It hasn't been a year for young talent, and one reason for this has been that, in a World Cup season, countries have tended to stick to the tried and trusted. But there have been some notable breakthroughs.
Yannick Jauzion of Toul-ouse was the young player who impressed me most. He has done extremely well for both his club and his country, and has quickly emerged as one of the best players in the northern hemisphere.
He seems to have it all as a centre. He is tall and strongly built and can fulfil any role. He is a great footballer and can create superb angles of running, or he can provide the crash-bang-down-the-middle run. For me, he is the answer to an outside-half's dream.
You could see that time and time again last season - whenever Frédéric Michalak got caught in a difficult situation he merely popped up a flat ball to Jauzion, who got over the gain line with ease. There is so much more to come from him, and he will be well worth keeping a special eye on in the Heineken Cup final.
The thought of Gareth Thomas joining him in the Toulouse line-up next season won't make their rivals sleep easy. Gareth has had a great season with Wales and the Warriors, but I am sure he will develop into a better player with Toulouse. He is a big man taking his place among other big men, and I am excited for him.
Many of his countrymen are sorry to see him go, but it was too good a chance to turn down. He has done everything he can in Wales and his place in the Welsh team is assured, so why complain at him trying to better himself?
The young Englishman who impressed me most was the Wasps winger Tom Voyce. He first came on the scene with Bath but he has gained rapid maturity since his move to Wasps. Voyce has exceptional pace and is deceptively strong and his Heineken Cup performance against Munster showed what he can achieve.
Due to the strength in depth of English wingers, he hasn't had a sniff of an international shirt yet, but he has a platform coming up in the Heineken final to show off his talents to a big audience, and I would not be at all surprised if he made it into England's summer tour squad as a result.
My third choice as an eye-catcher among the younger players is Gareth Cooper, the Welsh scrum-half. It has been difficult for him to get any continuity, because the Welsh players spent so much time in camp during the season, but he managed to play well both for his country and his regional team, the Warriors. There is no doubt that he has become a better player since he left Bath, and it is not often you can say that.
His passing game has grown in confidence and he is so quick off the base of the scrum. He hasn't reached the full extent of his potential yet, but I am convinced he is capable of being an ace player for club and country.
Perhaps I am fortunate to be able to watch league as closely as I do union, but if it is promising youngsters you want to see, don't miss Saturday's Challenge Cup final between Wigan and St Helens at the Millennium Stadium.
The development of young players in league is surely the result of the salary cap, which encourages clubs to give the kids a chance.
And at Wigan, especially, they have produced a great crop of rookies, with the likes of Danny Orr, Kevin Brown, Danny Tickle, Sean O'Loughlin and Danny Sculthorpe on their books. Wigan have blended them in well with their experienced pros to create a quick and mobile pack who perform at a high pace.
St Helens are the form side, but they face a tough afternoon. Local rivalry as intense and high-quality as this on the big stage will make this as compelling as any of the big rugby finals coming up.Reuse content