hopkins breakthrough
It was a big Championship for a number of players out to prove their worth in 2024. So who left us wanting to see even more of their talents?

Gwennan Hopkins: If Wales is eternally gripped by fly-half dilemmas in the men’s game, the women’s side could soon be experiencing a similar debate for their back row. Cardiff girl Hopkins - pictured above, and who we recently profiled - is out to stake a claim for the one spot in the Welsh back row that could be up for grabs, with Alex Callender and Alisha Butchers seemingly nailed on as starters.

Hopkins, 19, scored a try only five minutes into her debut in Cork, on an otherwise forgettable day for Wales. She went on to play most of the second half against France in another step up for Ioan Cunningham’s side, before finally tasting victory with a 10-minute cameo in the win against Italy at the Principality Stadium. Could Hopkins be a starter in 2025?

Alex Stewart: Another 19-year-old out to make waves in Test colours is Scotland’s Stewart. The flanker was a persistent pain for teams at the breakdown, and with esteemed players such as captain Rachel Malcolm to learn from in the back row, Stewart’s learning curve will continue to be a smooth one.

Stewart played an important part in Scotland’s historic win in Cardiff in round one, and hardly looked back thereafter. Her performance in the narrow loss to France suggested that here was a player of far more experience, as opposed to one playing only her second Test match

Francesca Granzotto: Such is the settled vibe in the Azzurri camp this year, it would be difficult to pinpoint any breakthroughs per se. Still, if anybody rose to prominence in head coach Giovanni Raineri's mind in the 2024 Championship, it was scrum-half Granzotto .

Meaningful game time was always going to be hard to come by being behind captain Sofia Stefan - who herself followed in the footsteps of another scrum-half, centurion Sara Barattin, as skipper - in the Azzurre pecking order. Except Granzotto, 22, still managed it: registering almost three hours’ worth of play across five games, and a large part of it thanks to an outing on the wing against Scotland.

Granzotto would also go on to make the most of those back three opportunities, not least with her well-taken try after coming on for fullback Beatrice Capomaggi in the second half at the Principality Stadium.

Aoife Wafer: A lot has already been said about Wafer during the course of this year’s Championship, mainly concerning her terrific performances. So impressive has she been - she’s up for nomination for Guinness Player of the Championship, after all - that it’s hard to believe that this is her first full Guinness Women’s Six Nations campaign.

Wafer’s “cover as a relative newcomer has been blown”, wrote the Irish Independent after a typically abrasive display from the Wexford native. And how she blew it! Regardless of whether the 21-year-old claims the Player of the Championship crown, this year’s campaign will be remembered by many as the coming of age of an exemplary Irish forward.

Teani Feleu: Elder sister Manaé, the French skipper, may have received most of the media coverage back in France, but Teani will be happy to bide her time and keep developing under the guidance of Les Bleues co-coaches Gaëlle Mignot and David Ortiz.

Although normally a centre for Grenoble, Feleu Jr packed down at number eight on her debut this year against Italy - the Feleu sisters joining the Manager twins as siblings on the field that day - and featured there throughout the Championship. Her break from the back of the scrum at Cardiff Arms Park was a thing of power and beauty - and we can look forward to more of the same this year for France.

Maddie Feaunati: To even get a sniff of a spot among the Red Roses right now is an enormous task, so hats off to Maddie Feaunati. Many rugby fans will know the surname: father Zak - also a back rower - played for Bath and Samoa, and made his cinematic debut as none other than Jonah Lomu in Clint Eastwood’s Invictus.

The dynamic 21-year-old Exeter Chiefs player was educated in New Zealand (where she was reportedly sought after by the Black Ferns), but was born in Leeds. Feaunati made her Test debut in round one of this year’s Championship against Italy, and gained valuable experience coming on around the hour mark in subsequent games (one of which included a try against Ireland), and most notably impressing in Le Crunch on Super Saturday. A huge prospect for John Mitchell and the Red Roses.