In his Autumn Nations Predictions blog last year, Charlie picked his players to watch from each team in the Nations Cup. After receiving good feedback, and hot on the heels of his recent Guinness Six Nations 2021 Predictions blog, we are thrilled to welcome Charlie back to share more wisdom.
Hi Everyone. My players to watch for each team in the Nations Cup got some good feedback, so I thought I’d include a similar feature for this article in a starting XV format. These players are not the big names we expect to have strong performances, but some slightly lower profile members who I think could really make a mark this tournament.
Without further ado, here are my picks:
With the loss of Mako Vunipola to injury and Joe Marler for family reasons, Baby Rhino becomes England’s only senior loose head in the squad. His power and athleticism is frightening and his highlights reel impressive, but making a 20-minute impact off the bench is very different to leading the line through a tournament. If he can step up to the mark, I see him quickly taking on Tendai Mtawira’s mantle of best loose head in the world.
A veteran test player, the sheriff has been out for some time with injuries. Wales’ set piece has struggled hugely in his absence, and his return in February could shift the balance of their fortunes with his leadership and experience.
Ferguson has significantly improved as a player in nearly every area of his game. His scrummaging is powerful, he carries well in the loose and is even prone to the odd comedy try. Along with his partner Sutherland, he is becoming pivotal to a weapon Scotland have long been seeking in the tight.
Henderson could be the missing link for Ireland. While his Leinster counterpart James Ryan (deservedly) claims more plaudits, his success has come at the omission of Henderson due to their playing similarities. However, I believe the pair could be integral to matching the physicality of England and France this tournament. Look out for him smashing rucks, tackles and carries alike for 80 minutes.
After announcing himself to the international rugby scene in the early 2010s, poor form and injuries have gradually phased big Richie Gray out of the Scotland team, with his brother Jonny becoming one of their most important players. However he is back to his galavanting self in the Pro14, and I would love to see him recapture the international form that saw him picked for the 2013 British and Irish Lions Tour.
This guy’s got a big future. He was part of the second-string French side that nearly dismantled England last December and is waiting for his opportunity to establish himself as a regular starter. Intelligent, strong, athletic, there’s not much this guy can’t do and this is being shown increasingly for club and country. As a natural open side, he will struggle to displace Ollivon, but I can still see him slotting in alongside the skipper and Aldritt to form a formidable back row this year.
With the injuries to star player Jake Polledri and the dependable Braam Steyn, Sebastian Negri will be tasked with bolstering the Italian back row this tournament. A native Zimbabwean, he has followed in the footsteps of compatriot David Pocock to represent his resident nation in international rugby. A hard tackler and break down menace, Negri’s performances could prove vital to Italy’s success this tournament.
Sam Simmonds has been the best number 8 in Europe for over a year and…. Wait he’s not in the squad? Not even the f**king SHADOW SQUAD??
Navidi has been sorely missed by the Welsh team. His industrious carrying and relentless tackling make him a thorn in the side of any opposition. His work rate and physical presence will provide firepower to a team who have looked sub-par up front this last year.
Since the retirement of Greig Laidlaw following the 2019 World Cup, Ali Price has been Townsend’s first choice scrum half. Whilst always a live wire, Price has added a maturity to his game at Glasgow that is seeping into his international form. The service he provides Russell will dictate Scotland’s tempo this tournament and I see him stepping up to the challenge.
Whilst hardly an unknown player, I feel that George Ford was not awarded the praise he deserved in 2020. Owen Farrell will always dominate the headlines, but Ford was one of England’s best players with his game management and pass variety providing the platform for the team to operate on. A big factor in England’s success, watch out for his quiet brilliance.
Wheels. This kid has them. After burning Premiership defences for fun with Gloucester, Rees-Zammit has made the step up to test rugby with relative ease. He has not shown his full abilities yet, and I’m itching to see a chance for him to really stretch his legs this time.
I’ve always been a big fan of this guy and I really hope he can rediscover his form from a couple of years prior. Often referred to as a simple crash ball twelve, Aki combines his Samoan power with better hands, pace and feet than people give him credit for. A strong ball player and stronger defender, Ireland look assured in midfield with his presence.
After turning down white for blue, Bath centre Cam Redpath could be set to make his Scotland debut this tournament. A well-rounded centre with good skills to accompany his athleticism, Redpath could prove a serious asset to Townsend’s ambitious back line.
Eligible for both England and Italy, Eddie Jones has not missed the opportunity to snaffle up in-form Odogwu for his first cap. While he is unlikely to displace tried and tested starters Jonny May or Anthony Watson, his scintillating Premiership form indicates we could be in for some very entertaining cameos off the bench.
This guy is silk. He’s quick, composed, has great positional sense and an absolute canon of a right boot. Making his debut last year, he marked it with an 85m clearance kick and a win over the English, and has just kept on improving. Expect another strong outing from the tidy youngster.
There you have it. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this. If you disagree feel free to let me know your thoughts.