England’s seemingly inevitable march to a Six Nations title and a possible Grand Slam aside, this year’s tournament has been one of the more bizarre and enigmatic tournaments in recent memory. The Irish started with fire but quickly fell to new lows. The Scots were thrashed at Twickenham but enter the latter stages of the tournament with belief and momentum. The Welsh looked broken versus Ireland but are now back on track and could break English hearts. The Italians stunned the French but were emphatically brought back down to earth by the Welsh and Scots. The French… um… words fail me.
In all this chaos, there have been limited opportunities for youngsters and rookies to excel and the dizzying pre-tournament prognostications for some have perhaps not been met. As we are now beyond the halfway point of the Six Nations, our chief scout, ‘RR’ gives a mid-tournament report card for the rookies that were singled out before the tournament started and identifies a number of other rookies that have made impressions.
The pre-tournament picks:
Of the pre-tournament rookies that were chosen by the ‘RR’ to excel for their respective countries, the Six Nations has represented a mixed-bag so far:
Pre-tournament Rating: High impact
Mid-tournament Report: Solid performances
Launchbury’s performances have showcased his characteristically high work-rate and his dependability in all facets of the game: his tackle-rate is still the most impressive asset of his game. He has been perhaps overshadowed by his locking partner Geoff Parling who has put in a number of stellar performances. Nevertheless, he has not done his Lions’ chances any harm.
Pre-tournament Rating: High impact
Mid-tournament Report: Inconsistent but improving
Gilroy has not set the world on fire for Ireland as some had expected. He has shown flashes of his enviable running talent but other aspects of his game seem unrefined for test level, particularly his tactical kicking. Had a better performance against Scotland and could kick on in the last two games.
Pre-tournament Rating: Medium impact
Mid-tournament Report: Encouraging displays
Maitland has surpassed expectations with an all-round impressive tournament to date. Bagged a try on debut and exhibited his playmaking abilities against Italy. He looks like nothing short of a coup for Scottish rugby. But as the Ireland game showed, they need to improve the anaemic Scottish backline to fully utilise his talents.
Pre-tournament Rating: Medium to low impact
Mid-tournament Report: Underwhelming and dropped
Taofifénua’s pre-tournament hype nearly matched his colossal size but sadly he has been unable to match this with his performances on the field. Two underwhelming performances against Italy and Wales, albeit in only twenty minutes of game time in each, resulted in Saint-Andre dropping the big Polynesian for the England game.
The remaining two rookies, Eli Walker and Tommaso Iannone, have yet to feature in any of the matches to date: Walker due to injury and Iannone due to coaching preferences.
Other shining lights:
Billy Twelvetrees, Centre (England)
Had an impressive debut against Scotland and was unlucky to be jettisoned for the France game due to the return of Tuilagi. Twelvetrees looks to have a bit of Conrad Smith in him: always running with the ball in two hands, smart in attack and defence, and a natural fit for test rugby. England will face a tough-decision moving forward about how to best utilise their three centres, all of which have legitimate cases for a starting spot. If the ‘RR’ was a betting man he would be siding with Twelvetrees and Tuilagi as the future 12-13 pairing.
Luke Marshall, Centre (Ireland)
Marshall has been in great form for Ulster this year and finally got his chance to make the step up for Ireland in their last match versus Scotland. Marshall did not disappoint, in fact it would be hard to imagine a better debut for the Ulsterman. His scything runs caused absolute havoc for Scotland and how Ireland were unable to capitalise on this still has the RR scratching his head. Seems ready to take over from Gordon Darcy on a full time basis right away and will form the backbone of the surely imminent Ulsterization of Ireland rugby (with Gilory and Ian Henderson, among others).
Andrew Coombs, Lock (Wales)
Coombs has far exceeded expectations so far in this tournament for Wales. Quite an old rookie at 28, Coombs has taken to test rugby with aplomb and has put in a number of quietly outstanding displays. His 14 tackles in Paris against the French largely went unnoticed but laid the foundations for a stirring Welsh victory. At the very least he has proven himself capable as an international for Wales and will provide nice depth when A W Jones and Charteris return from injuries.
Which rookies have caught your eye in the Six Nations so far? Comments below…