During the last ten years or so, rugby has become an increasingly attritional sport. Players have become bigger, stronger, and faster than ever before, and the number of injuries has increased as a result.
Where once it was almost ignored, concussion has also become a focal point for player welfare. Indeed, it is no longer uncommon for players to miss a number of weeks after suffering a head injury.
Consequently, coaches are continually looking for ways of expanding the pool of talent at their disposal so as to cope with the attritional nature of the modern game.
After fielding a virtually unchanged XV during last season’s Six Nations Championship, injury has since forced Eddie Jones to test England’s depth in a number of positions.
Likewise, Guy Noves has had to deal with injuries to Eddy Ben Arous, Camille Chat, Wesley Fofana and Henry Chavancy since naming the French squad last week.
Wales too are sweating on the fitness Taulupe Faletau, while Ireland await word on whether Johnny Sexton or Sean O’Brien will be available for their opener against Scotland.
This of course means that we will be denied the opportunity to watch some of the game’s elite players line out during the Championship, while it’s almost certain that the injury list will grow ever longer during the tournament.
[tie_slide]1. Billy Vunipola (England)
Billy Vunipola lit up last year’s Six Nations with a series of massive displays throughout the tournament.
Eddie Jones utilised the number eight’s immense power and strength to get England over the gain line, before the ball was made available to a back line that was filled with pace.
Such was Vunipola’s form, arguments were put forward suggesting the Saracens player was every bit as good, if not better than Kieran Read.
However, England will have to do without the Vunipola this campaign, but have a more than able replacement in Nathan Hughes.
[tie_slide]2. WP Nel (Scotland)
In the aftermath of last season’s Championship, most commentators believed WP Nel was a shoo-in for Lions selection. The tight head had after all dominated all comers at scrum time, while also proving to be a decent option in the loose.
However, a neck injury sustained during Edinburgh’s win over Harlequins earlier this month has ruled Nel out of the Championship and massively hindered his chances of being called into the Lions squad.
[tie_slide]3. Chris Robshaw (England)
Following the lows of England’s World Cup campaign came redemption during 2016 for Chris Robshaw.
A simple positional switch allowed Robshaw focus on his strength as a tireless operator, while he also seemed to revel in the shadow cast by others after Dylan Hartley succeeded the Harlequins flanker as England captain.
Nevertheless, England will have to do without Robshaw this campaign, leaving Eddie Jones with another jersey to fill in his back row.
[tie_slide]4. Wesley Fofana (France)
Had Wesley Fofana been born in another era he could have very easily become a legendary French centre.
However, as the French substituted flair for power during the last number of years, Fofana has had to play off scraps in a midfield that became dominated by the bulk of Mathieu Bastareaud.
Nevertheless, you only have to watch Clermont this season to be reminded of just how dangerous Fofana is with ball in hand.
Worse still, Fofana’s absence could see the return of Bastareaud in the French starting XV.
[tie_slide]5. Keelan Giles (Wales)
After years of selecting the increasingly none too inspiring Alex Cuthbert on the wing, the emergence of Keelan Giles excited Welsh fans who want see their wide men take on and beat opponents in the mould of Shane Williams.
Although Giles missed out on being capped during the autumn series, it became increasingly likely that Giles would make his mark during the Six Nations.
However, after scoring 11 tries in nine appearances for the Ospreys this season, the unfortunate Giles pulled his hamstring against Lyon in the European Challenge Cup, ruling him out of much of the Six Nations.
Alan Drumm, Pundit Arena
In this week’s edition of The Oval Office Podcast, we speak to the Pro12 Communications Director Adam Redmond, who outlines how the league will evolve in the coming seasons.