Ah I can’t wait, can you? The world’s best rugby competition (cough) begins this weekend. Let’s not kid ourselves, the 6N can often be a dour affair with poor games and a complete lack of ambition, but it’s our competition damn it, and it gives us something to look forward to in the bleaker months!
I’ll take a look at Ireland’s chances later in the week before we kick off against the Scots on Sunday, but it’s not all about Ireland.
Wales go for 3 in a row, Italy go for the elusive three wins, the Scots seem to have a strange makeup in their side but a strong pack and backs to win matches in Laidlaw, Hogg and Maitland, while England and France need to find their first 15 and bring some backplay to go with the forward brutes.
With only two tournaments to go until WC2015, here are three young guns to watch out for this weekend and throughout the tournament.
Jack Nowell (England & Exeter Chiefs)
What do you think of when you think of an England winger? A public school poof with the chiseled jaw of the upper class like Josh Lewsey or a young speedster with pace to burn but holes in their game like Christian Wade, David Strettle or Tom Varndell perhaps?
Well take that archetypal English winger and turn it on it’s head because Jack Nowell is not that. A Cornwall lad who grew up beside the sea (his father was a trawlerman), Nowell is a jack in the box, more in the Gio Aplon mode than the Matt Banahan.
Relatively unheralded prior to this season outside Exeter, Nowell is just 20, but has been showing some excellent form for the Chiefs in the Premiership, and most notably Europe. When Exeter welcomed Toulon to their Sandy Park home, an incredible rugby ground by all accounts, it was Nowell who stood out on a pitch star studded with talent.
Listed at 5’11, he’s deceptively small looking (suspiciously small looking in fact, but of course, rugby teams never misrepresent height and weight stats…), with acceleration to burn and seriously quick feet. Nowell is bulky looking and has that upper body power that’s so important for an international wing, partly reminiscent of Luke Fitzgerald actually.
Watch out for his unique tattoo and scrumcap style in the Stade De France this weekend, a unique and daunting task to take on for a young wing. Pull up them socks though eh Jack?!
(Warning, shocking pop rock choice in this video, watch with the sound down!)
Jules Plisson (France & Stade Francais)
While watching Leinster tear Stade Francais a new one in the RDS on a balmy May evening last Summer, I took particular note of the languid style of the young Stade outhalf, and I can’t say at all that he impressed me. Stade’s style of play was rigid, Plisson’s passing was poor and they relied only on the forwards to provide any front foot opportuinties.
Fast forward to this season, and that outlook is certainly changing. Jules Plisson is the man who’ll take on Owen Farrell at the Stade on Saturday. He’s been in rare old form for the pink of Stade Francais in the Top 14, as they fly high.
I’ve rarely seen Plisson this year, but the bits I have seen, including a full game against Perpignan where Stade picked up a vital win, have been excellent. Stylish with ball in hand, a good tactical kicker and with a very keen eye for the drop goal, Plisson will be asked to attack the line against England.
PSA’s murmurings have been around a new attack minded strategy, away from the grinding forward dominated focus of last year. Plisson’s youthful exuberance and propensity for the unexpected will be a big focal point of this.
If it goes wrong, it could be resort to type for France. If it goes right, we could witness the next great French 10, the first one in a while. And what a totes dreamboat he is too eh ladies?
Tomasso Allen (Perpignan and Italy)
Great Scot! A young Scottish talent with all the skills of a potentially great 10 choosing to go to play for Italy? That’s unheard of Jock!
Well no, not according to Tommy/Tomasso Allen. The 20 year old has an Italian mother, a Scottish father and an uncle who played 90 tests for the kilted ones.
By all accounts, Allen took the scenic route to Perpignan, where he currently plys his trade, and has impressed immensely for the blood and bandages this season. Powerfully built for a 10, Allen played U20 6N for Scotland, and took up a one year contract in the South of France this year.
Allen has been called an ‘old pro’ by his coach in terms of playing style, and will be the fulcrum of Italy’s attempt to ‘grow up’, move away from their forward dominated play and use the full width of their new Stadio Olimpico home.
Stellar names like Roland de Marigny, Ramiro Pez, Craig Gower, Andrea Masi, Luke McLean, Kris Burton and Luciano Orquera have all been handed the reins to the Italian 10 jersey since the great one hung up his boots. Now it’s Allen’s turn. Expect lots of tactical kicking and a few big hits from the man in the 10 jersey.
Italy must rely on young guns to overcome the Welsh at home, and while that’s a big task, the re-generation of Italian rugby for a post-Sergio and post-Castro world begins now.