Six Nations 2018: six tournament newcomers to watch out for

first_img Facebook James Davies does not always look like an elite athlete from central casting but the proof of his effectiveness is there for all to see during games. Photograph: Joe Giddens/PA France rugby union team Facebook Since you’re here… Share on Facebook Pinterest Six Nations 2018 Sportblog Share via Email Support The Guardian Pinterest Twitter Share on Twitter Ireland rugby union team … we have a small favour to ask. More people, like you, are reading and supporting the Guardian’s independent, investigative journalism than ever before. And unlike many news organisations, we made the choice to keep our reporting open for all, regardless of where they live or what they can afford to pay.The Guardian will engage with the most critical issues of our time – from the escalating climate catastrophe to widespread inequality to the influence of big tech on our lives. 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Twitter Scotland rugby union team Byron McGuigan (Scotland): One glance at the 2017-18 Premiership try-scoring leaderboard is enough to explain why Scotland will be tempted to hand the Namibian-born McGuigan his Six Nations debut aged 28. Worcester’s Josh Adams, set to make his Welsh bow against the Scots, sits on top with nine tries but only one behind him on eight (level with England’s Jonny May) sits McGuigan, currently enjoying a rewarding season with Sale. Given England are on the verge of selecting his prolific Sharks club-mate Denny Solomona, who has touched down three fewer tries in the league, McGuigan is in increasingly high-class company. He certainly grabbed his chance in the autumn, scoring two tries in Scotland’s 53-24 victory over Australia after being promoted to the starting lineup at the 11th hour. Eligible through his Glaswegian mother, McGuigan will be desperately hoping for another opportunity but Lee Jones, Sean Maitland and Tommy Seymour are also pushing hard for wing berths.Ian McKinley (Italy): No international rugby player is particularly keen to be singled out for the odds they have overcome to reach Test level but sometimes there is no alternative. The remarkable McKinley is a shining example to all, having displayed a strength in adversity almost beyond comprehension. To play rugby again having lost an eye is extraordinary enough; then to move to another country as an amateur and subsequently play for their national team is something else again. The Irish-reared McKinley can play 10 or 15 and also kicks goals but above all the goggle-wearing 28-year-old exemplifies the can-do spirit Conor O’Shea has been doing his utmost to foster within his Azzurri squad. So far he has earned his three caps for Italy off the bench but it would be one of the great sporting fairytales if he features for his adopted country against Ireland in Dublin on Saturday week.Zach Mercer (England): No one has ever been in much doubt that Mercer would play international rugby eventually; the questions have been when and for whom? Still only 20, the Bath back-row was educated at Merchiston Castle school in Scotland and is the son of the former Kiwi rugby player Gary Mercer. He captained England’s Under-20 side last year, however, and has been training with England as a so-called apprentice alongside their other brightest young prospect, Harlequins fly-half Marcus Smith. He is a rangy, athletic, ball-handling threat whose biggest challenge to date has been to convince Eddie Jones he is ready to play Test rugby now. “He has always been a lovely rugby player but lovely rugby players don’t make good Test players and that’s what he’s learning now – how to play ugly,” Jones observed last week. “He used to have the body of a pop singer; now he’s starting to evolve a body for Test rugby.” Mercer has a potentially long Test career ahead of him.Cold comfortYet another report has suggested an ice bath, that supposedly essential part of every professional player’s recovery routine, may be more of a hindrance than a help. Research published in the Journal of Physiology has concluded that recovery from exhaustive endurance exercise is accelerated by raising the temperature of the muscles and slowed by lowering it. In other words a nice old-school soak in a warm bath might be doing your body more good than freezing your budgie smugglers off in a wheelie bin full of icy water. Clearly there is still a place for the carefully positioned bag of frozen peas but the scientists have spoken. PS. A seven-week study to establish if a post-match beer boosts performance is due to commence in Cardiff, Paris and Rome from this weekend …One to watch Six Nations 2018: how will your team perform this year? Six Nations Rugby union Jordan Larmour (Ireland): It remains to be seen whether the 20-year-old is lobbed straight into the fray against France in Paris on Saturday but the solitary uncapped player in the Irish squad will undoubtedly feature at some stage. He possesses pace and acceleration as well as naughty feet and, having played hockey for Ireland at age-group level, looks to be precisely the kind of grounded, versatile athlete every national head coach yearns for. When even the great Brian O’Driscoll is excited about the potential of an emerging hopeful he clearly has a half-decent future, even if Schmidt chooses to introduce him gradually. “He comes off both feet and has so much confidence with ball in hand; you want him to continue doing that but to evolve the rest of his game, too,” O’Driscoll says. With Ulster’s Jacob Stockdale also threatening to sharpen Ireland’s cutting edge, there is all sorts of green-shirted potential behind the scrum while at No 8 Jack Conan is another Six Nations rookie set to make a significant impression.James Davies (Wales): Anyone who followed the progress of the GB Sevens team at the 2016 Rio Olympics will testify to the energy the uncapped Davies offers to any squad in which he is involved. He does not always look like an elite athlete but the proof of his effectiveness is there for all to see; his back-row contribution played a key part in Scarlets’ Pro14 success last year and, since recovering from shoulder surgery, their positive European Cup campaign this season. It will be interesting to see if Warren Gatland trusts the evidence of his own eyes in training; while Josh Navidi went extremely well in the autumn, the absence of the injured Sam Warburton, Dan Lydiate and Toby Faletau has opened an assortment of alternative back-row scenarios. As brother of the British Lion centre Jonathan Davies, there will be no doubting Davies’s relish for the challenge as and when opportunity knocks; he is also a reliably cheerful squad member. Known as “Cubby Boi” to his friends and just about everyone else (his elder brother is nicknamed Fox, hence the Cub bit) he would be a popular selection far beyond the village of Bancyfelin, where he grew up and his parents ran the local Fox & Hounds pub. Topics Reuse this content The annual Six Nations cavalcade, obviously. The only slightly downbeat note surrounds the profile of this year’s women’s tournament, with some of the fixture scheduling not obviously designed to increase awareness. At the Sydney leg of the World Sevens series last weekend the men’s and women’s events were successfully run alongside each other; how long before the men’s and women’s Six Nations games mostly take place on the same day in the same city and, ideally, are staged back to back in the same stadium? If that means amending the men’s warm-up routines slightly to accommodate a curtain-raiser, so be it. In terms of promoting the women’s game it would make a huge difference. features Share on Pinterest Wales rugby union team Sekou Macalou (France): Pretty much everyone has given up on French rugby. Even when they are not sacking their national coach or having their national training centre raided by police investigating the alleged activities of Bernard Laporte, president of the French Federation, Les Bleus are still widely seen as a shambles. And yet, when it comes to promising young players, France possess two of the most dazzling diamonds in the tournament in the form of Matthieu Jalibert, their new 19-year-old whiz-kid of a fly-half, and Sekou Macalou, a 22-year-old back-row who makes even Maro Itoje appear sluggish. The gifted Jalibert has the full palate of skills but it could just be the marginally more experienced Macalou who gives Ireland most trouble in round one. Big, strong, athletic and mobile, the flanker shone against the All Blacks in the autumn and is the latest impressive talent to emerge from the tough Parisian banlieues. France have some exceptional individual talent; it simply needs harnessing. Share on LinkedIn Read more Share on WhatsApp Share on Messenger The Women’s Six Nations would benefit from a change to the fixture format. Photograph: Christopher Lee/Getty Images for Harlequinslast_img

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