It's time to get serious and start settling on your final starting XV for your fantasy team. So let's start looking through the six squads in detail to identify the top fantasy assets, the value options, and the "under the radar" bolters who may just come from nowhere to give your fantasy team the edge.
First up we have the Azzurri. After a Rugby World Cup campaign that started well, but came off the rails against France and the All Blacks, Italy will be looking to move off the final rung of the competition this year. Nonetheless they have a tough draw, with three matches on the road, so a huge challenge lies ahead.
Despite this, they have plenty of talented fantasy options. While the likes of Capuozzo and Ioane will be attracting a lot of fantasy attention, it is in their back row where one of their most consistent fantasy talents lies. Lorenzo Cannone (15 stars) is one of the most reliable fantasy points returners in the tournament. Since making his international debut in 2022, he has scored 4 tries in 16 games and in the 2023 Six Nations recorded the highest metres carried of any forward with 308m. He should be nailed on in the Italy back row and is well worth the selection.
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Elsewhere there is plenty of value to be had, none more so than in Juan Ignacio Brex (11 stars). Playing every minute of Italy's 2023 Six Nations campaign, Brex got on the scoresheet against Wales and carried for 359 metres over the tournament (the highest of any Italian player). 11 stars is a bargain for an option that will provide very consistent returns.
Looking a bit deeper into the squad there are other options flying under the radar. Priced at just 9 stars, Simone Gesi is one to watch. He has just one international cap but has been on fire for Zebre in the URC this season with 6 tries, 9 clean breaks, 20 defenders beaten and 333 metres carried in 9 appearances. If he gets game time, he's well worth a gamble
Next up is last year's 5th place finishers Wales. They have been hit by retirements (including the huge loss of Dan Biggar), injuries and even big names leaving to pursue the NFL dream, and so a challenging tournament lies ahead as they work to rebuild for the future. Despite this, there is fantasy potential to be found in the Welsh ranks.
Only two weeks ago, Louis Rees-Zammit would have unquestionably the top fantasy choice, however with LRZ bound for the NFL, all eyes fall will fall on the experience of Josh Adams (15 stars) to be Wales top attacking threat. Still a top class finisher with pace to burn, Adams is a safe hand at this level and should deliver as usual for fantasy managers.
With the loss of so much experience in the Welsh squad, it is an incredible opportunity for some new talents to make their breakthrough, and this is definitely the case with Mason Grady, who is great value at just 9 stars. Standing at 6'5" and 105 kg, Grady has been prolific for Cardiff this season with 5 tries and 448 metres carried in the URC in just 7 games. Categorised as a Centre but is equally comfortable on the wing, Grady may well benefit from LRZ's exit with a spot on the wing.
Looking a bit deeper into the squad, like Grady, another top performer for Cardiff looking to make an international breakthrough is the flying fullback Cam Winnett (11 stars). Winnett has bagged 2 tries and carried for 448 metres in the URC this season, and will be hoping to make his mark on the international stage this Championship.
Currently 6th in the World Rugby rankings, Scotland were as high as 3rd place last year, and there is much positivity that they can match this performance in 2024. All eyes will be on the match-up vs England at Murrayfield on the 24th February, which will be a huge factor into the final standings and they will be going all out to match last year's victory against their arch-rivals south of the border. Blessed with real talent but also hit by injuries, there are many effective fantasy options to consider from the boys in blue.
With the squads now announced, Scotland's outstanding fantasy option is Duhan van der Merwe (18 stars). Recording the most defenders beaten by quite some distance in the 2023 Six Nations Championship (35 defenders beaten), he's a constant threat. Last year he crossed over for 3 tries and also assisted 2 more, and enters the 2024 in top form at club level. Regardless of the opposition, the flying winger will always provide a fantasy return, and he will be looking on at the opening fixture against what could be an inexperienced Welsh back line as a great opportunity to start this year's campaign with a bang.
From a value perspective, there are few better options than Ben White (11 stars). The Toulon half-back has been in great form in the Top 14 and in Europe and will be looking to add to his tally of two tries in the Six Nations over the last two years. His try against England at Twickenham last year will live long in the memory, and fantasy managers can be assured that there is plenty more where that came from.
Hooker is a massively competitive position in the fantasy game with the likes of Sheehan, Mauvaka and George, but if you are looking for a real edge, Scotland have a real "under the radar" pick in that position. He may only have one cap to his name at 30 years old, yet there is huge excitement around the Glasgow try machine, Johnny Matthews (12 stars). The current top scorer in URC by some margin, he scored an astonishing 21 tries in total for the Glasgow Warriors in 2023. Whether he’s a starter or coming off the bench, he’ll be a great alternative option in the Hooker position.
