The Six Nations kicks off on Friday night with Ireland bidding to win back-to-back Grand Slam titles.
From precocious Ireland winger Jacob Stockdale 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.
The Ulster man has established himself as one of the best wingers in world rugby over the past twelve months.
With 12 tries in 14 matches, the 22-year-old will be one of the key players that Joe Schmidt will be looking towards for inspiration this spring.
At 6ft 3in, the Belfast man possesses pace, strong game management skills and a reliability under the high ball, but his defence still needs work.
Although it is still early in his professional career, he is sure to be a leading light for both club and country for years to come.
SCOTLAND CAPS: 65
One of the stand-out 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 greatest players of all time.
It’s hard to believe he’s still only 26 – and his ability to eye gaps and produce magic with every touch has seen him evolve into one of the game’s most-dominant figures.
Although he is only just finding his way back to full fitness after an ankle injury in November, expect the Glasgow man to light up the campaign.
ENGLAND CAPS: 36
When fit, Vunipola is up there with the best players in the world.
The Saracens No8 is a totemic presence who has a knack for catching opposition attackers behind the gain line and, coupled with his strong ball-carrying ability, is a superb asset to any starting line-up.
Still only 26, there are few weaknesses evident in his game with solid defending and a strong attacking game at the centre of his vast skillset.
Aside from the brilliance of Owen Farrell, he is hands down England’s most important player.
CLUB: Stade Francais
FRANCE CAPS: 41
The 24-year-old centre is incredibly fast, great hands and very athletic.
If Les Bleus can pair the Paris native with the experienced Mathieu Bastareaud or Wesley Fofana they could have one of the best midfield pairings in the competition.
His experience and overall class gives head coach Jacques Brunel plenty of options going forward. When in possession, Fickou has the ability to threaten opposition defences with his slick feet allowing him to evade would-be tacklers with ease.
If France are to improve on their disappointing 2018 showing, then Fickou – along with captain Guilhem Guirado – will be a constant source of inspiration to their tournament prospects.
WALES CAPS: 10
Liam Williams and George North may be the influential figures in the Wales back-line, but Parkes is equally as effective with ball in hand and in defence.
The 31-year-old is strong on the gain-line and tends to lead the back line in tackles made in most matches.
The Scarlets man adds serious X-factor, solidity in midfield and variety in attack and should cause France plenty of problems in Paris on Friday.
If Wales are to win a first championship since 2013, then the Kiwi-born star will be one of the central players.
ITALY CAPS: 12
The 24-year-old boasts powerful ball carrying skills and is ultra-reliable at both line-out and scrum time.
Currently plying his trade with Benetton, the lock-cum-back-rower is slowly establishing himself as one of the Azzurri’s key men.
With the inspirational Sergio Parisse turning 36 in September, Negri’s potential gives head coach Conor O’Shea confidence in knowing the next generation of Italian players can step up if their captain retires after the World Cup.
If Italy are to win a first Six Nations game since February 2015, then Negri will be one of the leading conductors in their orchestra.
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