With the Guinness PRO14 now taking a backseat for a fortnight, attention in the rugby world is turning to one of sport’s greatest annual events – the Six Nations Championship.
We’ve enjoyed 13 rounds of scintillating Guinness PRO14 action and the European pool stages are done. Six Nations squads have been selected and the players will be doing all they can in training to get a starting XV shirt.
Plenty of domestic stars have had excellent seasons so far and here we take a look at which Guinness PRO14 players look likely to enjoy a breakthrough spring on the international stage.
Rhys Patchell – Scarlets (Wales)
Scarlets utility man Patchell has been delivering quality performances for some time now, and has been a key component in the province’s excellent form this season, as well as helping deliver the title last year.
The 24-year-old first played for his country in 2013 and has won five caps so far, but given his current form and injuries to Wales’ other fly-half options Dan Biggar and Rhys Priestland, he could be in line to earn more in the Six Nations.
Wales head coach Warren Gatland has other options for the No.10 shirt in the shape of Gareth Anscombe and Owen Williams.
But Gatland went with Williams at centre in the Autumn and Scarlets’ successes in the Guinness PRO14, where they lead Conference B, and in the Champions Cup, will surely count in Patchell’s favour.
— Rhys Patchell (@rhys_patch) January 21, 2018
Blair Kinghorn – Edinburgh (Scotland)
Flying full-back Blair Kinghorn is one of four uncapped players in the Scotland squad for the Six Nations, with the youngster being rewarded for his excellent form this season.
He will clearly be behind the world class Stuart Hogg in the reckoning for the No.15 jersey but given the Glasgow Warriors man’s recent return from injury, Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend could choose to opt out of playing him for 80 minutes in each round.
Kinghorn is one of only two full-backs named in the squad and couldn’t be in better form, having beaten 48 defenders in the Guinness PRO14 this season, more than any other player, also making 17 breaks – only Makazole Mapimpi as made more.
The 6ft 5in 21-year-old has a good kicking game and is clearly suited to running with the ball, making him the perfect backup to Hogg if required.
Stuart McInally – Edinburgh (Scotland)
Scotland’s front row has been decimated by injury in the run up to the Six Nations but that presents opportunities to others and one of those who looks set to benefit is Edinbugh hooker Stuart McInally.
Townsend is missing two likely starters in McInally’s position – Fraser Brown and Ross Ford – meaning the 12-cap hooker looks likely to be the next cab off the rank.
McInally turned in three excellent performances in the autumn internationals and is expected to hold onto his shirt, despite the call-up of 36-year-old Scott Lawson.
The 27-year-old has been a key cog in the Edinburgh machine this season – starting nine league matches – and will look to translate his excellent form onto the international scene starting with next weekend.
— PRO14 RUGBY (@PRO14Official) December 30, 2017
Renato Giammarioli – Zebre (Italy)
Zebre’s excellent young No.8 Renato Giammarioli is one of the more junior members of Conor O’Shea’s Italy squad for the Six Nations, with just one cap to his name so far.
But the 22-year-old has enjoyed a wonderful season for his club in the Guinness PRO14, making 12 appearances so far and often standing out against much older opponents.
Sergio Parisse would of course be a difficult man to dislodge from the No.8 shirt for Italy but at 34, Parisse may not play every minute and the great man himself has talked up Giammarioli in the build-up to the tournament.
Giammarioli could play elsewhere in the back row and as one of the leading lights of Italy’s next generation, will surely catch the eye this Spring.
Jacob Stockdale – Ulster (Ireland)
With four caps to his name, you could argue that Stockdale has already made his breakthrough with Ireland but the Six Nations is an altogether bigger stage and it will be fascinating to see how the youngster performs.
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt has options out wide, with Munster’s Keith Earls and Andrew Conway enjoying good seasons, but such has been Stockdale’s brilliance this year that many expect him to start.
The 21-year-old has been fantastic in the Guinness PRO14 but also in Europe, where he’s made the second-highest amount of clean breaks in the Champions Cup so far – 13 – second only to Nemani Nadolo.
Stockdale is big, at 6ft 3in, but also lightning-quick and one of the most elusive runners Ireland have produced for while – he looks set to become one of the Six Nations’ most exciting players this year.
Guinness PRO14 Final 2018 Ticket Information: Fans can save up to 20% on selected tickets, and prices start at just €30 for adults and €5 for children, and can be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie