Every year the Six Nations rolls around, and every year it elicits excitement from the supporters of rugby’s most tribal competition.
The fare may be stagnant from time to time, but more often than not, supporters reflect on the competition fondly once it’s drawn to a conclusion. Following the disappointing World Cup experienced by the northern hemisphere countries, change is required.
Two of the nations have new coaching teams, while the three kiwis who remain in situ from last season have freshened up their squads slightly. The hapless Italy remain under Jacques Brunel’s watch, and far from competitive.
Ireland have claimed the last two titles, yet neither was accompanied by a grand slam. There are plenty of new kids on the block in 2016, and they will all be looking to end Ireland’s reign and etch their team’s name on the trophy.
Here is a talented XV of players who have been selected in their country’s Six Nations squad, but have never played in the tournament before.
15. Elliot Daly (England)
The versatile Wasps man may be more likely to see action in the centre, but as he has proven for his club side he is an excellent option at full back.
The 23-year-old has been one of the standout performers in the Aviva Premiership over the past 18 months and having representing England at every other level to date, Daly looks primed to make the step up to the senior ranks with ease. A very intelligent player, with a good outside break and intelligent distribution he will add real variety to the English attack.
14. Hallam Amos (Wales)
The Newport winger made his debut just two months after turning 19 against Tonga back in 2013, yet has only managed to amass a further four caps in the intervening years.
Now 21, Amos was part of the Welsh squad at last autumn’s World Cup, featuring twice before injury in the clash with England ended his tournament. The speedster has represented Wales five times in all, crossing for one try, but he has yet to sample Six Nations action.
13. Jonathan Danty (France)
New French coach Guy Noves may have discarded Mathieu Bastareaud from the squad, but in selecting Stade Francais man Danty he has not lost any bulk from the midfield. Touching the scales at just under 17 stone, the 23-year-old is a powerful carrier in the wide channels.
Where he differs from the Toulon man is the ability to beat players with brains and footwork rather than solely with brute force. A vital member of last season’s Top 14 Stade side, Danty has all the attributes required of a modern centre.
12. Stuart McCloskey (Ireland)
The form centre in Ireland this season to date, the Ulsterman deserves a shot at the green jersey. Irish coach Joe Schmidt isn’t one to alter his team too drastically, but injuries to his regular midfield pair of Jared Payne and Robbie Henshaw have seen both play very little rugby since the World Cup.
If Schmidt is forced into a rejig, McCloskey is the ideal candidate to counteract Jamie Roberts’ size and strength against Wales on the opening weekend. The 23-year-old gives Ireland a battering ram option, with soft hands, they have never had.
11. Virimi Vakatawa (France)
The sevens specialist is one of eight uncapped players in the French squad that has been selected to usher in a new era for French rugby. The former Racing flier will look to bring all his Fijian flair to a back division that looks a lot more fleet footed and mobile than any selected during Philippe Saint Andre’s reign.
The selection of the 23-year-old has caused a stir in France however, as he is currently without a club in the 15-man game. Since leaving Racing in 2013, he has wowed the sevens circuit exclusively. It will be a bold call for Noves to plunge him into the starting team from the day one.
10. Gareth Anscombe (Wales)
Warren Gatland wasted no time fast tracking the former New Zealand U-20s World Cup winner into his squad last season. Qualifying for Wales through his Cardiff-born mother, the out half-cum-full back has already become an important part of the Welsh set-up.
Anscombe enjoyed a promising debut season with the Cardiff Blues and was involved in the 2015 Six Nations squad without seeing the field. He was an injury replacement during the World Cup, where he enjoyed a start against Australia at full back before his own injury ended his tournament. Will likely add to his three caps this spring.
9. Sebastien Bezy (France)
The 24-year-old is one of the new French recruits that Noves will be particularly knowledgeable about. Having worked closely together at Toulouse, the scrum half will know exactly how Noves will want his back line to run.
