Ahead of the much anticipated Six Nations Championship, kicking off 4 February, we take a look at six up-and-coming players you should keep an eye on throughout the tournament. If you haven’t yet seen the full squads, you can do so here.
JACK CLIFFORD – England
The Harlequins loose forward is a robust youngster eager to make an impact on the big stage – in more ways than one. Still just 23 years-old, Clifford already has two tries for England and has proven a more than capable stand-in for former captain Chris Robshaw.
At 6ft4 and just a tad over 17st, Clifford has an intimidating presence on the field, but the Brisbane-born player has surprisingly agile feet and is a potent force with ball in hand given the slightest space. A threat in any English side.
HUW JONES – Scotland
A bit of an unknown to many in Scotland, let alone the rest of the Northern Hemisphere, Jones’ ascension to national representation has followed a slightly unorthodox path. He moved to South Africa to study, but was soon signed by Super Rugby franchise the Stormers.
Jones, whose Welsh father was a primary school teacher at Edinburgh’s George Watson’s College, gained his first cap as a replacement against Japan last summer before scoring a spectacular brace on his home debut against Australia.
The Scots have more depth in the centre than ever before, so Jones’ inclusion is not a dead-cert. But the 23 year-old, already courted by Glasgow Warriors, definitely knows his way to the tryline.
BAPTISTE SERIN – France
A real traditional French scrum-half, Baptiste Serin has deservedly worked his way into the national side. Seen by some as a natural successor to Morgan Parra, Serin potentially has the complete game, and some sought-after French flair as well.
At 22, Serin is a fair bit older than Parra when the latter made his own debut against Scotland in 2008, but shares a similar set of natural skills. A reliable kicker from hand and the tee, Serin is equally adept at his sniping runs around the side of the ruck, proving more than a handful for the opposition.
His deft reverse pass to give Louis Picamoles a try against the All Blacks in the end-of-year Tests proves that French flair is not dead yet. An exciting starting number nine for the future.
CARLO CANNA – Italy
Canna had an excellent game in the opening round of last season’s tournament, with a near complete performance against France in Paris. The out-half kicked an early drop goal, scored a try at the start of the second half and knocked over the conversion to give the French a real scare on home turf.
His ability is often overlooked due to his club Zebre’s inability to win matches, but this should not be the impression the world has of Canna. A natural 10, he can run the ship almost single-handedly on a good day. The shame is that good days in the white of his club or the Azzurri Blue of Italy are seldom frequent.
Much like Sergio Parisse, an exciting talent is masked by a misfiring outfit.
TIERNAN O’HALLORAN – Ireland
One of the stand-out figures from last season’s PRO12 title triumph for Connacht, O’Halloran loves to attack, and comes into his own when joined by like-minded back three-quarters. With Ireland, he will have this aplenty as he looks to be the next in line to take over the fullback jersey when Rob Kearney hangs up his boots.
Good in the air and always keen for a run, O’Halloran has used his club side’s rise to prominence to showcase his own talents. Coach Joe Schmidt certainly likes what he sees and a first 6 Nations appearance is expected, if not guaranteed.
ROSS MORIARTY – Wales
Despite being part of the England team that won the junior world cup in 2013, Moriarty has chosen to represent Wales at senior level, and it’s easy to see why the mobile back-rower is tipped to be a big part of the national setup in years to come.
His form at Gloucester has been consistently impressive and he has grown into the mould of a modern day Number 8. A ferocious fend and incredible upper body strength, Moriarty is not known to go backwards in the contact area.
Defensively he is more than astute and has put in some notable crunching hits on opponents throughout his time in the Aviva Premiership.
Wales have an abundance in able back-rowers: Dan Lydiate, Sam Warburton, Taulupe Faletau and Justin Tipuric, but Moriarty is waiting in the wings and his promotion may come sooner than you think.
The tournament was officially launched yesterday in London, so you can watch a recording of that live stream, featuring interviews with both the men’s and ladies captains, here.
Do you agree with our picks, and is there anyone else that you’re looking forward to seeing play?