The stars of the Guinness Six Nations are looking increasingly ready to put on a show when Rugby’s Greatest Championship returns in 2019.
The evidence is compelling, with protagonists from Ireland, England, France, Scotland and Italy all impressing as the year’s final round of domestic action took place across Europe last weekend.
There were thrills and spills aplenty in Premiership Rugby, the PRO14 and the Top 14 – here’s a look at how some of the players that could light up the Guinness Six Nations shone.
Earls is just electric
It’s been an unforgettable year for Ireland and winger Keith Earls produced a virtuoso display as Munster bested Leinster 26-17 in a thrilling derby clash at Thomond Park.
Earls, who was part of the Irish team that won the 2018 Six Nations Grand Slam and also downed New Zealand in Dublin, bagged his 51st try for his club whilst also racking up a whopping 126 metres.
He wasn’t the only man full of running at the weekend, with Ireland teammate Will Addison clocking in with 115 metres as Ulster were beaten 21-12 by Connacht.
In the Top 14, France scrum-half Antoine Dupont, who made just one appearance as a replacement during this year’s Championship, also put up some fine numbers as Toulouse humbled Toulon 39-0.
The 22-year-old, who also went over for a try, made 109 metres while in Premiership Rugby, England wing Jonny May, who was also on the scoresheet, racked up 102 in Leicester Tigers’ 23-16 loss at Bath.
Castello carries the burden
There was little quarter given as Benetton and Zebre went head-to-head in the Guinness PRO14’s all-Italian derby, with Azzurri centre Tommaso Castello at the heart of his team’s efforts.
Hosts Benetton ran out 28-10 winners in Treviso, thanks in no small part to Castello, who completed a mighty 22 successful carries.
Ireland centre Addison made 19 carries in Ulster’s clash with Connacht, while the Scarlets may have been beaten 34-5 by Cardiff Blues but Hadleigh Parkes – a Wales try-scorer against Italy in the 2018 Six Nations – did everything he could to get his side motoring by recording 18 carries.
In England, Saracens cut the gap between themselves and Premiership Rugby leaders Exeter Chiefs to a point with a 25-17 win over Worcester Warriors, Mako Vunipola bagging a try as he pulled of 18 successful carries.
No way past Welsh battlers
The PRO14’s Welsh provinces went head-to-head at the weekend and a pair of ding-dong battles took place.
Cardiff Blues were imperious as they humbled Scarlets in their own back yard and Seb Davies was their chief destroyer, the Wales lock pulling off a fearsome 24 tackles.
His teammate Josh Navidi also pulled off 21 tackles whilst Aaron Wainwright, who made his Wales debut against Argentina last summer, halted 22 opponents in their tracks as the Dragons bested the Ospreys in a 23-22 thriller.
And Dan Cole, the England prop and British & Irish Lion, produced an important defensive contribution with 18 tackles in Leicester’s game against Bath but was unable to prevent his team from falling to defeat.