With most of the Guinness Six Nations squads due to be announced next week, there is plenty of anticipation around which fringe players could come into the mix.
The Championship is fast approaching and with the 2023 Rugby World Cup only around the corner too, coaches are looking to add their final pieces to the puzzle.
That could see some unexpected faces called into the squad for the Guinness Six Nations, with England and Wales especially likely to see changes made after Steve Borthwick and Warren Gatland replaced
Eddie Jones and Wayne Pivac respectively.
Below we name a fringe XV of players who may be right on the cusp of involvement during the Championship and looking to make a mark in their national jersey.
15 Ollie Smith (Scotland)
Stuart Hogg remains absent from Exeter Chiefs’ side for their visit to Loftus Versfeld with a heel complaint and Smith showed during Scotland’s 16-15 Autumn Nations Series loss to Australia that he is more than ready to step up when needed, taking his try excellently – he could be ready to light up BT Murrayfield again.
14 Rob Baloucoune (Ireland)
Baloucoune has impressed for Ulster for several seasons now and has earned four Ireland caps, most recently scoring his second try in a 35-17 win over Fiji. Ireland have plenty of talent on the wing, but if Andy Farrell opted to include Baloucoune, he could swiftly become a hugely important member of the squad.
13 Joe Hawkins (Wales)
Pivac’s centre pairing was far from settled and with Gatland now at the helm there is certainly scope for significant change to be made. At just 20, Hawkins made his debut during the Autumn Nations Series against Australia at inside centre, and he is one who could become an option for Gatland very quickly.
12 Julien Delbouis (France)
With Jonathan Danty ruled out for the entire Championship due to a knee injury, there is a spot at inside centre up for grabs. Yoram Moefana will be the favourite, but after starting eight of Stade Français’ 15 matches and the Parisian side flying in the Top 14 table, Julien Delbouis may have a chance to push for a spot in Les Bleus’ backline.
11 Kyle Steyn (Scotland)
Steyn had a stunning start to life in a Scotland shirt, scoring four times in a 60-14 win over Tonga in his first start – the first Scotland player to do so since Gavin Hastings in 1995. But with Duhan van der Merwe and Darcy Graham holding the wing positions, he has not managed to find a regular place in the team. Now with Van der Merwe nursing an ankle injury and Graham ruled out for the duration of the Championship, there could be a chance for Steyn to add to his three caps.
10 Sam Costelow (Wales)
Dan Biggar is 33 now, and it is time for Gatland and Wales to begin the transition at fly-half for the future. That future for Wales appears to lie in the hands of Costelow, who at 21, earned his first caps for Wales, coming off the bench against both New Zealand and Georgia, it may be from the bench behind Biggar, but Costelow may be in place to be a consistent international for Wales.
9 Alessandro Fusco (Italy)
Italy have three excellent young scrum-halves in Stephen Varney, Alessandro Garbisi and Fusco, who last year became the first person from Naples to represent Italy in the Guinness Six Nations. With Varney and Garbisi currently ahead of Fusco in the pecking order, he has some work to do to add to his eight caps.
1 Luca Rizzoli (Italy)
Rizzoli became a prominent member of the Italy Under-20s side during last year’s Under-20 Six Nations and continued his form into the Under-20 Six Nations Summer Series. Now a starter with Zebre Parma, he has more than caught the eye, and may well be ready to do battle with Danilo Fischetti to compete for the No.1 jersey.
2 George McGuigan (England)
Another who may benefit from an Exeter Chiefs injury is Gloucester hooker McGuigan after Luke Cowan-Dickie’s ankle injury. It is incredible the 29-year-old has yet to be capped by England, after consistently performing for both Newcastle Falcons and Leicester Tigers over the years in the Gallagher Premiership. He could be a secret ingredient for Borthwick from mauls after notching an astonishing 18 tries in all competitions last season.
3 Sipili Falatea (France)
Uini Atonio was injured during La Rochelle’s 30-7 win over Toulouse at the weekend and he will be out for three weeks, potentially putting his place in the first two rounds in doubt. France fans need not worry though, as Falatea is ready to step up after a promising showing during the Autumn Nations Series. The Bordeaux prop scored a decisive try in France’s 30-26 win over South Africa and could be the perfect man to step up for Les Bleus.
4 Joe McCarthy (Ireland)
A player admired by Farrell, McCarthy made his Ireland debut against Australia in November following plenty of involvement in some key matches for Leinster, including coming on in the Heineken Champions Cup final. Ireland are not short of second row options, with James Ryan and Iain Henderson the frontrunners, but as an out-and-out tighthead lock, McCarthy could well be involved in some capacity.
5 Hugh Tizard (England)
Borthwick may look to change his second-row pairing as a lineout specialist himself, and there are plenty of options to join Maro Itoje in the engine room. One of those who has performed best this year has been Itoje’s Saracens teammate Hugh Tizard, who was called into Jones’ squad during the Autumn Nations Series. Tizard is in contention, whether he has done enough to capture Borthwick’s attention remains to be seen.
6 Christ Tshiunza (Wales)
Tshiunza has been capped three times under Pivac, but after becoming a regular for Exeter Chiefs, he could well be in contention for many more under Gatland. The recently turned 21-year-old was originally used by Pivac in the second row, but Chiefs saw him as a back row, and after some stellar performances, he could be a flanker for Wales too.
7 Cian Prendergast (Ireland)
Another talented Ireland youngster, Cian Prendergast has been an important member of Connacht’s back row for three seasons now and it seems as though it is only a matter of time before the 22-year-old becomes a constant in Ireland’s team too. Whether that be this Championship remains to be seen, but Farrell gave him his first cap against Fiji in November, suggesting he is a fan.
8 Jordan Joseph (France)
It will be a challenge to break into France’s back row but if anyone can do it, the super talented Jordan Joseph is surely a contender. Currently on loan at Pau from Racing 92, Joseph has been plying his trade at No.8 and has impressed, scoring a key try in the impressive 38-21 win away to La Rochelle. Gregory Alldritt will take some moving, but after winning a world under-20s title at just 17, Joseph could be in line for a first cap from the bench.