Whether it be because of competition for places, injuries, or other factors, there are many players who have to prove they belong on the international stage. Sam Tremlett takes a look at some players who have points to prove this Six Nations.
Players with a point to prove in the 2018 Six Nations
Like Chris Robshaw before him, there seems to be constant scrutiny of the captaincy of Hartley. At the moment, this is largely because many believe Jamie George should be England’s first-choice No 2. Seen as less dynamic than the Saracens hooker, Hartley still has the total support of head coach Eddie Jones, while some say that his set-piece nous and consistent throwing is a key factor in him remaining at the helm, rather than his running game or his work around the breakdown. It should also be pointed out, though, that George has a throwing accuracy in the mid-90s, to add to his all-round play.
Hartley has to prove to his doubters that there is more than one aspect to his game and that he can add some dynamism to proceedings. He also needs to repay the faith Jones has placed in him. Another aspect of this is that Hartley, although he has not received a card with England since 2014, still has to win over some fans who do not feel he should be a figurehead for the English national team.
Irish full-back Rob Kearney has huge experience, collecting over 75 caps and playing in two Lions Tours. He is also one of the best in the world at collecting the high ball. However, his starting spot has been under threat from explosive Leinster youngster Jordan Larmour, who has been lighting up the Pro14. At 31 his peak may well be behind him, but Kearney is competitive enough that we can assume he is going to use the 2018 Six Nations to prove he is still top dog in the Ireland 15 shirt.
Another fullback with a point to prove in 2018 is Leigh Halfpenny. Of late, Liam Williams has been competing for the starting spot primarily because he is so dangerous back there, as shown by his Lions displays against New Zealand. But with Williams out for the foreseeable future with an abdominal injury, Halfpenny has possession of the 15 shirt. Welsh legend JJ Williams recently claimed Halfpenny had lost his spark and says he needs to offer more of an attacking threat with ball in hand rather than simply kick downfield at every opportunity. With Wales attempting to inbed a new attacking style this might be difficult, but proving there is more to his game than kicking will be vital for Halfpenny in 2018, and with more inexperienced players in the Welsh backline, he must also prove he can be a leader too.
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The broken fibula Laidlaw picked up playing for ASM Clermont Auvergne came at the worst time for the Scot. As a result of the three month lay-off, he has lost the captaincy to John Barclay, and there have been questions as to whether he fits into the way Scotland now play. Claims he is too slow at the breakdown and doesn’t pass quickly enough have been thrown his way. In 2018, Laidlaw has to prove these criticisms are unwarranted and that he is more than capable of leapfrogging Ali Price, who starts against Wales. Additionally, for the first time in a long time, Scotland are being tipped to contend for the title, so Laidlaw must inspire that young and talented backline when he gets into the fray.
Including Jalibert on this list seems unfair considering how young he is and how far into the deep end he is being thrown for France. But considering how Jacques Brunel has selected him over vastly more experienced players, he has to prove that his selection was warranted, and that he is capable of making the step up to international level. Transferring his sublime play for Bordeaux up another level will not be easy but it looks like coach Brunel will give him ample opportunity in these Six Nations.
Italian fly-half Carlo Canna is our final player with a point to prove in 2018. Italian domestic rugby has been improving thanks to markedly better performances by Benetton Treviso and Zebre so far this season. And this slightly raises expectations at the international level, expectations which are being thrust upon players like Canna. He has to prove that the upward trend in Italian club rugby can power the Test side on, whilst also confirming that he is the national side’s long-term playmaker.
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