With the Six Nations Championship getting underway tomorrow, we take a look at five players to watch in the coming weeks.
1. Rhys Patchell
The fiery-haired Scarlet has enjoyed a period in imperious regional form in recent weeks. He featured heavily in the Scarlets’ impressive performances against Bath and Toulon. Although he has appeared as a full back recently, he showed all the skills of a top class ten, popping up at first receiver in tandem with Dan Jones and getting his backline moving with serious purpose.
This weekend will be his first international start at fly half but if his regional form is anything to go by, he is more than ready perform on the international stage.
2. Josh Van Der Flier
Ireland are without their talismanic openside Sean O’Brien. They will miss his physicality in the loose and at the breakdown. Fortunately, they are blessed with a talented replacement in Van Der Flier. In a recent performance against Connacht, he made an eye-watering 34 tackles. He was the definition of a tackle magnet during that game.
With France’s bullish pack and rugged back line, Ireland will require a similar defensive effort from the Leinster man.
3. Hamish Watson
In the reverse fixture during last years’ Six Nations, Watson dominated the breakdown, winning turnover after turnover, jackal after jackal. His work really took the sting out of Wales’ second half effort and he was influential in Scotland’s win. With Sam Warburton injured, Justin Tipuric on the bench and James Davies not even in the squad, Wales are without a breakdown specialist to combat Watson.
It would not be at all surprising to see Watson wreak similar havoc at the breakdown as he did last year at Murrayfield.
4. Dylan Hartley
The England captain is someone to be watched extremely closely not just this weekend but for the entire tournament also.
His form and place in the team has been questioned with Jamie George being the standout hooker in the England squad with his consistent club form and outstanding contribution during the Lions tour. Eddie Jones will want an established captain for next years’ World Cup who is also the best player available in that position.
If Hartley doesn’t perform during this years Six Nations and justify his place whilst his rival George continues to put in outstanding performances, it may be his last tournament as England captain.
5. Steff Evans
It was a mixed autumn for the Welsh wing. He was in red hot form going into the series after scoring tries for fun for the Scarlets. It couldn’t have started better against Australia after he expertly finished a try in the corner showing impressive strength to bump off Australia’s cover defence to touch down.
However it didn’t quite happen for him afterwards when he sliced a clearance to give the Wallabies field position to score. In the All Blacks game he never got going with ball in hand and he missed a key tackle on Rieko Ioane that also led to a try.
If Evans could replicate this form on the international stage, he would be a huge asset to Wales’ attack. He has a knack of popping up with game changing contributions and in a tough first outing for Wales against Scotland, an outstanding performance from Evans similar to what he has been consistently doing for the Scarlets this season would be ideal.