The Six Nations is just weeks away, and the build-up has well and truly begun with teams naming their squads.
Scotland, Wales, France and Ireland all announced their teams in the past two days, with the more notable absences of Ryan Wilson from Scotland and Mathieu Bastareaud from France, and Rory Best replacing the retired Paul O’Connell as captain of favourites Ireland, grabbing the headlines.
Wilson made his own headlines last weekend after being cited for grabbing the testicles of an opponent while playing for his club Glasgow Warriors against Northampton Saints. Scotland coach, Vern Cotter, played down his absence this morning, insisting to the media that the decision on Wilson was made before events last weekend.
“We made a decision with Ryan before he was cited,” Cotter said. “We’re happy with the way he has been improving but we feel that the (other) players are playing better than he is at the moment.”
Cotter added that he has left the door open for Wilson to prove his worth to the Scotland team going forward, saying: “I had a good talk with him last week. He is focusing on his game and he could come into contention as the competition goes on.”
Over in France, supporters were left reeling after a disastrous World Cup in England late last year, with new coach Guy Noves looking to the future to see if he has any replacements for Bastareaud. The Toulon centre has been out of sorts form wise this season but Noves contends it’s simply a case of building for the future, stating: “We want to build a team who will be able to improve a lot and not take players who would not be with us in two or three years.”
In Ireland, Rory Best has been handed the captaincy by Joe Schmidt after the loss of Paul O’Connell after the World Cup in 2015. Ireland have seen injuries shrink their options while new prospects like CJ Stander and Josh van der Flier come on the scene.
Head Coach Joe Schmidt commented on the new additions to his squad earlier this week and admitted that he had been considering adding some new names.
“There are a few new faces but at the same time we have resisted the temptation to include some of the very promising youngsters, allowing them a bit more time to develop as well as the opportunity of further game time with their provinces.”
England head coach Eddie Jones named his squad last week, while Italy are expected to name their team later this week.
The Six Nations Championships kicks off Saturday February 6th
Six Nations squads
Forwards: Rob Evans (Scarlets), Paul James (Ospreys), Gethin Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), Tomas Francis (Exeter Chiefs), Aaron Jarvis (Ospreys), Samson Lee (Scarlets), Scott Baldwin (Ospreys), Kristian Dacey (Cardiff Blues), Ken Owens (Scarlets), Jake Ball (Scarlets), Luke Charteris (Racing 92), Bradley Davies (Wasps), Dominic Day (Bath Rugby), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys), Josh Turnbull (Cardiff Blues), Taulupe Faletau (Newport Gwent Dragons), James King (Ospreys), Dan Lydiate (Ospreys), Ross Moriarty (Gloucester Rugby), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys), Sam Warburton (Cardiff Blues, captain).
Backs: Aled Davies (Scarlets), Gareth Davies (Scarlets), Lloyd Williams (Cardiff Blues) Dan Biggar (Ospreys), Rhys Priestland (Bath Rugby), Cory Allen (Cardiff Blues), Jonathan Davies (Clermont Auvergne), Tyler Morgan (Newport Gwent Dragons), Jamie Roberts (Harlequins), Hallam Amos (Newport Gwent Dragons), Alex Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues), Tom James (Cardiff Blues), George North (Northampton Saints), Gareth Anscombe (Cardiff Blues), Matthew Morgan (Bristol Rugby), Liam Williams (Scarlets).
Forwards: Adam Ashe (Glasgow Warriors), John Barclay (Scarlets), Blair Cowan (London Irish), David Denton (Bath), Alasdair Dickinson (Edinburgh), Zander Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors), Ross Ford (Edinburgh), Chris Fusaro (Glasgow Warriors), Jonny Gray (Glasgow Warriors), Richie Gray (Castres), John Hardie (Edinburgh), Moray Low (Exeter Chiefs), Pat MacArthur (Glasgow Warriors), Stuart McInally (Edinburgh Rugby), Willem Nel (Edinburgh), Gordon Reid (Glasgow Warriors), Josh Strauss (Glasgow Warriors), Rory Sutherland (Edinburgh), Tim Swinson (Glasgow Warriors), Ben Toolis (Edinburgh).
