And so it begins again.
Three months on from England’s final defeat by South Africa in Yokohama, rugby’s World Cup cycle starts another spin.
Back in 2016, with England recovering from a far less impressive World Cup campaign, Maro Itoje came into the Six Nations as a 21-year-old uncapped wannabe.
Huw Jones, then 22, was still playing rugby in South Africa, off Scotland’s radar.
Ross Moriarty, 21, was included in coach Warren Gatland’s Wales squad with just one Test start on his CV.
With new coaches in position and new goals on the horizon, who are are the bright young things in the class of 2020 looking to seize their chance and take this year’s tournament by the scruff of the neck.
Louis Rees-Zammit – Wales
Rees lightning. King Louis. As good as Zammit. It is fortunate that his name lends itself to headlines because Gloucester’s try-scoring sensation looks set to be a star for years to come.
Back in April, the 18-year-old was producing coast-to-coast wonder scores for his club’s second-string, but nobody expected him to make the step up so soon or so assuredly.
However, five tries in December earned him the Premiership player of the month award and a swiftly put together senior deal from the Cherry and Whites.
“My dream is to represent Wales at an international level,” admitted the Penarth-born teenager as he put pen to paper.
Wayne Pivac was clearly listening, calling him up to Wales’ Six Nations squad two days later.
Standing six foot three inches tall, he combines dragster acceleration with intelligent running lines to poke holes in defences. He doesn’t mind the donkey work either, showing appetite for defence and breakdown shifts.
Former England wing and Rugby Union Weekly co-host Ugo Monye: “Everything that he does is class. At 18, it is really obvious to focus on the physical attributes and he has real stand-out pace.
“But he also seems to have a really good rugby brain, the way that he gets involved in the game is impressive. He comes off his wing, looks really hungry, makes good reads and looks good in the air.”
Ben Earl – England
Position: Back row
A couple of weeks out from the Six Nations, the England back row looked locked down; the ‘Kamikaze Kid’ axis of Sam Underhill and Tom Curry on either flank with Billy Vunipola, perhaps short of his best form but a key man for Eddie Jones, at eight.
That changed when Vunipola suffered another broken arm playing for Saracens.
Without a stand-out specialist number eight replacement in Eddie Jones’ squad, it could be Earl who steps into the breach.
A former England under-20 captain, he lacks the sheer ball-carrying heft of Vunipola but has a prodigious defensive work-rate, breakdown street smarts and the athleticism and nous to make metres out wide.
He completed a literature degree last summer comparing epic poetry from Ancient Greece and the modern Caribbean.
Saracens head coach Mark McCall: “He’s always going to have moments where he takes your breath away. He’s so explosive and athletically-blessed, he is always going to do things that are eye-catching and will wow the crowd.”
Louis Carbonel – France
Nowhere was coach Fabian Galthie’s determination to blood his young stars more obvious than in the number 10 position.
Listed as his three possible fly-halves for the Six Nations were Romain Ntamack (age 20, 12 caps), Matthieu Jalibert (age 21, one cap) and Louis Carbonel (age 20, zero caps).
While he is awaiting his first taste of international action, Carbonel has packed a lot into his career already.
Trusted with the keys to Toulon’s high-end machine, he has guided the star-studded squad to third in the French Top 14.
At age-grade level, he has won back-to-back World Under-20 Championships with France, preferred at fly-half to Ntamack when he lifted his first in 2018.
He is shrewd kicking out of hand, relentlessly accurate off the tee and a deceptively dangerous runner, packing pace and power into his nuggetty frame.
French sports paper Midi Olympique: “A reliable points scorer, strong defender and perfect game manager, the Toulon man has all the hallmarks of a great future, following in the footsteps of his father, Alain, double French champion with Toulon in 1987 and 1992.”
Matteo Minozzi – Italy
Minozzi has already had one stand-out Six Nations.
Back in 2018, the-then 21-year-old scored tries against Ireland, France, Wales and Scotland to earn a place in the team of the tournament and on the shortlist for the player of the tournament.
Now, he needs another. He spent a year on the sidelines after injuring the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee in August 2018.
For a player with an ankle-icer of a side-step and blurring fast-twitch top speed, it could have been a set-back that his career never fully recovered from.
Fortunately it seems he is firing on all cylinders. He has scored five tries in six matches since making his comeback for Italy and has been slicing and dicing defences for new club Wasps.
Wasps director of rugby and former Wales prop Dai Young: “He has got some great attacking flair, fantastic footwork, plenty of pace, a good kicking game, the versatility to play wing or full-back. Being so young he is only going to get better.
Adam Hastings – Scotland
With Finn Russell ruled out of Scotland’s Six Nations opener against Ireland after a breach of team discipline, Hastings is likely to be the man to step in at 10.
It is a job he has already done at club level.
Since Russell headed to France, Hastings has put together a string of fine performances for Warriors, combining his instinctive play-making and free running with measured game management and precise place-kicking.
Hastings, the son of legendary Scotland full-back Gavin, has made just seven international starts, the latest of which featured a 26-point haul in the Rugby World Cup win over Russia.
His passing arm was strengthened by a schoolboy athletics career in which he represented Scottish Schools in the javelin.
Scotland coach Gregor Townsend: “Adam has been outstanding over the last few weeks.
“I thought his game against Exeter was up there with the best performances I have seen from a stand-off over the last year or two. He will be more than ready to start for Scotland.”
Caelan Doris – Ireland
Position: Back row
With Leinster team-mate Jack Conan out with a fractured foot and critics questioning CJ Stander’s dynamism, Caelan Doris’ time has come.
The sound and fury of the Aviva Stadium for Ireland’s opener against Scotland on Saturday is a long way from the tiny coastal village of Lacken, population about 500, where Doris grew up.
The number eight recalls being in a class of just two at the local school.
Doris moved on to Blackrock College – the alma mater of Brian O’Driscoll and others – and his career hit hyperdrive, representing Irish Schools and captaining Ireland Under-20s.
A footballing number eight with deft hands and a strong shoulder in defence, he has three tries in 10 starts for Leinster this season.
There is another weapon in his arsenal as well. His father Chris is a conceptual artist and psychotherapist who has passed down a mindfulness habit to his son to help him control and understand his emotions.
Ireland coach Andy Farrell: “The key point for any young player at international level is ‘can they be themselves?’ Can they take the field and play their game and not just hope it goes OK? Caelan is not fazed by anything. He doesn’t accept coming second best.”
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