ben earl
Round 1 of the Guinness Men's Six Nations is here, and for all Fantasy Rugby players, hopes are high.

This may be the year that you leave your friends, family and team-mates in your wake in your mini leagues! With five rounds and 15 matches of action over the next seven weeks, it is critical that your Fantasy team gets off to a strong start. So with that in mind, here’s some pointers to get you off to a flyer.

First of all, a quick reminder of the notable changes in this year’s game. The first thing to note is that when it comes to scoring, there have been some slight alterations, the biggest being the removal of what was known in previous years as ‘team’ points for the team's victories and draws; these no longer apply so outstanding performers on losing teams will now score on an even level compared to their victorious counterparts.

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The second point is that this year the budget has reduced from 245 stars to 240. However, you also have less spots to fill in your team with this budget. This is because you now only have one substitute gap on your bench, as opposed to the three substitutes previously available for selection.

Finally, one new feature worth sharing is the new Team Preview feature. Available both on desktop and in-app, it is a great way to display your full Fantasy team as soon as you have 15 players in your team. In desktop you’ll see a line by line presentation, while in mobile it will be a player per player view. The game has integrated loads of valuable data for each player (including position, age, appearances, height, weight, next game…). The Team preview also shows your accumulated points after a match (or a round) is played, displaying the total points for each of the player in your team, as well as a detail of each individual criteria scored, and is updated live once a match has started.

Coming back to the subject of the bench; the Supersub remains a huge differentiator that can make or break your team’s performance. With triple points on offer, a successful SuperSub pick can propel you to the very top! Selection of your SuperSub is all about how much of a risk you want to take. You could luck out if one of the starting XV needs to go off in the early stages of the game, but likewise you could be at the mercy of a coach who decides to leave his backs on the bench for most of the 80 minutes. So you have to play the percentages and consider the risks.

For me, the key areas to consider in a Supersub are…

Will they come on, and will they play a significant period of time? Often we see front rows and scrum halves switched early on in the second half. Hookers in particular, being good all-round fantasy scorers (and often on the end of a driving maul try), are a great option. Also take a look at previous games to see if there are any trends in how the team operates their replacements. Finally, is your prospective Supersub the only option in their position? If a team is playing a 6-2 split on the bench for example, then that is probably a good time to select a utility back as they are far more likely to come on in time to make a decent impact.

So the big question, who to invest your 240 stars in for Round 1 The opening 3 matches all have plenty of Fantasy potential.

First up, all eyes will be on Marseille on Friday night for the tournament curtain-raiser between France and Ireland. It doesn’t really get much bigger than the reigning champions and Grand Slam winners against the team that many are tipping for the Championship this year. Home advantage may slightly tip the match in France’s favour but either way it should be close. Despite a number of notable absences, there is huge fantasy talent all over the field.

For France, obviously in the Back Three there is the double threat of Thomas Ramos and Damian Penaud. Ramos (last year’s top points scorer) will likely be entrusted with kicking duty and also brings a big threat with ball in hand, while the world-class Penaud (last year’s top tryscorer with 5 tries) is as fixture-proof a finisher as you can find. Yoram Moefana is an intriguing prospect on the other wing, being categorised in the game as a Centre. Charles Ollivon and Grègory Alldritt are both top class fantasy options in the back row, as try-scorers, carriers, tacklers and turnover winners. Paul Willemse and Cyril Baille are fantasy points outliers in their respective positions and Peato Mauvaka is always a scoring threat in the loose and on the back of the French maul. Worth also noting two great supersub options in Julien Marchand and Nolann Le Garrec (in particular Le Garrec who who has scored 10 tries for his club domestically and in Europe this season).

For Ireland, despite being on the road against top opposition, have plenty of fantasy options. This includes Bundee Aki, who had an outstanding Rugby World Cup with 5 tries, 30 defenders beaten, and 447m carried in just 5 games. No matter the opposition, Hugo Keenan, always scores highly, in no small part down to his huge carrying stats. No player ran with the ball more than Keenan in the 2023 Six Nations Championship, who registered a total of 564 Metres carried. In the back row, both Caelan Doris and Josh van der Flier will inevitably deliver. Tadhg Beirne again a top option in the Second Row and Dan Sheehan is a constant try threat from Hooker. Two intriguing fantasy prospects are Jack Crowley and Calvin Nash, both looking to cement themselves into positions at the international level, and both at a great value fantasy price. Finally, tread cautiously with fantasy favourite James Lowe who has only recently returned from injury.

On Saturday we have a double bill, firstly in Rome where Italy will welcome England off the back of a very tough Rugby World Cup for the Azzuri. Then on to Cardiff where a new-look Wales (with many missing faces due to retirements, injuries and switching to new sports!) take on a fired up Scotland team.

From a fantasy perspective, many will look on at Italy v England as a great source of fantasy points. One name that has been outstanding at club level this season and will be looking to make the step to international level is Tommy Freeman. At just 8 stars, Freeman has scored 11 tries across all competitions this season and also leads the Premiership in Line Breaks by quite some distance. Elsewhere Ben Earl will be looking to keep up his outstanding form from the Rugby World Cup, and new captain Jamie George will be one to watch. Equally dangerous in the loose and off the back of a maul (and on 3 occasions in the 2023 Six Nations, playing the full 80 minutes)! Notably on the bench will be Immanuel Feyi-Waboso, who has been tearing it up in the Premiership this season and could make a huge impact as a Supersub. For the Azzurri, Lorenzo Cannone is an ever-reliable fantasy option (carrying for more metres than any other forward in the 2023 Championship) and on the wings, the mercurial Ange Capuozzo is capable of unlocking even the strongest defence.

Moving to the Principality Stadium for the final match of the weekend, Scotland will fancy their chances against a much-changed Wales side. In particular Duhan van der Merwe, who recorded the most defenders beaten by quite some distance in the 2023 Championship (35 defenders beaten, 10 more than second place Damian Penaud with 25).

He’s in great form this season and will be a strong captain option. The two Scottish Centres, Huw Jones and Sione Tuipulotu have both hit great form at club level at the right time for the Six Nations. Finn Russell will also be looking to get off to a firing start in Cardiff, and up front, Pierre Schoeman is one of the most dynamic props to consider in the fantasy game. On the Welsh end, there are many unknowns coming into this opening match, but as always, Gareth Davies remains a constant threat with his sniping runs and eye for the try-line. Cam Winnett is also an immensely exciting fantasy option, who has shown at club level this season that he is capable of racking up some big fantasy scores!

Good luck, and make sure you don’t miss the first match deadline on Friday night!

Fantasy Rugby Geek top picks for Round 1

Back Three: Duhan Van Der Merwe (Scotland), Damian Penaud (France), Tommy Freeman (England), Thomas Ramos (France)

Centre: Huw Jones (Scotland), Yoram Moefana (France), Fraser Dingwall (England)

Fly-half: Finn Russell (Scotland), George Ford (England)

Scrum half: Alex Mitchell (England), Gareth Davies (Wales)

Back-row: Ben Earl (England), Caelan Doris (Ireland), Charles Ollivon (France), Lorenzo Cannone (Italy)

Second row: Tadhg Beirne (Ireland), Paul Willemse (France), Maro Itoje (England)

Prop: Pierre Schoeman (Scotland), Andrew Porter (Ireland), Cyrill Baille (France)

Hooker: Jamie George (England), Dan Sheehan (Ireland)

Supersub: Immanuel Feyi-Waboso (England), Julian Marchand (France)

Captain Pick: Duhan Van Der Merwe (Scotland)

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