By Alan Dymock
COMING OUT from the festive fog, carried on the breath of several days of heartily enjoyed time off work chimes that familiar phrase, ‘Happy New Year’.
And happy it may be. Yes, you may be back at work quicker than an Alka-Seltzer shot, and yes, you may be aching from all the shop-smashing, bargain-hunting and carol-murdering of the festive period, but it’s time for a fresh start.
Of course rugby is an essential part of your recovery plan, so what’s occurring in 2013? Well the Heineken Cup rumbles on and the pearl in the Northern Hemisphere calendar, the Six Nations, is a matter of weeks away, so let’s keep your rugby desires sated by picking four players from the home nations who could set your 2013 alight faster than a pyromaniac’s Christmas pud.
England – Billy Vunipola
This London Wasp has already done damage to the Aviva Premiership defences, unseated more celebrated names and put in the necessary grunt when needed.
In his ten starts this season he has carried as effectively as a plague-time rat and shown the impudence of youth is more than just a cliché when it is backed by a near 20st frame and deceptive speed. Although overshadowed by teammate Joe Launchbury recently, Vunipola is a young No 8 who could yet fill in an unsettled berth for England, sooner than later.
He has been linked with a move from Wasps to his brother, Mako’s Saracens side recently, but it maybe more sensible to believe rumours that the 20 year-old is pencilled into Stuart Lancaster’s plans.
Ireland – Iain Henderson
The red hand of Ulster is more like a kite mark or quality stamp, these days, with the emblem embossed on the chests of a large amount of quality rugby players. Young flanker cum lock, Iain Henderson, is no exception.
Deceptively robust and fleet of foot, this 6ft 5in Ulsterman can play on either flank or in the second row, and he already has two full international caps to his name.
He has come to the fore since in Stephen Ferris’ injury enforced absence, and his prodigious workrate and tenacious style perfectly compliments an Ulster side that enjoys rolling forward at a rate of knots. As this team push on for honours, Henderson could be an integral part of the sweeping, exhaustive moves up the park and it would surprise no one if Declan Kidney promoted the young Ulsterman to a starting berth in the Six Nations.
Scotland – Sean Maitland
Another in a long line of Kilted Kiwis – his grandparents hail from Glasgow – the 24-year-old former Canterbury Crusader has wasted no time making an impact in Scotland, with the Glasgow Warriors.
It has already been noted that the winger has obliterated any standing track record at the Warrior’s speed and fitness testing. Then, in the second 1872 match, he palmed his way past current Scotland and Edinburgh centre Matt Scott to register his first ever RaboDirect Pro12 try. At Murrayfield, no less.
‘Interim’ Scotland head coach Scott Johnson will very likely take an opportunity to field the exciting wing pair of Tim Visser and Maitland during the Six Nations.
Wales – Rhys Patchell
The teenage fly-half is already being touted as a full international. It has been whispered that he is the next 50-odd cap playmaker. Hell, even the esteemed Gareth Edwards has labelled the Cardiff Blue as one for the future.
The facts are irrefutable, he scored all of Cardiff’s points against Montpellier in the team’s 35-24 loss in the Heineken Cup and lived up to the hype in his last outing against the Dragons by slotting four penalties to register a 12-10 victory. More importantly, his game-management has shown a maturity which belies the rangy 19 year-0ld’s tender years.
The mood in Wales is darker than the bowl at the end of a Guinness bender, right now, but Patchell provides a ray of sunshine over the Severn Bridge.