1. George Ford (England)
Ford’s promise is almost a thing of legend in England; he has been talked about as the ‘next big thing’ for that long. Still just 20 years of age, he has an impressive roll call of credits already to his name, including IRB Young Player of the Year (the youngest, and only English, man to ever win it), an LV Cup winners medal and a Premiership winners medal. His move to Bath has proved that he can handle the pressure of being first choice in big games (see the draw at Welford Road for proof), and even his place kicking demons seem to have deserted him this season. Owen Farrell is far more established despite being only a year older, but Ford, who has a much better-rounded attacking game, could well prove himself to be England’s long term answer this Six Nations.
2. Gael Fickou (France)
The Toulouse centre seems to have been around for a while now, but he actually only made his France debut last Six Nations against Scotland. He was just 18 then, and with a year’s more rugby under his belt now he has the experience to go with the undeniable talent he possesses. Powerful and pacy, he is not dissimilar to Wesley Fofana in playing style, and with the ability to slot in at both 12 and 13, he could form a lethal partnership with the Clermont man at some stage this tournament. With Bastareaud ahead of him in the pecking order he will have to bide his time on the bench for now, but if France do decide they want more rapier and less wrecking-ball, Fickou is the answer.
3. Martin Moore (Ireland)
Moore’s star has been insatiably on the rise this season, with Irish rugby pundits waxing lyrical about the young tighthead prop’s potential. In fact, in an extremely short space of time the conversation has turned from his potential for the future to what he can offer right now. Tighthead has been somewhat of a problem position for Ireland in recent years, and while Mike Ross is a solid player the general consensus is that Moore will surpass him soon, if he has not done so already. Indeed, he was preferred by Leinster in their recent game against Ospreys – not a throwaway fixture, either, but rather their most important of their season so far. He is set to be included in some capacity against Scotland in the opening round, and if he is entrusted to start, he may never look back.
4. Tommaso Allan (Italy)
Have Italy finally found the heir to Diego Dominguez, a mere 10 years after he made his last international experience? It is patently not the old, inconsistent Luciano Orquero or the blindingly one dimensional Kris Burton, so despite his age and glaring lack of experience at the top level, why not throw Allan in and let him build up a solid collection of caps? There will be mistakes, but if he really is the answer then he should be backed now. He has impressed fleetingly in the few outings he has had for Perpignan this season, while he has been endorsed by Parisse in the build-up to the tournament.
5. Anthony Watson (England)
Jack Nowell has got the nod ahead of him for the first game against France, but Watson will get his chance at some point this Six Nations. Like Ireland’s Moore, his rise to prominence has been astonishing this season. Part of a sparky Bath back-line, he has featured at both fullback and on the wing, and in both positions has excelled. There doesn’t seem to be a weakness to his game – he is quick and strong in attack, with quick feet and a sharp change of direction to match, while in defence he is more than solid and is not afraid to put his head where it hurts at the breakdown. Injuries to Yarde and Wade might have given him his chance, but as he has done at Bath, expect him to take it.
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images