Every season, there are breakthrough players, under-the-radar players and big-name players who, for whatever reason, need to remind everyone who they are. Here is our pick of the British and Irish players who could do with a standout season. Don’t forget, the Rugby World Cup is on the horizon.
The British and Irish players who need a standout season
Danny Cipriani (Gloucester)
The obvious player to start with. Cipriani did the basics well in the last match against South Africa and created the winning try for Jonny May. In doing so, he demonstrated the vision, belief and skill that his fans have always cited. So far, so good. That coveted England number ten shirt was within his grasp.
And now, just before the season begins, he finds himself at the centre of yet another media storm. Eddie Jones has ignored bad publicity in previous selection decisions but Cipriani will need to prove that his game won’t be affected. Otherwise, his chances of breaking up the Ford-Farrell partnership will disappear.
Dan Biggar (Northampton Saints)
Has had Warren Gatland’s backing for the Wales jersey since 2014 but the competition for the Welsh 10 jersey is now fierce. Moreover, Gatland has made clear that he wants his players based in Wales. Biggar has just moved to Northampton.
Biggar’s decision to run the risk is understandable, especially given the scrutiny he has come under while playing in his home country. But his contenders now include Rhys Patchell and Gareth Anscombe, as well as his former understudy, Sam Davies. Additionally, Jarrod Evans, at Cardiff Blues, won plenty of admirers last season. Rhys Priestland is another established, England-based alternative who could make the cut.
Can he play well enough to make his reduced availability irrelevant? And will the playing style at Saints help or hinder? The player, his club and his country could do with a standout season.
Joey Carbery (Munster)
He clearly has the talent but does he have the game management to play 10 in Joe Schmidt’s Ireland team? Last season he was stuck playing at full-back for Leinster while Ross Byrne started at 10 in Johnny Sexton’s absences. He hopes his move to Munster this summer will address that issue. But will it? Munster are well-stocked at 10, even if nobody has made the shirt their own since Ronan O’Gara retired.
Munster haven’t won a trophy since 2011 and they’ve had a fair bit of heartbreak lately. Captain Peter O’Mahony has publicly said he is sick of losing. Carbery will feel a lot of pressure from the Thomond Park faithful.
George North (Ospreys)
George North is only 26 years old. He has 70 international caps, three British & Irish Lions caps and 35 international tries. He once put Israel Folau in a fireman’s lift. It seems ridiculous to describe a player of that pedigree as needing a standout season.
— AFP news agency (@AFP) June 29, 2013
But the North we have seen for the past three seasons hasn’t been the player of those startling stats. Concussion and knee issues have hindered his progress and his former club, Saints, weren’t the force they would have wanted during his time there. And, steadily, rivals have emerged for his once nailed-on Wales jersey.
So North has returned to Wales on a National Dual Contract, which will hopefully allow him to recapture the storming form of 2013. He was just 21 then. A North in that kind of nick would be a welcome sight for the World Cup.
George Horne (Glasgow Warriors)
For so long in the possession of Greig Laidlaw, the Scottish no. 9 jersey is now up for grabs. Coach Gregor Townsend seems torn between the pace and flair of Ali Price and the cool head and experience of Laidlaw. Towards the end of last season, Horne started ahead of Price at Glasgow and was rewarded with two Scotland caps.
There is plenty of competition, however. Henry Pyrgos has moved to Edinburgh to boost his chances of international game-time, while Sam Hidalgo-Clyne has switched to Scarlets for the same reason. This is most exciting Scotland team in years but there is a feeling that a level-headed halfback who can play at pace is needed. Horne will hope he can fit the bill and this is his season to prove it.
Chris Ashton (Sale Sharks)
Hard to imagine a better season than last for the player who left England to remove himself from international contention. Ashton smashed the Top14 try-scoring record, and from the unfamiliar position of full-back. His form earned him a BaaBaas call-up where his teammates were clearly keen to show him off, enabling a first-half hat-trick against England. He couldn’t have made his point more clearly.
Now he is back in England, having struggled to fit in off the field quite so well in France. Like Cipriani, he has already blotted his copybook in pre-season. On the other hand, Eddie Jones loves “a bit of mongrel”. If Ashton can stay away the disciplinary panel, he will surely strut his stuff on the field – he always has. With Anthony Watson injured, the England call-up he so desperately wants is surely his to throw away. A standout season seems very likely.
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