It’s set to be an action-packed year of international rugby in 2023, kicking off with the Six Nations and culminating in the Rugby World Cup in France.
As a result, several players will be out to impress over the next month or so as France look to retain the title they won so impressively last year.
Several gems were unearthed across the world’s top sides in 2022, and the upcoming calendar is set to be no different, with competitions the world over acting as preparation for the end-of-year showpiece event in France.
The Sporting News looks at one player from each Six Nations side who could make a big impact over the coming weeks.
MORE: Most wins, Grand Slams and best players — a history of the Six Nations
England — Ollie Hassell-Collins
When it comes to well-renowned English rugby union sides, London Irish is often not the first name on people’s lips. They’re far less successful than their capital counterparts Saracens or Harlequins, but the nursery of talent that the club has produced over the years is a fruitful one, including Jonathan Joseph and his younger brother Will, Joe Cokanasiga, and recently Henry Arundell. Imposing winger Ollie Hassell-Collins is the latest cab off the rank for the Exiles, and he’s set to make an eagerly anticipated England debut against Scotland in their opening match.
Anthony Watson comes from the far side of the moon but even he can’t reel in 6’4 and 100kg of Ollie Hassell-Collins on the hoof 🔥#LEIvLIR | #gallagherprem pic.twitter.com/VeUedJJJ7X
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 27, 2022
The 24-year-old has eight tries in the Premiership with eight tries this season, behind only Max Malins and Mateo Carreras, and new England coach Steve Borthwick appears ready to let ‘OHC’ loose against the Scots. Borthwick has picked five uncapped players in his inaugural England squad, four of whom are 24 or younger, showing the former Leicester Tigers boss’ willingness to trust in youth. Should Hassell-Collins have some open pasture to run into at Twickenham, he has all the technique, power and flair to show that Borthwick’s faith is justified.
France — Antoine Hastoy
As France gear up to host the World Cup later this year, they’re sure to be rather reliant on their Six Nations title-winning halves combination of Toulouse stars Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack. The pair almost always wear the nine and 10 jerseys for club and country respectively, and it’s a partnership that will be tough to break up. However, La Rochelle pivot Antoine Hastoy is certainly someone who could make a splash in this year’s championship.
Très belle première partie de match pour le Stade Rochelais avec un deuxième essai marqué par Antoine Hastoy! #ChampionsCup pic.twitter.com/T5HNxZgzi7
— Champions Cup France (@ChampionsCup_FR) December 17, 2022
Since joining the reigning European Champions Cup holders in the summer of 2022, 25-year-old Hastoy has excelled in La Rochelle’s dynamic style of play, and also featured in the Barbarians side during the autumn internationals. The Dupont-Ntamack dynamic is unlikely to be broken up before the World Cup, but the twice-capped playmaker could certainly stake a claim as the next best option for Les Bleus.
Ireland — Jack Crowley
As they have so often down the years, Ireland’s hopes of Six Nations and World Cup glory this year will sit on the shoulders of their captain and star player Johnny Sexton, to some degree at least. Despite his brilliance — and there is no suggestion that the Leinster player has lost any of that — Sexton will turn 38 in July, and a potential successor, or present alternative, is yet to be properly unearthed. Step forward, Munster fly-half Jack Crowley.
Thrust into the starting XV against Australia last November following a pre-match injury to Sexton, Crowley’s smart kicking and constant communication helped Ireland to edge a 13-10 victory over the Wallabies, in a game as combative as the conditions were difficult. It was just a second cap for the 23-year-old, and should Sexton’s grip on the Ireland 10 jersey loosen prior to the World Cup, Crowley’s performances for both club and country so far have shown that he is more than ready to step into the breach.
Jack Crowley is wearing Johnny Sexton’s actual No.10 jersey tonight
That’s how late and unexpected the change was pic.twitter.com/aHcD3LMq5z
— Pat McCarry (@patmccarry) November 19, 2022
Italy — Ange Capuozzo
A player who needs no introduction after an electrifying introduction to international rugby in 2022, Italy full-back Ange Capuozzo began his Azzurri career in stunning fashion, and capped off his year with the World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year award. The diminutive Grenoble-born flyer transformed Italy’s backline, and the entire dynamic of their attacking structure, in just seven barnstorming performances. Scoring twice on debut against Scotland in a 33-22 Six Nations loss, Capuozzo’s star was born on the final day of the 2022 championship, beating defenders at will to set up Edoardo Padovani’s winner against Wales, sealing Italy’s first victory in the tournament since 2015.
WAL 21-22 ITA (R5): Super Saturday kicked off with a result that caused shockwaves. While Wales scored three tries, Italy needed only one, with Paolo Garbisi and Edoardo Padovani’s kicking on song. A seven-year losing run in the Championship ended in the most memorable fashion. pic.twitter.com/fVxyuXUTs5
— Guinness Six Nations (@SixNationsRugby) January 27, 2023
The autumn tests against Southern Hemisphere opposition saw no let-up from Capuozzo, who again played a massive part in yet another history-making victory. A try either side of half-time put Italy in control against Australia, as they eventually held on to defeat the Wallabies for the first time. Another try followed in a loss to South Africa the following week, and going into 2023, Capuozzo is the name on everyone’s lips as Italy enter the Six Nations with renewed confidence. They’ll still be tipped to prop up the table, but with Capuozzo on song, the Azzurri might just spring a surprise or two.
MORE: How France won the Grand Slam in the 2022 Six Nations
Scotland — Ruaridh McConnochie
The most intriguing selection in Gregor Townsend’s Six Nations squad is a player with arguably a more Scottish-sounding name than anyone else in the side, and yet London-born Ruaridh McConnochie already has two international caps — for England. Picked in the 2019 Rugby World Cup finalists’ squad, the Bath winger has been absent from the international scene since, with the new three-year stand-down period allowing him to switch his eligibility to that of Scotland.
Formerly a Sevens specialist, McConnochie’s Premiership form with Bath more than warrants a return to the international set-up, and given Scotland’s first game is against the auld enemy at Twickenham, the potential impact the dual international could have makes the clash between rugby’s two oldest rivals even more of a must-watch.
🏴 Scotland’s new wing Ruaridh McConnochie given the Wikipedia treatment. 😂 pic.twitter.com/a6olx9WejX
— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) January 18, 2023
Wales — Joe Hawkins
The youngest player on this list at just 20, Ospreys centre Joe Hawkins will be looking to add to his sole Wales cap under the stewardship of Warren Gatland, who has returned to the head coaching role in Cardiff. Having slotted seamlessly into the 12 jersey for Wales’ agonising 39-34 defeat to Australia in November, Hawkins’ performance was one more akin to a 50-cap regular rather than a centre on his debut.
2022 ⏩ 2023
Joe Hawkins yw’r diweddaraf i neidio o’r tîm Dan 20 i’r dynion ar gyfer y Chwe Gwlad! 👏
Joe Hawkins is the latest to make the jump from the 20s to the #GuinnessSixNations 🔥pic.twitter.com/ONfiBwyV91
— S4C Chwaraeon 🏴 (@S4Cchwaraeon) January 31, 2023
His form in the interval, in both Europe and the United Rugby Championship, have suggested that Hawkins is more than ready to become a regular starter in Gatland’s new-look side. Although the Kiwi coach is one who tends to favour the experience of his past title winners, if there’s one raw talent who could burst into the spotlight during this tournament, Hawkins is certainly a leading contender.