Hugo Southwell: 6 Players to watch

Hugo Southwell has played 44 times for his country and starts against Wales tomorrow
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JOHN BARCLAY

SCOTLAND

Position Openside flanker

Age 22

Caps 6

John Barclay is definitely one to watch in this Six Nations. He was earmarked as a potential Scotland back-rower since his school days at Dollar Academy and has many attributes for a No 7. Quick for his size, he has superb all-round skills, tackles above his weight, offers a line-out option and his strength at the breakdown makes him a turnover specialist.

An example of this was in the recent back-to-back derby games Edinburgh played against Glasgow over Christmas and New Year. Unfortunately for us at Edinburgh, he put himself everywhere and stopped a try on one or more occasions utilising his speed over and around the ball.

He is maturing fast on the international stage and the battle he will face against Martyn Williams will go a long way to deciding the outcome of what will be a momentous game in this year's Championship. The partnership he will form with Ally Hogg and Simon Taylor will provide a formidable back row.



JAMIE ROBERTS

WALES

Position Centre

Age 22

Caps 7

There are many up and coming players in the Welsh side but I believe that Jamie Roberts, the Cardiff Centre, will be the man to watch in Wales's defence of the Six Nations title this year. The utility back started his career as a full-back but as he has progressed through the ranks on to the international stage has more consistently found himself at centre. At 6ft 4in and almost 17st, his strong direct style of running will trouble the most organised of defences.

His ability to create and go forward is a major asset and something that my team-mates and I must contain this weekend.

As a trainee doctor, Roberts found himself on the wrong side of the knife when he fractured his skull in a collision with Australian captain Stirling Mortlock in the autumn tests.

He has now returned in time for his second Six Nations and is looking to continue the same form with which he started his international career. Roberts' new partnership with Gavin Henson may be one of the key factors as to whether Wales are able to retain their crown this time around.



ROB KEARNEY

IRELAND

Position Full-back;

Age 22

Caps 11

If Ireland are to make the impression that they desperately want this year, Rob Kearney is one of the key men to do it for them.

Now returning to full-back, he will be looking to carry the form he showed in the Heineken Cup on to the international stage. Keeping the likes of Geordan Murphy and Girvan Dempsey out of the Ireland team is no mean feat and he will be looking to bring all the qualities he has to the Championship starting at Croke Park this weekend against France.

Not only does Kearney offer a great counter-attacking threat from the back, he is one of the safest full-backs under the high ball and has a superb left boot.

His partnership with his club colleague Luke Fitzgerald and Tommy Bowe from Ospreys is an exciting prospect.



MAXIME MEDARD

FRANCE

Position Wing/Full-back

Age 22

Caps 3

Having burst onto the international scene in the autumn, Maxime Médard (below) is the French player to watch in this Six Nations. He is one of the hottest prospects in French rugby and was named Top 14 Player of the Year in the 2007-2008 season, having scored 14 tries in 24 matches.

Médard is the latest back to come from a long line of talent at Toulouse, a club which has already produced French internationals Vincent Clerc, Cédric Haymans and Yannick Jauzion. It is a huge achievement that he has jumped ahead in the queue of these experienced wingers for this weekend's game in Dublin. Although the majority of his games for Toulouse have been at full-back of late, he is equally at home on the wing and he possesses all the qualities needed of a top class outside back.

His pace, vision, great hands, quick feet, and solid kicking from hand makes the utility back a threat to any side.

The combination of the French back three including Clément Poitrenaud and Julien Malzieu makes for one of the most exciting, and potentially destructive, back lines in the tournament.

MAURO BERGAMASCO

ITALY

Position Scrum-half/Openside flanker

Age 31

Caps 69

After having received 69 caps for the Azzurri, Mauro Bergamasco is getting his first cap at scrum-half at Twickenham on Saturday. Although he has been on the international scene for some time, I am looking forward to seeing what the Italian flanker can do in one of the most demanding positions.

There is no doubt that Bergamasco is a talented and fearless player who has bravely accepted a difficult transition in position.

Having referred himself as a "cane sciolto" –a mad, marauding dog, Bergamasco is an extremely physical player who does not like anyone getting in his way, as I experienced in the 2005 Six Nations when he gave me one of the worst dead legs I've ever had.

Fortunately for Bergamasco, Nick Mallett has taken full responsibility for the dramatic move in position. This should relieve Bergamasco of some pressure, allowing him to utilise one of his main strengths of sniping around the breakdown and testing the England defence to create space for his outside backs.

The key to his success this Six Nations will be the consistency of his decision-making with regards to his game awareness in such a pivotal position.

Should any player relish such a challenge it could only be him.



STEFFON ARMITAGE

ENGLAND

Position Openside flanker;

Age 23

Caps 0

Having initially been left out the squad for this year's Six Nations, Steffon Armitage will feel that he has a point to prove.

The London Irish flanker was overlooked despite some excellent performances at club level at the expense of the more experienced Lewis Moody and Tom Rees.

Steffon will be joining his brother, Delon, in the starting line up against the Azzurri making them the first set of brothers to play together for England since the Underwoods.

Steffon is only 5ft 10in and has a similar stature to that of Neil Back in his playing days. Having watched Steffon's recent performances it is clear to see that he brings something different to the game.

He is not just very powerful and strong over the ball but like the best open side flankers he is dynamic and knows where the try line is. I am sure that the explosive back rower is set to make a big impression and should retain the starting jersey even on the return of the injured players.

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