Last year saw England finish 4th place in Steve Borthwick's first campaign as England's head coach after the sudden departure of Eddie Jones. After what was considered a disappointing Six Nations for England, there were signs of progress in their march to the Semi-final of the RWC. Many will hope that England can build on this great run over the 2024 Guinness Men's Six Nations.
Looking out for their top Fantasy Pick, with Ollie Lawrence now out, it really is a flip between Ben Earl and Marcus Smith (both 17 stars). Smith is the fantasy gift that keeps on giving with carry points, defenders beaten, kicks, tries and assists as standard, while Earl had an outstanding Rugby World Cup (a try, 7 line breaks, 25 defenders beaten, 337m carried, 3 turnovers won and 80 tackles made) which translated into some huge fantasy hauls, and many expect this form to continue.
In terms of value, it's hard to look past captain Jamie George (12 stars). Often found at the end of an English rolling maul try and also a deceptive threat carrying in the loose. George is often on the field until the very dying stages, and on 3 occasions in last year’s Six Nations, played the full 80. With this in mind, he offers huge value and a constant try threat.
Looking a bit deeper into the squad there are other options flying under the radar. Many will point to one of the breakout stars of the Prem this season, Immanuel Feyi-Waboso (13 stars), to make a big impact. However, the dark horse to get really excited about is Tommy Freeman (8 stars). One of the top performers in the Premiership and Europe this season in terms of tries scored, metres carried and defenders beaten, and at a bargain 8 stars he is well worth a gamble!
Entering the 2024 Six Nations Championship as reigning champions, Ireland will want do all they can to retain the title after a disappointing Quarter-Final exit of the Rugby World Cup. A huge amount will depend on the outcome of the opening night in Marseille, where Ireland face France away, if they can surmount this hurdle they will be in pole position to retain the Championship for another year.
Ireland's squad is littered with elite fantasy options throughout the squad, be it James Lowe, Hugo Keenan, Dan Sheehan, Bundee Aki, Tadhg Beirne, James Ryan and Josh van der Flier to name a few, but one name that will be slotting into many fantasy back rows without fail is Caelan Doris. Doris is a fantasy threat on multiple levels and consistently delivers. Look to the stats; in the 2023 Six Nations he delivered 1 try, 1 assist, 50 tackles, 275m carried, 5 turnovers won, 7 defenders beaten and a lineout steals and in the 2023 Rugby World Cup again, 1 try, 1 assist, 61 tackles, 5 turnovers won, 10 defenders beaten. A continual threat.
When it comes to value, whoever is chosen as the heir to Johnny Sexton in the 10 shirt will deliver beyond their price tag. The smart money is on Jack Crowley (12 stars) to take on duties, although Leinster’s Harry Byrne (11 stars) and Ciaran Frawley (11 stars) could also be in the mix. Nonetheless all great value entry points into a pivotal position for the title contenders.
With a number of injuries impacting the Irish back line, including Mack Hansen and Jimmy O'Brien, the opportunity has opened up for new faces. One of the beneficiaries could be Calvin Nash (11 stars). Capable of huge fantasy hauls (Munster fans will happily remember his performance against Dragons earlier in the season where he recorded 2 tries, 1 assist, 5 line breaks, 12 defenders beaten and 160m carried - all just in one game), Nash will be a dark horse well worth gambling on if selected.
Finally, last year's runners up, France. With home advantage against the other massive title contenders in Ireland, there will be high expectations to go one step further in 2024 despite the fact that they will be without their talismanic Scrum-half Antoine Dupont.
With no Dupont, from a fantasy perspective, there is one name who has stood out above all others over the last 12 months. Damian Penaud. Top try-scorer in the 2023 Championship and the second highest try-scorer at the Rugby World Cup. He’s also in serious form, top tryscorer this season in both the Top 14 (with 7 tries in 6 appearances) and the European Champions Cup with 4 tries. Fantasy managers be warned, not selecting him, even at the huge price, will be a massive gamble.
Great value and in immense form at club level, if selected, then Matthis Lebel (11 stars) is well worth considering. He has scored 6 tries in his last 7 matches for Toulouse in the Top 14 and Europe, and if he can convert this form to international level, he'll be a great cut price option into the French back line.
In terms of deeper options, there is a chance he may not be selected, but if chosen, Nolann Le Garrec (9 stars) is a great option with 10 tries in the Top 14 and Europe this season. Also an excellent kicker, but is unlikely to take kicking duty away from Thomas Ramos. If he gets the nod over Lucu at 9, he's well worth considering.
All six squads are stacked with experienced talent and new faces set to make a huge impact, and this should make this year’s Six Nations fantasy game one of the hardest to call yet. Some big selection decisions to be made in the lead-up to Round 1, so stay tuned for more fantasy tips in the lead up to the opening night on Friday 2nd February!