The Six Nations kicks off on Saturday with England bidding for their third-consecutive title.
From precocious England winger Anthony Watson to Scotland talisman Stuart Hogg, the competition will again showcase the full spectrum of Northern Hemisphere talent.
Here we examine six players to watch ahead of the tournament’s big kick-off.
One of the best players in the Northern Hemisphere, Hogg could step into any team with little fuss. He always shows glimpses of his outstanding ability, suggesting he is one of Scotland’s best players of all time.
It’s hard to believe he’s still only 25 – and his ability to eye gaps and produce magic with every touch has seen him evolve into one of the game’s most-influential figures.
Although he has just returned from a hip injury, expect the Glasgow man to light up the campaign.
WALES CAPS: Uncapped
The 22-year-old was called up to Warren Gatland’s side on the back of some stunning performances for Worcester this season.
The Swansea-born winger has enjoyed a meteoric rise at the Sixways Stadium over the last 18 months and is currently the top scorer in the Aviva Premiership, with nine tries in 13 matches.
Solid in the tackle and always a threat going forward, the uncapped prospect has the potential to be a major force for Wales in the years to come.
IRELAND CAPS: 4
The Ulsterman has made a tonic start to his Ireland career and looks set for a starting berth in the Six Nations.
The 21-year-old was one of the leading lights in Joe Schmidt’s side during the November Series, scoring tries against Argentina (2) and South Africa (1).
Four weeks out from Ireland’s first Six Nations match against France, Stockdale looks a certain starter on the left wing – with Keith Earls surely to get the nod on the right – barring injury.
At 6ft 3in, the Lisburn man possesses gas, power, good defence and reliability under the high ball, plus can act as an option for full-back.
Although it is still early in his professional career, he is sure to be an inspirational presence for Ulster and Ireland for years to come. It looks impossible for Schmidt not to include him in his starting XV.
ITALY CAPS: 99
The Treviso star is set to return after a two-year absence as he targets his 100th cap in an Italy jersey.
The 33-year-old last played for the Azzurri during the 2016 tournament, but a series of injuries have prevented the versatile back-rower from adding to his 99 caps.
His experience gives head coach Conor O’Shea a lot of ball on the front foot and he has the ability to threaten opposition defences with and without the ball.
If Italy are to improve on their mixed 2017 showing, then Zanni – along with captain Sergio Parisse – will be a constant source of inspiration to their tournament prospects.
ENGLAND CAPS: 28
One of the stand-out stars of the year, Watson has been a colossus for England since making his debut in 2014.
With 14 tries in 28 appearances, the Bath winger is a totemic presence who has a knack for catching opposition attackers behind the gain line and, coupled with his strong offloading ability, is a superb asset to any starting line-up.
Still only 23, there are few weaknesses evident in his game so far, with solid defending and deft footwork at the centre of his excellent skill set.
FRANCE CAPS: 16
The Bordeaux scrum-half offers terrific pace around the base of the scrum and has the ability to bring players into the game from any attack.
Although not included in France’s original squad, the 23-year-old will be looking to redeem himself in the absence of injured talisman Morgan Parra – who is ruled out because of a knee injury.
February is his chance to impress when he faces Conor Murray and Ben Youngs – two players who’ve come off the back of some sterling from in the Champions Cup recently.
If Jacques Brunel’s men show some improvement this campaign, then Serin is one of the names they’ll be looking towards for inspiration.
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