Fantasy Rugby: The best Six Nations newcomers

Rugby

It’s the first Six Nations after a World Cup, and while not absolutely everything has changed — unless you’re France that is — plenty has.

As is standard at the end of a World Cup cycle, plenty of players have retired: Rory Best, Guilhem Guirado, Louis Picamoles, Greig Laidlaw to name a few. Sergio Parisse will join that list too after one final curtain call in Rome during this tournament.

Old coaches have moved on and out: Joe Schmidt, Conor O’Shea, Warren Gatland and Jacques Brunel all left their posts after Japan — and new ones, with new ideas, have moved in.

Andy Farrell looks to have gone on PRO 14 form with his first Ireland selection; Fabien Galthie has thrown out almost everyone over 29 years and 364 days as he goes all-in on his staff’s ability to mould and control untested youthful French exuberance containing 18 uncapped players; Wayne Pivac surprised more than a few with some of his selections for Wales; and Franco Smith has started to prepare Italy for a Parisse-less future.

Even the only two returning coaches, England’s Eddie Jones and Scotland’s Gregor Townsend, are resetting the World Cup countdown clock. The aim here is to expect the unexpected.

So, here are six 2020 Six Nations newbies, one from each country, to watch out for — and maybe select for your ESPN Fantasy Rugby side.

Louis Rees-Zammit

Okay, we admit it. Even we hardened hacks at ESPN Towers have jumped aboard the LR-Z hype train. Yes, we know he’s inexperienced, having only made his Premiership debut for Gloucester in April last year — heck, the Wikipedia page about him was only created on Dec. 21, 2019. But we believe in 18-year-old Louis Rees-Zammit. You should too.

Caelan Doris

To be honest, we could easily have plumped for Doris’s Leinster back-row colleague Max Deegan here and no one would have complained, but the upward trajectory of Doris’ star has been slightly steeper so he gets the nod. Just. By the hairs-breadthiest of margins. There are so many back-row options for the ESPN Fantasy Rugby manager that they’re possibly the most difficult three positions to fill. Doris won’t let you down, and neither will Deegan if you are the kind of renegade that doesn’t listen to well-intended fantasy advice.

Will Stuart

Props aren’t traditional big-points glory boys in ESPN Fantasy Rugby, but you still need to select three front-rowers for your squad — and you need them to pull their weight. England’s long-term stocks at tight-head are relatively slim, but what they have is gold. Bath’s Will Stuart is regarded as one of the best — and Eddie Jones has to give him a shot sooner rather than later. Surely.

Louis Carbonel

How good is France fly-half Louis Carbonel? Put it this way: two summers ago, France Under-20 coaches moved Romain Ntamack from fly-half to inside-centre just to accommodate him at the World Under-20 championship. Many in France thought the Toulon player would be in the mix for the World Cup last year, but he went instead to Argentina to help Les Bleuets successfully defend their Under-20 crown. Now, he’s in the full men’s squad, along with Mathieu Jalibert and World Rugby’s Breakthrough Player of the Year, Ntamack.

Alex Craig

Despite his enormous size, Gloucester’s 6 foot 6 inches lock has managed to escape much of the Six Nations-newbie glare thanks to the overwhelming surge of interest in winger Rees-Zammit, but don’t be fooled by the relative lack of interest. He’s good. He’s good enough to impress club coach Johan Ackermann and plenty good enough to get the call from Gregor Townsend.

Michelangelo Biondelli

If you’re looking for a left-field choice to bring you a bucket of surprise Fantasy Rugby points — and player-awareness bragging rights — you could do worse than Zebre’s goal-kicking fullback. He was the star of the show when the PRO 14 side became the first Italian side to win at Stade Francais earlier this season. He’s done well in domestic and European competition, and is ready to make a statement on the international stage.

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