Six Nations 2017 – Players to keep your eye on.
The Lions tour to New Zealand is merely months away now and this year’s Six Nations provides a crucial time for players to show their worth to Warren Gatland. No player will be guaranteed a place on the plane come June, meaning every English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish player will be playing out of their skin in the most recent edition of this thrilling tournament.
Ahead of the tournament, we’ve picked out a few players from each home nation to look out for, as you might be seeing them in a Lions shirt this summer.
Maro Itoje will be one of the favourites from the England camp to make it to New Zealand. The Saracens lock had a phenomenal 2016, winning domestic and European honours with his club, as well as making his England debut and winning every game for them in the calendar year. He’s started 2017 off with some great performances, but the Six Nations will be where he can show his true worth.
England’s all time second highest points scorer Owen Farrell is, without doubt, the best goal-kicker in the Northern Hemisphere. He topped the charts in terms of points scored in this competition last year, last season’s Champions Cup and the tour to Australia. Gatland will find confidence in not only his kicking ability, but his capability of playing both 10 & 12.
Our final English player to look out for is Jack Nowell. The Exeter Chiefs winger has had a tough season after being side-lined by a torn quad muscle back in October but made his long-awaited return in December. He’s impressed in his first few games back and will be on England’s wing, ready to assert his place as one of the best wingers in the region.
Recently made Welsh skipper Alun Wyn Jones has been playing rugby at the highest level for some years now, amassing 105 caps for Wales and featuring heavily for the Lions on their last tour in 2013. The 31 year old has been the first name on Gatland’s Welsh team sheet and will surely be up there for the Lions too. The potential for a mix of old and new in the locks with himself and Itoje partnering up will give New Zealand all sorts of problems.
George North will be one player eyeing a return to his best form for club and country. A succession of heavy blows to the head resulting in unconsciousness has left him a bit rusty, but on his day is undoubtedly one of the best wingers in world rugby. His displays against Australia in 2013’s Lions tour made him a household name in rugby, with his blistering pace and raw strength. A strong Six Nations should see him picked.
The race for the number 10 spot is probably the one giving Gatland the most headaches, and Dan Biggar should be right in the mix. Yes he has stiff competition from Farrell, Sexton, Russell and Ford, but on his day can match any of them from the hands and boot. He’ll be pulling the strings for Wales, and so if they do well he’ll surely prosper from it.
One man that looks set to start at full-back for the Lions is Stuart Hogg. He adds so much more than the other full-backs for the home nations, with his ability to read the game that’s in front of him and distribute like a fly-half. Scotland look set to have one of their best tournaments for years after a strong year, and Hogg should feature heavily. Despite his side finishing fourth in last season’s tournament, he picked up the accolade for player of the tournament, highlighting his talent.
Toulouse’s Richie Gray was part of the touring side for 2013’s Lions tour but barely featured. Since then he’s become a far better player and now plies his trade in the French Top 14. Standing at a staggering 6ft 10, with 60 Scotland caps he’s a player you can’t miss. As with Hogg, if Scotland do well it’ll be down to his hard work in the forward pack.
The most capped player in Scotland’s squad, Ross Ford, with be vying for the place of hooker. He has tough competition from the likes of Best and Hartley who are both highly experienced international hookers, but if he keeps doing what he’s doing, he’s in with a great shout.
Conor Murray has a great case for making the trip to New Zealand, with his form for club side Munster and standout Irish performances making him one of the deadliest scrum-halfs around. Just look at his display in Ireland’s win against the All Blacks back in the Autumn. His biggest competition will be Ben Youngs, who seems to have hit a dip in form for Leicester. He featured heavily in 2013’s tour and would be a fantastic option if picked again.
There are many wingers strutting their stuff in the Pro12 and Aviva Premiership at the moment, but none more so than Simon Zebo. The Munster wing/full-back is in scintillating form, helping his side become one of the favourites for this season’s Champions Cup. In recent years he’s blended into the Irish squad without catching the eye of many, but this season seems to be playing out of his skin, knowing he’s got a real chance of pulling on a Lions shirt. His versatility to play both wing and full-back makes him even more enticing to pick.
Another name almost guaranteed to be on Gatland’s list is fly-half Jonathan Sexton. Widely regarded as one of the best 10s on the planet, he started all three tests back in the 2013 tour. His distribution is second to none and was instrumental in helping Ireland pick up back-to-back trophies in 2014 & 2015. If he hits top form this year he’ll make himself impossible not to pick.