Backs: Mark Bennett (Glasgow Warriors), Alex Dunbar (Glasgow Warriors), Peter Horne (Glasgow Warriors), Sam Hidalgo-Clyne (Edinburgh), Stuart Hogg (Glasgow Warriors), Ruaridh Jackson (Wasps), Greig Laidlaw (Gloucester), Sean Lamont (Glasgow Warriors), Sean Maitland (London Irish), Finn Russell (Glasgow Warriors), Matt Scott (Edinburgh), Tommy Seymour (Glasgow Warriors), Duncan Taylor (Saracens) Duncan Weir (Glasgow Warriors), Tim Visser (Harlequins).
Forwards: Uini Atonio, Eddy Ben Arous, Antoine Burban, Yacouba Camara, Camille Chat, Damien Chouly, Alessandre Flanquart, Kevin Gourdon, Guilhem Guirado (captain), Paul Jedrasiak, Wenceslas Lauret, Yoann Maestri, Louis Picamoles, Jefferson Poirot, Rabah Slimani, Sebastien Vahaamahina.
Backs: Sebastien Bezy, Hugo Bonneval, Jonathan Danty, Jean-Marc Doussain, Alexandre Dumoulin, Benjamin Fall, Gael Fickou, Wesley Fofana, Remi Lamerat, Maxime Machenaud, Maxime Medard, Morgan Parra, Jules Plisson, Scott Spedding, Virimi Vakatawa.
Forwards: Dan Cole (Leicester), Paul Hill (Northampton), Matt Mullan (Wasps), Joe Marler (Harlequins), Henry Thomas (Bath), Mako Vunipola (Saracens), Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter), Jamie George (Saracens), Dylan Hartley, Maro Itoje (Saracens), George Kruis (Saracens), Joe Launchbury (Wasps), Courtney Lawes (Northampton), Josh Beaumont (Sale), Jack Clifford (Harlequins), James Haskell (Wasps), Chris Robshaw (Harlequins), Matt Kvesic (Gloucester), Billy Vunipola (Saracens)
Backs: Mike Brown (Harlequins), Alex Goode (Saracens), Chris Ashton (Saracens), Jack Nowell (Exeter), Anthony Watson (Bath), Marland Yarde (Harlequins), Elliot Daly (Wasps), Ollie Devoto (Bath), Jonathan Joseph (Bath), Sam Hill (Exeter) Owen Farrell (Saracens), George Ford (Bath), Danny Care (Harlequins), Ben Youngs (Leicester)
Forwards: Rory Best (Ulster) Captain, Sean Cronin (Leinster), James Cronin (Munster), Ultan Dillane (Connacht), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster), Jamie Heaslip (Leinster) Vice Captain, Rob Herring (Ulster), Mike McCarthy (Leinster), Jack McGrath (Leinster), Martin Moore (Leinster), Sean O’Brien (Leinster), Tommy O’Donnell (Munster) Rhys Ruddock (Leinster) Donnacha Ryan (Munster) CJ Stander (Munster), Richardt Strauss (Leinster), Devin Toner (Leinster), Josh van der Flier (Leinster), Nathan White (Connacht)
Backs: Keith Earls (Munster), Luke Fitzgerald (Leinster), Robbie Henshaw (Connacht), Paddy Jackson (Ulster), David Kearney (Leinster), Rob Kearney (Leinster), Ian Madigan (Leinster), Kieran Marmion (Connacht), Luke Marshall (Ulster), Stuart McCloskey (Ulster), Conor Murray (Munster), Jared Payne (Ulster), Eoin Reddan (Leinster), Jonathan Sexton (Leinster), Andrew Trimble (Ulster), Simon Zebo (Munster)
Loaded sports writer Pearse Corcoran has covered news, sport and entertainment for several national newspapers and radio stations in Ireland. Follow him on Twitter at @PearseCorcoran