Keep an eye on these players during the European tournament, which kicks off this weekend.
Of course Cian Healy, Paul O'Connell, Jamie Heaslip, Brian O'Driscoll and Jonathan Sexton will need to be on song, but one player who's getting better match by match is scrumhalf Conor Murray. Another from Thomond Park, Murray was selected ahead of Greig Laidlaw and Danny Care to tour with the Lions, which caused some murmurs of discontent. One pundit stated recently that if there had been a fourth Test then Murray would have started it, which we agree with. Murray is an intelligent man to have at the base and one cannot understate how vital his form will be in these eight weeks.
It's no small feat to keep Springbok ace Morné Steyn out of a starting line-up but Stade Français playmaker Jules Plisson has been hailed as the next great French flyhalf (hands up if you've heard that one before). His club's results – they lead the Top 14 – certainly suggest the hype is not without merit. If Plisson can keep his decision-making ability in tact on the international stage, he should be able to put France’s impressive backline in the right space.
Former Western Province U19 flyhalf Tommy Allan, the nephew of ex-Bok hooker John, made headlines last year when he chose to represent Italy over Scotland, for whom he had played at the Junior World Championship. The 20-year-old is now at Perpignan, who he joined after WP failed to offer him a contract. Allan, who was born in Vicenza and has an Italian mother, is a great prospect for Jacques Brunel, with the intelligence and distribution to unlock defences. He is raw, and his slight stature will make him a target for opposition strike runners, but Allan is rightly exciting the Azzurri faithful in a position that has never really been filled since the retirement of Diego Dominguez.
England have not handed a Test debut to a 19-year-old since Mathew Tait, whose international career never panned out quite as expected. Anthony Watson will hope to travel down a different path should he be given an opportunity over the next two months. He certainly deserves a chance, impressing for Bath since his move from London Irish on both the wing and at fullback. His electric pace is truly exciting to behold and although areas of his game require work, Watson has been tipped to play at this level throughout his entire junior career.
Matt Scott and Stuart Hogg will be tasked with igniting the Scottish offence, but young Warriors midfielder Alex Dunbar is worth keeping an eye on. He could play in either centre position, depending on Scott's fitness, and his direct running, distribution and keen eye for a gap are exactly what is needed.
Photo: Oliver Morin/AFP Photo