success rate of 66%, making 29 and missing 15, whilst he has also conceded 10 turnovers. However, along with his older brother and fellow Sharks back Sam, there is no doubting that James is one of the more underrated players in the English Premiership.
CLUB: Sale Sharks
One of the most exciting players to have entered the Premiership fold this season has been another Sale Sharks player, young scrum-half Raffi Quirke. In his six appearances this season, Quirke has shown confidence that we would expect from a seasoned Premiership player, creating plenty of opportunities for his side. He has made 18 carries in those six games, gaining 133 metres, but has also made 22 kicks from hand. From these values, we can see how he can play in different ways, which will benefit both his career and Sale’s tactics going forward.
Quirke’s tackling is mixed, with 15 successful tackles and 15 missed, and an overall success rate of 68%, but he has plenty of time to improve on this. However, as a scrum-half, his main job is to be good with the ball, making intelligent decisions that set up opportunities for his teammates around the pitch, and he has shown already that he can do that.
POSITION: Flanker, hooker, number 8
Wasps have not had a good season, with last year’s runners-up currently sitting in ninth place in the English Premiership table, having won just seven games and lost 10. However, whilst the team is struggling, individual players have done well, with one of those being versatile forward Alfie Barbeary.
Capable of operating in most of the forward positions, he has shown pace, precision and quality whenever he has the ball, scoring a hat-trick of tries on his league debut against Leicester Tigers in September last year. This shows the threat Barbeary poses around the try area, backed up by his 69 carries, 30 defenders beaten and four clean breaks, all in just six appearances this season.
The main job of the flanker, Barbeary’s usual position, is to get to the breakdown quickly and win the ball on the ground. To this end, he has won five turnovers and conceded eight, so he does well in the basics of the role. Tackling is another thing that flankers need to be good at, and his success rate stands at a very impressive 92%, with 46 being successful and only four being missed, so this is clearly a strength of his.
At the age of 20, Barbeary has many years ahead of him in his career, and England are taking notice of his impressive form and promise, demonstrated by a callup to Eddie Jones’ squad for last year’s Autumn Nations Cup. There is no doubting that he is a future star for English rugby.