Six Nations 2014: Rising Stars of the Tournament
Another Six Nations has finished, a shooting star of a competition that is gone for another year as soon as it starts, it seems. With the dust (or should I say mud) settling and with the maestro Brian O’ Driscoll bowing out, it seems appropriate to take a look back at some of the stars of the competition that have only just started to shine and could light up the competition for years to come.
Ireland tend not to play too many youngsters, preferring instead to gradually integrate them into an experienced side. That is why I have picked two players that have not been starting matches but look the real deal when they come on. Martin Moore and Jack McGrath, tighthead and loosehead props respectively, have really taken their Leinster form into the Six Nations and have provided Ireland with much needed depth in the front row. Out of the two, Moore is probably the most significant as Ireland have not produced any tightheads of note for years. Mike Ross, Ireland’s starting tighthead prop, is not a bad player at all but he certainly is in the twilight of his career. Moore is arguably at the same level as Ross at the moment and is only going to get better. On the opposite side, McGrath will probably deputise for Cian Healy for some time but is just as good a prospect as Moore. He has certainly had a bit more exposure at a high level; performing well in the absence of Healy for Leinster in the European Cup.
The in form 12 in the Premiership all season, why Burrell did not get a look in the Autumn Internationals is beyond me; however his chance came and made quite a statement. He seems to do most things well: brilliant at picking lines and isn’t it nice having a 13 who is willing to pass out wide? He may not have the sheer brute force of the juggernaut that is Manu Tuilagi but I think in years to come he could offer more. If played in his preferred position of inside centre, it could be an option lining him up with Manu; and what an incredibly destructive partnership that would be!
Rhodri Williams was always going to play a part in this years’ Six nations after significant performances with the Scarlets (anyone remember when the played Harlequins?), but perhaps even he would not have envisaged having quite so much of a part as he did. In the demise of Mike Phillips he has really flourished and shown that Wales finally have someone that can push Phillips for the starting 9 shirt. He offers something a bit different for Wales, almost in the same mould as Australian Will Genia; incredibly fast and possessed with a good skill set. The only thing going against him is that he might not quite fit in with the “Warren-ball” style of play Wales swear by; but there is no denying his incredible talent.
Amidst the chaos and pandemonium that is French rugby there has been assured calmness at the back in the form of Castres fullback Brice Dulin. The youngster really has brought his Autumn International form with him to the Six Nations and been a shining star for France alongside Yoann Huget. He has a great eye for a counterattack and his kicking game can be a very good weapon for France as well. The tactics (that is, if there were any) France employed did not suit his style of play in the slightest which makes his contributions stand out even more.
Being completely honest I had no idea who to pick for Scotland, which really speaks volumes about their torrid campaign. So I have picked another centre in the shape of Alex Dunbar because he played well in the Italian match, scoring two well worked tries. He wasn’t really able to show what he can do in the other games he played, mostly due to the team’s dire performances, but he played adequately and is someone to watch for the future.
A player I had never heard of until he made his debut against Wales, I think there are now a fair amount of people who will be keeping an eye on Michele Campagnaro. He certainly deserved his Man of the Match award against Wales, not at least for his two tries, and while his other performances haven’t been quite up to that standard he certainly has not played badly; making a good account of himself in an Italian side that has shown promise but ultimately fallen short. The speedy centre has a big future ahead of him and I wonder if a move to a bigger club (sorry, Treviso) out of Italy will be on the cards. I feel obliged to mention Leonardo Sarto as well, the young wing is further proof that Italy are producing good young talent that should see them further improve over the coming seasons.