SARugbymag.co.za takes a look at how the teams are shaping up ahead of this year’s Six Nations tournament and highlights some of the players to watch.
England will be going into the Six Nations as favourites having won the competition last year and after their recent victory in the Autumn Nations Cup. Injuries and withdrawals by key players, including Joe Marler, Joe Launchbury, Sam Underhill and Mako Vunipola, may halt their early-tournament momentum, though.
England are still without the rampaging Manu Tuilagi and will look to explore the equally abrasive Ollie Lawrence in the centres. In the pack, the tournament could be the coming of age of the promising flank Jack Willis.
Player to watch: Ollie Lawrence
There is a sense of optimism among Scottish rugby fans ahead of this year’s Six Nations. Superstar flyhalf Finn Russell returns to the squad and Scotland look a different side with him at the wheel. In the pack, Jamie Ritchie continues his ascent as one of the premier flanks in Europe and will look to stake a claim for a position in the Lions series.
There is serious excitement about young centre Cameron Redpath (snatched away from England, for whom he also qualifies) while ex-Stormer Huw Jones also returns to the squad.
Player to watch: Cameron Redpath
Wales come into this year’s Six Nations in a rebuilding phase. New head coach Wayne Pivac is still finding his feet after the departure of Warren Gatland. The ex-Scarlets coach has endured a rocky tenure so far, including a famous home loss to Scotland.
Nevertheless, there are signs that Wales are starting to gel as a side and this Six Nations will be an opportunity to gather momentum. The exclusion of Josh Adams for breaching Covid-19 protocols opens the door for speed merchant Rees-Zammit.
Player to watch: Louis Rees-Zammit
Ireland are another side currently in the midst of a rebuild. Head coach Andy Farrell has tried to empower his side to play more freely than they did under previous coach Joe Schmidt.
The result has been performances that have blown hot and cold, typified by fleeting moments of brilliance from outside backs like Jordan Larmour. They’ll be looking for better consistency as they launch their campaign.
Player to watch: Caelan Doris
Since Fabien Galthie’s appointment as head coach, France have been steadily building to becoming one of the best sides in the world. The influence of defence coach Shaun Edwards has been pivotal in this process.
They will be targeting this Six Nations as a chance to bounce back from an Autumn Nations Cup they should have won. They’ll be without their back-row talisman, Gregory Alldritt, in the tournament, though.
Player to watch: Antoine Dupont
Italy have gone into the Six Nations tournament having chosen an inexperienced side. It’s a risky move by head coach Franco Smith. Italy are seen as perennial underachievers in the competition and have won only two of their previous 30 games.
There is some excitement in their backline this year and they have two quality flyhalves in Tomaso Allen and the young Paolo Garbisi. Their forwards will need to find a way to front up physically to give their backs a better platform.
Player to watch: Marco Zanon
Photo: Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP via Getty Images