With the RBS 6 Nations just one week away (excited yet?) I thought it would be a good opportunity to take a look at some of the players who could make their breakthrough during the tournament. Below are 20 players who I believe, if given chance, could really make a lasting mark on this years tournament;
With injuries limiting Stuart Lancaster’s wing options this year 19 year old Bath flyer Anthony Watson could be thrust into the limelight during England’s opener in Paris. Watson has pace and power on his side but the most exciting aspect to his play is how simple he keeps his game. Watson is always happy to carry the ball in hand and take on defenders which has seen him make plenty of yards already for Bath this season.
Despite a hugely disappointing 6 Nations campaign last year there is a growing sense of optimism in France spurred on by a number of exciting young players such as Dulin. The Castres full-back has already accumulated 5 caps for the French national side and could have a starring role this year for Les Bleus as Philippe Saint-André looks to progress his team ahead of the World Cup next year.
Glasgow Warriors flanker Chris Fusaro isn’t the biggest of forwards but his sevens experience could help add an attacking edge to Scotland’s play if he can get in ahead of a number of well-established back-rowers in the squad. Scotland’s lack of a truly stand-out openside flanker however could see Fusaro soon become a main-stay of the team ahead of the World Cup.
The young Saracens centre has been in fine-form for his club when given the opportunity to play and has had the opportunity to expand his attacking game under Mark McCall. Despite a disappointing Autumn campaign with Scotland, the potential combination of Duncan Taylor and Matt Scott in the centre’s provides an exciting partnership that could be the central fulcrum which Vern Cotter can build his Scotland team around.
For me Fickou is the embodiment of all that can be truly tantalising about French rugby, pace, flair and mazy runs leaving defenders rocking on their heels. Fickou has been described by some as the most naturally gifted player the Northern Hemisphere has produced in years. If he can live up to expectation, Fickou could form an all-mighty partnership with Wesley Fofana in the French midfield that will leave opponents quivering.
Whilst Thomas might not be the most prolific scrummager in rugby, his ability around the park make him an exciting prospect that England forwards coach Graham Rowntree has been bigging up for seemingly years. With injury meaning David Wilson will miss at least part of the 6 Nations Thomas is likely to have the opportunity to demonstrate his impressive ball carrying skills during the opening rounds of the tournament.
McGrath has emerged as the answer to Ireland’s prayers as they now finally have a more than capable back-up to the ever-impressive Cian Healy. McGrath has proved a more than capable stand-in for Healy at Leinster this season and will be looking to push his provincial team-mate for both club and country over the next few months. A hugely powerful player, McGrath’s scrummaging and ball-carrying should see him make an impact on the 6 Nations.
Although Nowell might now have the out-and-out pace of Watson he does have an incredible ability to elude defenders and find space where others might struggle. Some questions have been raised over his defence but a solid start for the Chiefs this season means he will be going toe-to-toe with Watson and Ashton for a place on England’s wing during the 6 Nations.
Although not quite as tall as his brother Richie, Jonny is still a huge unit, and at just 19 still has the potential to get even bigger. His performances for Glasgow this season have seen him continue to rise up Scott Johnson’s pecking order with some claiming he could be even better than his renowned older brother. Whatever happens it looks like the Gray brothers could be set to form a formidable partnership in Scotland’s second row for years to come.
Scoring tries has long been the Achilles heel of the Italian national side who seem to consistently fail to build on the platform provided by their powerful forwards. Young Zebre winger Leonardo Sarto could help provide an answer to this problem having already scored in his two appearances for Italy so far.
Although unlikely to start ahead of the established backline of Halfpenny, Cuthbert and North, Williams looks a more than able replacement should Warren Gatland find himself needing to switch things around. With plenty of pace to burn Williams is an exciting prospect for Welsh rugby and at just 22 has plenty of time to add to his 8 caps for Wales.
Having made his international début in 2012 Fuser has now made his way back into contention for Italy where he could find himself becoming a regular starter as Jacques Brunel looks to freshen up and ageing pack. Fuser provides an excellent target in the line-out and if given his chance provide to be a useful asset in the Italian pack.
Rhodri Williams is rapidly emerging as the leading contender to Mike Phillips for the Welsh number 9 shirt. Although he is unlikely to become Warren Gatland’s first choice scum-half during this years tournament he could be given the opportunity to show some of the scintillating form he has been displaying for a young Scarlets side so far this season.
With Brian O’Driscoll set to retire at the end of the season young Connacht player Robbie Henshaw could be set to provide the perfect replacement. Having made his Ireland début off the bench during the Autumn internationals, Henshaw’s flexibility could see him at least become a regular member Joe Schmidt’s 23-man match-day squad where it seems he will be keen to make his mark.
Rodney Ah You
Huge Connacht prop Rodney Ah You has received his Ireland call-up for this years 6 Nations after qualifying on residency grounds. If you need any idea of the type of player Ah You is then just look out for his huge hit on Saracens lock Alastair Hargreaves during last weekends Heineken Cup game. Expect to see plenty more powerful hits from the monstrous Irish tighthead.
Welsh prop Samson Lee has been thriving under the new scrummaging laws this season and could see him prove to the long-term successor to Adam Jones. Gatland will be pleased to finally have such an able deputy to the ever-impressive Jones and could give Lee plenty of game-time off the bench during the 6 Nations.
At nearly 20 stone French lock Sébastien Vahaamahina could help add even more power to an already impressive French pack as they look to steam-roller their way to 6 Nations glory. Although he’s unlikely to get in ahead of some of the more established French locks but could use his size to make a huge impact off of the bench.
Having opted to pin his international colours to the Italian national side having turned his back on Scotland, Tommaso Allen will be hoping to establish himself at the Azzurri’s first-choice fly-half over the course of the 6 Nations. Allen has been in impressive form for French side Perpginan so far this season and will be a key asset to Jacques Brunel as he is more than capable of covering full-back.
The Nashville born winger proved a more than capable deputy for the injured Tim Visser last year as he scored two tries in his five appearances for Scotland. With Visser likely to miss the entirety of the 6 Nations Seymour looks set to be the man to step into the void. His ability to find the try line could make him a powerful weapon in Scott Johnson’s armoury if he can get the Scottish midfield firing.
Toulouse wing Yoann Huget provides a tantalising prospect for this years 6 Nations. At 26 years-old some may consider him to be too old to be a ‘one to watch’ but his ever-improving form in the Top 14 means he could be a key member of Philippe Saint-André’s 6 Nations squad. He is solid at the back and lethal on the counter and could therefore become one of the players of the tournament if he turns up.
Let us know who you think will make their mark in this year’s 6 Nations.