ESPNscrum's fantasy preview
January 25, 2010
Will Brian O'Driscoll taste success again with Ireland in 2010? © Getty Images
Sebastien Chabal Simon Danielli Thierry Dusautoir Max Evans Thom Evans Gonzalo Garcia Craig Gower Leigh Halfpenny Imanol Harinordoquy Gethin Jenkins Adam Jones Alun-Wyn Jones Ryan Jones Sean Lamont Paul O'Connell Brian O'Driscoll Matthew Rees Jamie Roberts Aurelien Rougerie Simon Shaw Shane Williams
It's that time of year again, and rivalries are brewing across the rugby watching world as ESPNscrum's fantasy rugby returns. With all-important bragging rights at stake between you and your friends, work-mates or fellow players, we thought we'd lend a hand by previewing a few players we think will deliver over the course of the Six Nations.
Ireland and France are the early favourites after encouraging November displays and dominant performances from their club sides in the Heineken Cup, but there are a few bolters elsewhere to keep you interested.
In the front-row, it's handy to have a couple of 80-minute operators. Irish youngster Cian Healy showed plenty of promise in his first caps against Australia and South Africa, while Welsh workhorse Gethin Jenkins and the destructive Italian Salvatore Perugini are a good bet at loose-head.
At hooker, William Servat has been in commanding form for Toulouse, British & Irish Lions hooker Matthew Rees has recently returned to action for the Scarlets, and England's Dylan Hartley has been improving as skipper of Northampton. At tight-head, how about Italy's bearded wonder Martin Castrogiovanni or Wales' Adam Jones? Remember, bullish Scotland prop Euan Murray is set to miss the opening round due to his religious beliefs.
In the second-row there are heaps of viable options. Choose from England powerhouse Simon Shaw, France's 'Caveman' Sebastien Chabal, the athletic Welshman Alun-Wyn Jones or Lions skipper Paul O'Connell.
Back-row options are plentiful, with French skipper Thierry Duasutoir fast earning a reputation as the north's 'Captain Tackle'. Also in the French ranks is the experienced, physical Imanol Harinordoquy, who could slot in at openside or No.8. Equally versatile is the in-form Wales skipper Ryan Jones, who could be joined by veteran openside Martyn Williams and the powerful Andy Powell.
David Wallace and Jamie Heaslip are solid bets in emerald green, but the standout performer for Ulster and Ireland so far has been blindside Stephen Ferris. England will put a lot of faith in Lewis Moody and, in all likelihood, returning Harlequins No.8 Nick Easter.
It's with the scrum-halves that the choice of kicker first becomes important. French duo Jean-Baptiste Elissalde and Morgan Parra are both handy from the kicking tee and Parra in particular has been in brilliant form for Clermont. Chris Cusiter showed his worth for Scotland over the November series, while Tomas O'Leary is a solid performer for Ireland.
Who knows where the French merry-go-round will stop in terms of fly-halves, with Francois Trinh-Duc enduring a mixed campaign last year. Wales have flair and experience with the duo of James Hook and Stephen Jones, while the same can be said in Ireland where Jonathan Sexton is set to push Ronan O'Gara all the way for selection. In England the battle is between that old-stager Jonny Wilkinson and Toby Flood. If you're looking for an outside bet, there's Italy's former Aussie rugby league bad-boy Craig Gower, who will steer the Azzurri in his first Six Nations.
Jamie Roberts and Brian O'Driscoll roll off the tongue as a partnership, but Welshman Roberts has had a mixed season and faces competition from Hook for the No.12 jersey. O'Driscoll has been his usual consistent self this season and is rarely far from the action and the same can be said for his in-form Leinster team-mate Gordon D'Arcy. In Scotland, the exciting Max Evans has returned to action following injury and in England all eyes are on Kiwi league convert Shontayne Hape and the returning Riki Flutey. Italy's most improved player, Gonzalo Garcia, is another long-shot.
Out wide, there's an embarrassment of riches. A lot of talk pre-tournament has centred around the England duo of Ben Foden and Chris Ashton, but there remain major question marks over their selection. Delon Armitage, Mark Cueto and Ugo Monye will likely start against Wales, who could boast Lee Byrne, Shane Williams and Leigh Halfpenny.
Clermont Auvergne skipper Aurelien Rougerie has been in powerful form of late and will have a big part to play for France while Thom Evans is back to add some spark for Scotland. Arguably the form wing in world rugby at the moment though is Ireland's Tommy Bowe, and few would need to look further than Rob Kearney at fullback.
Click Here to register your ESPNscrum fantasy league team and let battle commence. Make sure to check back next week, where we'll be putting our necks on the line and selecting our XV for the opening weekend of action.
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