With the Junior World Championship taking place, Planet Rugby's scouts headed over to Newlands Stadium to see New Zealand's centre in action.
Who is he?
Emery is an 18-year-old former Palmerston North Boys' High School student who is playing in his second season of U20 rugby. The youngest player in the New Zealand squad at the 2012 IRB Junior World Championship, Emery caught the eye in the opening fixture - against Samoa - when he had a hand in so much good rugby the Baby Blacks had played. Apparently, New Zealand TV commentator and former Wales full-back Shane Howarth apologised for mentioning his name too often, which gives an idea of how highly the youngster is thought of in his homeland. He is an outside centre with an impressive ability to slip tackles as those who have watched the action in Cape Town and Stellenbosch will have noticed. Currently, Emery - a second cousin of NZ rugby league great Stacey Jones - is on a development contract at Manawatu, with his first appearance for the Turbos in the 2012 ITM Cup surely now fast approaching.
Physique: Face-to-face he is not the tallest at 1.79m while he weighs in at 86kg, but it is his speed in contact and ability to slip a tackle that makes him stronger than one would expect. It is worth mentioning again that Emery, at 18 years old, is playing above his age group in South Africa this season and is obviously still growing. When he does mature, we should expect him to have greater ability to bust tackles in the style of Blues wing Rene Ranger. What is interesting at Manawatu is that their recent success stories have been the 'smaller' men like Aaron Cruden and Aaron Smith. Emery could be next to make the step up.
Handling: No problems here and it seemed he was New Zealand's go-to man for line breaks, so more often than not Emery was the player being asked to run and not create. Although due to his ability to break the tackle, he does offer his supporting runners ample opportunities to capitalise - like we saw against Samoa. We noted a couple of offloads while his background in touch rugby - he was named in New Zealand Boys' touch squad in 2011 - means that he has the handling skills when called upon. His only bad pass in the game was from a set move that saw mistiming on the loop between him and Ihaia West.
Defence: He made ten tackles against Wales while he was bumped off on two occasions, one of which he recovered from quickly to complete the tackle on the second go. Positionally he was sound and with the coaching of Jason O'Halloran at Manawatu and Rob Penney with the Baby Blacks, he is sure to learn week by week. Furthermore he won a turnover on Sunday at the breakdown and also charged down a Welsh chip that looked ominous.
Threat: A total of eight tackle busts from the youngster while his go-forwards against Wales in the semi at Newlands were noticeable, even with his calf heavily strapped. Afterwards he revealed it was a problem he sustained against the Fijians in the previous fixture and it was clear he was uncomfortable following making a break as he limped back into the backline. Emery crossed for an impressive individual try early in the second half, slipping two tackles and then reaching out for the whitewash. But his first game in the tournament, against Samoa, was undoubtedly his best showing and it's unfortunate that Baby Boks captain William Small-Smith is ruled out for Friday's final as that duel would have been interesting.
Chat with Planet Rugby:
PR: So what is your situation at Manawatu?
JE: I'm on a development contract at Manawatu at the moment but hope to make the step up in the future. For now though I am just concentrating on the Junior World Championship.
PR: So it looked like you were struggling a little bit out there with your leg strapped up?
JE: That is a calf injury I picked up against Fiji in the Pool.
PR: Who has helped your game recently? I hear Johnny Leota has been coaching you.
JE: Yeah, Johnny helped me as coach in Palmerston North before he went to Sale.
Conclusion: Emery has all the attributes and skills to make it at the top grade but will have to be eased into the open age game, as we are sure he will in New Zealand. Some game time in the ITM Cup should be on the horizon while a full-time contract for the Turbos now seems likely after his efforts in South Africa this past month. It was clear that his team mates realise he is one of the stars of the Baby Blacks, with Manawatu coach O'Halloran having spoken in the past, to the Manawatu Standard, that Emery is a model professional who has a fantastic work ethic and is also a great student of rugby. Definitely one to watch in New Zealand.
By Adam Kyriacou