Ireland – Jacob Stockdale
Arguably, he is the best winger the world has at the moment and will be for a long time to come. The 22-year-old has already made quite an impact on the international stage, scoring seven tries in the 2018 Six Nations campaign and has 12 tries in his 14 appearances for his country.
Stockdale has been critical in how Ulster have performed this season, especially in the Champions Cup including his two crucial tries in their win against Racing 92 in which they made the quarter finals. Not only did he score in the match against New Zealand last Autumn but scored the decisive try against England at Twickenham last Spring. His performance regardless of the context of the match is always at international standard and the way in which he scores tries is what is remarkable about this young player. There is no fear when he plays. He is expected to have another outstanding tournament this time around and I cannot see any reason why he won’t pick up the top try scorer and player of the championship again.
Scotland – Greig Laidlaw
The scrum-half has been vital in Scotland’s success over recent years and their performance seems to be elevated when he appears in the line-ups. His excellent goal kicking saw him be one of the highest points scorers of last year’s tournament. His club form for Clermont this season has been at its best helping them get to the top of the table in the Top14 league and helping in securing their quarter final place in Europe. The 33-year-old doesn’t have age on his side, but it is the experience that he brings with him that stands him in such high prestige. Although he is the most experienced scrum-half that Scotland has to offer, Gregor Townsend might opt to play him off the bench like he did last season in favour of Ali Price. If he does choose to do this, then we can expect a change in pace from Scotland when he steps onto the field with his personality and professionalism bringing out the best in his teammates. Not only will he provide vital support at the breakdown he can also offer his accuracy kicking, something that could turn crucial in those tight fixtures.
Wales – Justin Tipuric
With former Welsh captain Sam Warburton retired, Tipuric is Wales’ leading open-side flanker and is expected to lead Warren Gatland’s men alongside other senior members of the squad. In what will be Gatland’s final Six Nations tournament as Wales’ head coach they will be hoping to make it a memorable one and rival the championship title. Tipuric has been on sensational form for Wales recently and gained himself two man-of-the-match awards during their Autumn campaign. His ball carrying ability is second to none and probably the best in the Northern hemisphere and he has really come into his element and out of the shadows since Warburton’s retirement. His work-rate at the breakdown is phenomenal with the power that he brings and how he not only protects the ball but the way he forces turnovers. He will be a huge asset to Wales this tournament – especially when they play England and Ireland. If his international form continues he could be in contention for the captaincy at some point in his career when the legend Alyn Wyn-Jones steps down. Nevertheless, for the time being he will be a vital asset to how Wales play and their chances of taking the title away from Ireland.
England – Dan Robson
After missing the first half of the season due to injury and his opportunity to shine during England’s Autumn internationals, Dan Robson is back in Eddie Jones’ squad. With Jones not including Danny Care in the set-up, Robson has the opportunity to secure a place in the team for the World Cup. His form for Wasps has been sensational, despite the clubs’ turbulent season so far. He will be a huge asset to England in the style of rugby that he plays – offering something different to Ben Youngs, who will be expected to start at nine. His speed to the breakdown is astounding and his ability to spot the tiniest of gaps will benefit England greatly. Robson has an incredible rugby brain and often backs himself to make the gain-line and beat defenders. The initiative that he shows and his confidence in his ability is really refreshing. When playing in black and gold, Robson often offers very clever dummy passes or the occasional chip through the defensive line and both have worked well for Wasps over the past few seasons. His England call up has been long in the making and possibly deserved his place sooner, but now he has it I am sure he will be taking every opportunity he can to keep his place. He is definitely one to watch this Six Nations.
Italy – Sergio Parisse
A true veteran of not only Italian rugby but the sport in general is Sergio Parisse. However, the Italian captain has suggested that this Six Nations might be his last. He is the longest serving national captain in rugby history, having skippered Italy on 86 occasions. Not only this but he is joint fourth with Gethin Jenkins in rugby’s most capped players of all time, sitting on 134 caps, with only Richie McCaw and George Gregan having more. Italy have had a hard time throughout all of their Six Nations campaigns’ and Parisse knows how hard this one will be. Everyone knows who the flanker is but that doesn’t mean he isn’t one to be looking out for. He plays with his heart on his sleeve every time he steps onto the field and always gives 110%. He should be regarded as one of the greatest of all time. His clever turnovers and power in defence is an asset to Connor O’Shea’s side. His leadership and gentle giant persona sets him above the rest and has always done a magnificent job in keeping the sprits of his side high, even when they have faced the toughest of opponents. If this is to be his last Six Nations tournament, then I am sure that he will leave the field happy with the knowledge that every performance he has is one to be proud of.
France – Guilhem Guirado
It is no secret that France’s international campaigns in recent years hasn’t been up to the standard it needs to be to compete with the best in the world and with the World Cup fast approaching they will need to show signs of improvement this Six Nations to help guide them to the World Cup. Their captain; Guilhem Guirado has been one of the best hookers in the modern game despite his sides poor performances. Although he has had a season riddled with injuries he shone for France at the end of 2018. The hooker is extremely powerful on the ball at the breakdown and ball in-hand but also executes the basics of rugby to exceptionally well, which is something that France can really benefit from. Guirado needs to be at his best not only in terms of playing but with his leadership skills this tournament as it is vital that France inject some pace and determination into their side. The pressure is on Les Bleus but if they can show a coherent team with Guirado guiding them then they could pose a threat in the competition.