Players to look out for in Six Nations which gets under way on February 4.
Owen Farrell: His father Andy was a great rugby league player but failed to really step up to the top level when he switched codes and played for England despite having endless opportunities to do so. However, there is every sign that Farrell junior will succeed where his dad failed. The 21-year-old centre's potential was recognised very early on at Saracens - where his father played and is now an assistant coach there - when he was given his senior debut just after turning 17. Really came of age, though, when he proved the match-winner in Sarries Premiership final win over Leicester last season. Has gone from strength to strength this term producing some superlative kicking displays which if repeated at international level would be a boon for an England side coming to terms with the retirement of Jonny Wilkinson and Toby Flood injured.
Wesley Fofana: The centre seized his opportunity with both hands when it came along at Clermont after several of his team-mates were called up for World Cup duty. Has not relinquished his first team place since their return and has formed a potent partnership with captain Aurelien Rougerie in the backline. Just turned 24 he could quite easily have been lost to football as he was in the PSG youth academy but opted instead to focus on rugby. Not the most physically imposing of players but makes up for it with blistering pace and his rapier-like thrusts piercing defences at will. Faces strong competition for first team spot but unlike predecessors such as Mathieu Bastareaud, Fofana looks like one who possesses the determination and mindset to buckle down and make a real go of his career.
Conor Murray: Yet another from the seemingly endless supply of Ireland scrum-halves to come from Munster, Peter Stringer and Tomas O'Leary being the most recent examples. Indeed O'Leary's unfortunate loss of form just before the World Cup was Murray's gain as he got on the plane to New Zealand at his expense. By the end of that better than expected personal campaign the 22-year-old had replaced Leinster's Eoin Reddan as first choice in Declan Kidney's team. Now after a successful season with Munster he has the chance to rubberstamp his place firmly as the automatic No 9, but he will be only too aware how brutal this level of rugby can be as evidenced by the sudden falls from grace of both Stringer and O'Leary.
Robert Barbier: He may be relatively long in the tooth at 27 to be regarded as a player of potential but the Canadian-born back row forward appears to have come of age and ready to make a permanent impact on the Italian side after seven caps spread over several years. However, several impressive performances for Treviso in this season's European Cup especially in the narrow home defeat by Saracens showed he is a player of some talent and especially dangerous in attack.
Joe Ansbro: Exciting talented centre, who can use this year's tournament to make himself an automatic first choice having battled with Nick Di Luca for that honour at the World Cup, though, significantly he got the nod for the final crucial pool match with England. A relatively late comer to top level rugby as he completed his Natural Sciences degree at Cambridge University, the 26-year-old impressed at Northampton and is now doing the same at London Irish. Makes up for lack of bulk with a lithe and agile physique which he deploys effectively at both club and international level. Scored a super try in a pre-World Cup win over Ireland and the Scots will be looking for more of the same and a bit more from him starting against England.
Alex Cuthbert: Shane Williams may have retired from international rugby but this England-born flier looks capable of having a long career at this level given his performances for Cardiff Blues this season. The 21-year-old wing - who qualifies for the Principality as his mother was born there - has been outstanding and shone in the Welsh side's 36-30 European Cup win over Racing-Metro last weekend where his two tries ensured they progressed to the last eight. Just the one cap thus far and not certain to be first choice yet but he could well be by the end of the tournament.
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