LONDON – The Six Nations Championship, the last before this year’s World Cup in Japan, gets under way when France face Wales in Paris on Friday.
Below AFP Sport looks at six players who could have an impact on this season’s edition of Europe’s leading international rugby union competition.
Jordan Larmour, Ireland
With veteran Rob Kearney seemingly struggling more and more with injuries, his 21-year-old Leinster team-mate could find himself supplanting him in the reigning Six Nations champions team.
There is no doubting Larmour’s ability to dance his way around the opposition but he may, though, be better suited for the moment to the wing as there are question marks over his defence. However, Ireland coach Joe Schmidt is an admirer of both his unpredictability and willingness to learn.
Romain Ntamack, France
The son of Emile, the electric back who was capped 46 times, the younger Ntamack is making his own reputation in the game. The 19-year-old is already a world champion, having been a member of the Under-20 side who won that title last year.
He broke into the Toulouse side this season and earned a call-up to the national squad as coach Jacques Brunel endeavours to revive France following their mediocre 2018. Brunel admires his "sparkling play" and wants ‘Les Bleus’ to benefit from the "spontaneity and enthusiasm he has shown at Toulouse".
Josh Adams, Wales
Selected on the wing for Wales’ match against France, the 23-year-old can also play at full-back.
The Worcester star demonstrated his pace and fearlessness during some robust exchanges against Australia in November, while he can also draw on his previous experience of the Six Nations after making his Championship debut last year.
Billy Vunipola, England
Eddie Jones will be keen the Saracens No 8 remains injury free this Six Nations as he is an ideal link man for the kind of aggressive power game he wants England to deploy, although Vunipola has passing craft to set alongside his crashing runs as a ball-carrier in what is always a pivotal link position between forwards and backs.
A trio of arm injuries have restricted Vunipola to just four caps since 2016 and England will hope he has better luck in a World Cup year.
Finn Russell, Scotland
Cast from the same attacking mould as Scotland coach Gregor Townsend, the fly-half has been at the heart of much of his side’s sparkling play of recent times, notably when he orchestrated a superb win over England at Murrayfield during last season’s Six Nations.
Now at Paris club Racing 92, the challenge for Russell and Scotland as a whole will be to show they can reproduce that sort of form away from their Edinburgh fortress.
Braam Steyn, Italy
The Azzurri desperately need someone to help ease the burden on veteran captain and star No 8 Sergio Parisse as they look to end a dreadful run of 17 successive defeats in the Six Nations stretching back to 2015.
Fellow back-row Steyn could be that man. At 26, and with 25 caps behind him, the South Africa-born flanker should be entering the peak years of his international career.
Agence France-Presse (AFP)