The Six Nations is almost upon us, and we’re getting very excited. There are countless subplots before this year’s tournament even begins.
England and France had disastrous World Cups, and enter 2016 under new management. However, can they return to the top of European rugby’s table?
Meanwhile Ireland are hot in pursuit of a third consecutive championship, but humbling defeat to Argentina in the quarter-final of the World Cup rocked Joe Schmidt’s juggernaut, and their provinces have been struggling in the interim.
Wales and Scotland both had promising campaigns in England, and are looking to build momentum this spring.
Italy are licking their wounds, following an underwhelming few weeks in England last autumn, and will be eager to find a win this championship.
With hype building before the tournament, we look at some of the players we think could set the Six Nations alight in 2016.
George Kruis (England)
England are looking for a fresh start under Eddie Jones, and new players will need to be injected to spice things up. Kruis is in flying form for the all-conquering Saracens side, and at 25 could be player who will become one of the first names on the teamsheet throughout this World Cup cycle.
His comments last week would suggest that he is ready to step up and finally nail down a consistent starting berth. Injury to Dave Attwood means that only Courtney Lawes and Joe Launchbury are ahead of him, but if he carries his club form into the national side, he could be one of the stories of the tournament.
Simone Favaro (Italy)
The Italian openside was a key part of the team that gave Ireland the mother and father of all scares in the World Cup, and he will be looking to build on that with some solid performances this spring. The Glasgow Warriors man is lethal at the breakdown, and among the very best in the northern hemisphere at the traditional art of a seven.
To call him the ‘Italian Pocock’ might be pushing it, but he can slow down oppositions no end.
Stuart McCloskey (Ireland)
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt is without some regulars for this tournament, and will be forced to test some new talents. The inside centre position is one up for grabs, with Robbie Henshaw expected to push to 13 in Jared Payne’s absence.
While there are calls to start Garry Ringrose, McCloskey is the obvious choice as he has excelled for Ulster this year. At 23, he is more than capable of growing into an important figure for Ireland and a long-term replacement for Gordon D’Arcy.
Francois Trinh-Duc (France)
Remember this guy? The outcast of the Phillipe Saint-Andre era is still regarded as one of the very best out-halves in the Northern Hemisphere, and it is not difficult to see why.
He is on his way to Toulon at the end of the season, and is looking to establish himself under the Guy Noves regime. What better way than to start the new era of French rugby with a barnstormer of a performance against Italy on the opening day? World class players thrive when the stakes are highest. Trinh-Duc needs a big tournament and don’t bet against him delivering.
John Hardie (Scotland)
The openside flanker is the talk of Scottish rugby at present. The New Zealand born Edinburgh player was immense during the World Cup, picking up the man of the match award against Samoa. If he plays well, then the opposition could be in trouble.
Vern Cotter’s side open against England in Murrayfield. This is a fixture that is crucial to Scottish rugby. They need to start the new World Cup cycle on a positive note, and step out from the doldrums. Hardie will be key.
Aled Davies (Wales)
The number 9 jersey in Wales has seen many different faces over recent months, and we think there could be a new one this February. With Rhys Webb out injured and Mike Phillips retiring, Warren Gatland has a decision to make.
Gareth Davies excelled at the World Cup, but has been unable to make the starting team for the Scarlets, as he is behind his namesake Aled in the pecking order.
Aled Davies has proven to be a real talent, and the 23 year-old can make a big statement in Webb’s absence.
Who are you looking forward to seeing? As always, we would love to hear your thoughts over on our designated rugby Facebook page.