As we enter the final two rounds of the 6 Nations, the stakes get higher. For individual players, coaches, and for sides as a whole, ending on a positive note is essential. Teams like Ireland, still desperate to record a first win, while England will want to keep their grand slam dreams alive. In these key moments, big players will always step up, and here are the six players we think will step up this weekend.
England: Billy Vunipola
Probably seems like we’re taking the easy route by picking the England player in the best form, but every time he has been called upon by Saracens or England, Vunipola has stepped up his game. Right now, he is our favorite for player of the tournament, and it’s pretty easy to see why. His 94 meters with ball in hand and 9 defenders beaten were key against Ireland, and when you consider that he racked up 62 meters against Italy, and 51 against Scotland, the general trend seems to show that Vunipola has gotten better every single week. England’s pack were fired up last year against Wales, and if they bring that same intensity this year, their grand slams dreams may survive.
France: Guilhem Guirado
France’s new captain has taken on the captaincy with relative ease. While a grand slam is off the table for France, they remain within reach of winning the title, and Guirado’s performances have given them just the role model they have needed. Statistically, there is not much to look at with the French hooker, but he does so much work around the field for France, and is still able to ensure that he gets his set pieces right. If France are to win the tournament, they will need some big games from their new skipper.
Ireland: Robbie Henshaw
Last week, Henshaw made his second start at 13 for Ireland, and boy did he make a statement. The Leinster bound 22 year old racked up 108 meters and beat 4 defenders, as he was a constant problem for England in defence. All of Ireland’s youngsters looked good, with Josh Van Der Flier, CJ Stander, Ultan Dillane, and Stuart McCloskey all impressing throughout this campaign, but Henshaw really is Ireland’s future in the centres. An impressive display against Italy could secure the McCloskey-Henshaw pairing, a thought that will bring a smile across the face of rugby fans all over Ireland.
Italy: Michele Campagnaro
If Italy are to win a match in this year’s tournament, they will need some Campagnaro magic. Campagnaro currently has the most clean breaks of any player, with 6 over the first three games, and if he can improve on that, Italy could put themselves in a good position going forward. He is without his chosen centre partner, Luca Morisi, and Italy have been racked with injuries in the pack as well, but Campagnaro has continued to improve in his time with Exeter. Campagnaro may not be the complete package just yet, but he is certainly taking steps in that direction.
Wales: Jonathan Davies
Davies has looked solid in his return from injury, but we still haven’t seen the dominance he brought in years past. While his centre partner Jamie Roberts has been on fire, Davies has been slowly improving, but with Wales battling England in a crucial match this weekend, Wales will need “Fox” to return to his 2013 Lions tour form. Few can rival the Welsh centre’s powerful fend off, and his vision helps him to pick great lines, often allowing him to find space in any defence. Davies faces some real competition for his spot looking towards the next Lions tour, but a solid showing against Jonathan Joseph could put him right back in contention.
Scotland: Mark Bennett
Stuart Hogg and Duncan Taylor have lived up to their expectations, with Hogg racking up more meters than any other player in the tournament, but Bennett has been surprisingly quiet so far. After a breakthrough year in 2015, many expected him to build on that experience, but the Glasgow centre seems locked in a “sophomore slump”. That said, with a vulnerable looking Ireland side and the inconsistent as ever French ahead, Scotland have an opportunity to secure two additional wins this season. If Bennett steps up, they will be a lot close to achieving that goal, and, reaching their best season since 2013.