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Stepping Up: Spotlight on U21 players in Round 14 of the Guinness Pro 14

In this series we’ll be reviewing U21 players who have featured over the weekend in the Pro14 to get an idea of how they’re coping with stepping up into the pro game. 

Similar to our Gallagher Premiership Stepping Up series, however with the diverse teams in the league and lack of relegation threat, there is an even more regular wealth of young talent on show in the Pro14 and we look forward to seeing which players may become future stars in the league as well as the 6 Nations.

Having said that, with the postponement of Edinburgh vs Benetton and with Scarlets and Cardiff having already played their match a few weeks earlier, there were fewer youngsters to look at than usual.

Zebre vs Glasgow

Gregor Brown – Back row

Jamie Dobie – Scrum half

Rufus McLean – Wing

Ollie Smith – Fullback

Danny Wilson looks set to continue with his recent endorsement of Glasgow’s young players as they secured a bonus point away from home against Zebre. Jamie Dobie (Merchiston Castle) was reliable as ever with his delivery and got on the end of line break by Nick Grigg to score his first try for the club. Rufus McLean (also Merchiston) looked electric on the right wing and came achingly close to scoring twice out wide. Gregor Townsend has apparently taken notice and both have now been called up to the full Scotland squad on the back of their performances.

Ollie Smith (Strathallan) had more opportunities at 15 than he did a week ago against Leinster and showed promise with his running lines and link up play with his fellow outside backs. He was perhaps a touch unlucky to be carded for a deliberate knock on early in the 2nd half and was then substituted thereafter. Gregor Brown (Robert Gordon’s College) made his first start for Glasgow but unfortunately the promising flanker was subbed off after just a few minutes when he clashed with the counter-attacking Zebre fullback.

Ospreys vs Dragons

Aneurin Owen – Outside centre

Owen played the full 80 minutes for Dragons at outside centre. In what was a difficult match for any 13 to stand out in, he put in a solid display in defence and attack to help his team take the win. Dragons were under pressure for almost the whole of the first half but in the second they managed to wrestle back control. The former Ysgol Gyfun Gwynllyw fly half popped up at first receiver on a few occasions and showed nice hands to almost put Jonah Holmes through.

Leinster vs Ulster

Tom Clarkson – Tighthead prop

Jamie Osborne – Outside centre

Max O’Reilly – Fullback

Max O’Reilly impressed throughout the game at fullback. Showing off his range of talents at the position – under the high ball, running dangerous lines and linking up with his fellow backs. The former St Gerard’s School pupil looked athletic and skillful with one sublime offload to Luke McGrath almost resulting in a score.

Tom Clarkson, once of Blackrock College, came off the bench after around an hour played and while he didn’t have many opportunities in the loose, the young prop anchored the scrum for his team. Outside centre, Jamie Osborne formerly of Naas CBS, also came off the bench but with just 5 minutes left and with his team keeping it in the forwards, he unfortunately never got a chance to get his hands on the ball.

Cormac Izuchukwu – Lock

Izuchukwu entered the fray with half an hour to go and, down a forward, he showed good strength defending against Leinster’s pick and go game. The Roscrea College product was a bright spark for Ulster, showing off some nice footwork and offloading skills in addition to his physicality. With a couple of minutes to go, he bore the brunt of his team’s multiple penalties and was shown a yellow card as Leinster closed out the match.

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