One of three scrum halves in the squad, he may have to wait for his chance behind the more experienced pair of Morgan Parra and Maxime Machenaud, but the lithe number 9 will be keen to make the most of any opportunity. Small in stature but big in brain, he’s an archetypal on-field French general.
1. Rory Sutherland (Scotland)
A rarity in the modern game – a man who came through the club game rather than an academy, the 23-year-old is making up for lost time.
A converted back row, the loose head only broke into the Edinburgh set-up last season but a string of impressive showings saw him called into the Scottish squad as cover ahead of their World Cup quarter-final defeat to Australia. Sutherland has yet to be capped at senior level but that will almost certainly change at some stage in the coming months.
2. Kristian Dacey (Wales)
The twice capped Cardiff Blues man is the junior member of the Welsh hooker triumvirate, in terms of caps and age, but the 26-year-old will hope to make his first competitive international appearance this spring. Dacey twice came off the bench during Wales’ World Cup warm-up fixtures but didn’t make the final cut, with Warren Gatland opting for just two hookers in his squad.
Dacey was a member of the Welsh Six Nations squad in 2015, but failed to get on the field, a strong season to date with Cardiff has improved his chances of seeing action this year.
3. Tadhg Furlong (Ireland)
The Wexford native may have earned his place in Ireland’s World Cup squad on the basis he can cover both sides of the scrum, but there is no question the 23-year-old is at his best on the tight head side. Following the exclusion of Mike Ross, Furlong will be vying for a spot in the match day squad with Leinster colleague Marty Moore and Connacht’s Nathan White.
While Furlong still needs time to develop into a top grade scrummager, his impressive mobility around the field should see him earn the bench role for the Six Nations.
4. Maro Itoje (England)
The most hyped prospect in English rugby for many a year, the powerful Saracen has a lot of expectation resting on his broad shoulders.
Itoje has handled everything that’s come his way with ease in his career to date, so the step up to senior level shouldn’t prove too daunting. Itoje has the dynamism to feature in the back row, but will most likely make his first strides in the international arena as a lock.
5. Paul Jedrasiak (France)
Another versatile newcomer to international rugby is Clermont’s Paul Jedrasiak. Comfortable in the second row or on the blindside, the 22-year-old has been making a big impact for the French superpower this season.
Having featured 18 times for the French U-20s he was always destined to make the grade as a senior international for Les Bleus. Despite competing with a host of internationals, Jedrasiak has featured 14 times for the French outfit this season, nine times from the start, and crossed for two tries.
6. John Hardie (Scotland)
After contributing thoroughly to the Highlanders’ first ever Super Rugby title-winning season last year, the flanker would have harboured dreams of partaking in the World Cup. When Hardie received the call it was a Kiwi voice on the other end alright, it was the understated tone of Vern Cotter rather than Steve Hansen.
The 27-year-old qualifies for Scotland through his grandmother and went on to feature four times at the World Cup for his adopted nation. Hardie is a teak tough defender and a brilliant breakdown operator who has helped make the Scots competitive again.
7. Matt Kvesic (England)
Having watched Chris Robshaw plod ineffectively around Twickenham for the duration of the Stuart Lancaster era, the selection of Gloucester’s natural openside Kvesic will bring an immediate improvement to the balance of the English backrow.
The 23-year-old is exactly the type of breakdown specialist Eddie Jones needs to compete with the best teams in world rugby. Capped twice back in 2013, the flanker has been included in English Six Nations squads in 2013 and 2014, without ever making the field. That will change this year.
8. CJ Stander (Ireland)
October 30th 2015 was a date etched into Irish fans’ diaries for a long time. Not because it was the weekend of the Rugby World Cup final – Argentina saw to that – but because it was the day CJ Stander became Irish qualified.
The South African has been in sensational form for Munster for nearly two straight years and the Irish coaching ticket will welcome him into the squad with open arms. With Peter O’Mahony currently sidelined, the 25-year-old is a logical fit at blindside before taking over at number 8 from Jamie Heaslip in the long run.
Ozer McMahon, Pundit Arena
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