A host of rugby’s most gifted players will go head to head over the coming weeks in the 25th instalment of the Guinness Six Nations. Here the PA news agency looks at five stars expected to grab the headlines.
Damian Penaud, wing, France
At times erratic but invariably brilliant, Penaud is already one of the greatest finishers of all time and is just three tries short of equalling the national record of 38 held by Serge Blanco.
There are quicker wings but few with the try-scoring finesse of the electric 27-year-old.
Marcus Smith, fly-half, England
Owen Farrell’s absence presents an important moment to one of the brightest talents in English rugby, who should now be given an extended run at fly-half.
Smith shows an instinct for attack and courage to play beyond any of his rivals for the jersey, but he must also prove he can guide England through choppier waters.
Finn Russell, fly-half, Scotland
One of the most exciting talents in the game, Russell is a magician of a fly-half with the skills to unpick any defence. Being named co-captain signals an end to his stormy relationship with head coach Gregor Townsend and he has been revitalised by his move to Bath, who are flourishing as a result of his arrival.
Alessandro Izekor, flanker, Italy
Singled out as one to watch by Italy great Sergio Parisse, the uncapped Izekor is a colossus of a back row who stands 6’5” tall and weighs well over 17 stones. A force on both sides of the ball, the 23-year-old will be looking to transfer his impressive form for Benetton on to the Test arena.
Bundee Aki, centre, Ireland
A contender for player of the 2023 World Cup by the end of the group stage because of his barnstorming runs, power in the tackle and work over the ball. Aki possess the rare skill of being able to generate tremendous power from a standing start, even against defence as robust as South Africa’s. He is quick too.