The squads have been picked, the launch has been held and in just over a week’s time Six Nations 2021 will get under way as France visit Rome to take on Italy.
Just three months since England secured a third Championship under Eddie Jones, the northern hemisphere’s premier test competition will pit Europe’s best male players against one another.
But, while old rivalries resume on the pitch, who are the young players hoping to seize their chance in the Championship spotlight?
We look at six uncapped players who could leave a big mark on this year’s Six Nations.
Paolo Odogwu (England)
A graduate of the Leicester Tigers academy, former England U20 international Odogwu spent three years at Sale Sharks before returning to his hometown, Coventry, with Wasps in 2019. He amassed more red cards than tries in his first season at the Ricoh Arena, but his undoubted talents have come to the fore in his second.
A powerful and intelligent runner, Odogwu has scored five tries in six Premiership appearances while operating both at outside-centre and on the wing. “He's built like a running back, he's a sort of a mini Saquon Barkley,” club-mate Marcus Watson told World Rugby. “He's got good footwork, he’s really quick — really quick — and, obviously, very powerful. So he's a big threat.”
Georges-Henri Colombe (France)
Born in the Parisian suburb of Nanterre, Colombe has become a fixture in the front-row of his hometown club, Racing 92. At 22, the tighthead prop is still raw, but was entrusted to start each of the knockout matches in last season’s European Champions Cup, including the final defeat to Exeter in Bristol.
Having represented France from U16 to U20 level, and spent a season in the ProD2 finishing school at Nevers in 2018, Colombe received his first call-up to his country’s senior squad ahead of the match against Wales in October. “He’s totally the type of player we want. He has proved his worth since the start of the season,” Les Bleus coach Fabien Galthié said at the time. “If Laurent Travers and his staff trust him, we’re not taking a chance.”
Craig Casey (Ireland)
It is fair to say that 31-year-old Conor Murray has fewer years of international rugby ahead of him than behind him, leaving Ireland and Munster searching for his long-term heir at number nine. Casey first came to light as a star of the future during the Six Nations U20 campaign of 2019, when he played a key leadership role in Ireland’s march to the Grand Slam.
The Limerick man went on to make his senior Munster debut in April 2019 and has now been preferred by Ireland head coach Andy Farrell ahead of the experienced John Cooney, Luke McGrath and Kieran Marmion. Weighing 76kgs and standing 1.65m tall, Casey is similar in build to England newcomer Harry Randall. Like Randall, he likes to inject tempo in the game and has a slick pass.
Marco Manfredi (Italy)
The retirement of caps centurion, Leonardo Ghiraldini, has left a big hole in the Azzurri’s hooker stocks, and head coach Franco Smith will want to see whether Zebre player Manfredi has what it takes to make it at the top level. Manfredi, 23, will play second fiddle at best to Italy captain, Luca Bigi, but has been a regular starter in the Guinness PRO14 this season and should get some opportunities off the bench.
Zebre’s lineout has been functioning well, and the former Italy U20 international, who scored twice against Japan at World Rugby U20 Championship 2016, can take some of the credit. Manfredi has more to his game than a solid set-piece; defensively he catches the eye with his impressive line speed and big hits. While with ball in hand, he carries well and is capable of throwing defenders off-balance with his ability to change direction.
Cameron Redpath (Scotland)
Former England U20 international Redpath has blossomed since his close-season move from Sale Sharks to Bath. Now free from the knee problems that dogged the latter stages of his time in England’s north-west, the ball-playing centre has put in a number of commanding performances in Bath’s midfield, despite the club’s stuttering start to the Premiership season.
The Narbonne-born, 21-year-old was also eligible to play for France but looks certain to follow in his father Bryan’s footsteps and be capped for Scotland at some point during the Six Nations campaign. With Finn Russell playing inside him, Scotland could have unearthed a potent 10-12 combination. Redpath can attack the gainline and is also adept at getting his arms free in the tackle to offload to the outside runners.
Josh MacLeod (Wales)
Born in Monte Carlo, but brought up in west Wales, MacLeod is the latest openside flanker to emerge from Wales’ prolific production line. Having blossomed under the tutelage of Wayne Pivac during his time at the Scarlets, the uncapped flanker was included in the Wales squad by his old club coach last October.
MacLeod was forced to bide his time as a hamstring injury led to his withdrawal then, and he will hope an ankle knock does not scupper his Six Nations 2021 hopes. The former Wales U20 international, who won more turnovers than any other PRO14 player last season, is a strong presence over the ball and has also been voted the best defensive player at the Scarlets.