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Six players to watch in the Six Nations

LONDON, United Kingdom, Feb 4 The 2022 Six Nations Championship gets underway this weekend with Ireland at home to Wales, Scotland taking on arch-rivals England and favourites France facing Italy in Paris.

Below AFP Sport looks at six players hoping to make a mark this season:

FREDDIE STEWARD (England)

At 6ft 5 ins (1.96 metres) tall, the five-times capped Leicester full-back appears ideally equipped for the role of a Test No 15 given he is generally sound under the high ball, has a solid defence and can attack with ball in hand.

His pace and power were on show during try-scoring displays in England’s successive wins over Australia and world champions South Africa at Twickenham in November.

But in an England side beset by injuries, he faces a stern test of his all-round game against Scotland, his Six Nations debut and first away international.

DAMIAN PENAUD (France)

Family fortunes – France wing Damian Penaud © AFP / FRANCK FIFE

When the 25-year-old wing, who can also feature at centre, was coming through academies at Brive and Clermont, big things were expected from him, mainly due to his father Alain, who won a Grand Slam with Les Bleus and was a European Cup champion with Toulouse at fly-half.

Despite the famous surname, Damian has forged his own path scoring 12 tries in 28 games since making his Test debut in 2017, weeks after winning the Top 14 title with Clermont.

He is now a mainstay in Fabien Galthie’s starting lineup and heads into this season’s Six Nations with seven tries in 13 club appearances despite his domestic side’s inconsistent form this term.

ADAM BEARD (Wales)

Get tuck in – Wales lock Adam Beard (C, scrum cap) © AFP / Geoff Caddick

With former Ospreys team-mate Dan Biggar standing in for injured regular skipper Alun Wyn Jones, 26-year-old Beard will be his country’s vice-captain for the coming campaign. The lock was a wildcard inclusion during last year’s British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa before coming off the bench in the third Test.

A threat at the line-out and the maul, the 29-times capped second row is a leader among a Wales squad shorn of more than 600 caps this Six Nations due to injuries.

MACK HANSEN (Ireland)

Australia-born Mack Hansen (L) will make his Test debut for Ireland on Saturday in the Six Nations opener with titleholders Wales just months after joining Irish province Connacht © AFP / DAVID GRAY

The 23-year-old Australia-born Connacht wing has been selected for a full international debut after being named in the starting XV to play Wales in Dublin on Saturday just six months after arriving in the country of his mother’s birth.

Injuries to Jacob Stockdale and James Lowe have paved the way for that first cap, but former Wallaby Under-20 and Brumbies flyer Hansen is also the leading try-scorer in this season’s United Rugby Championship (URC), with six in seven matches.

CAMERON REDPATH (Scotland)

Assured debut – Scotland centre Cameron Redpath starred in an 11-6 defeat of England © POOL/AFP / Adam Davy

Although Redpath may have to bide his time this Six Nations following neck and shoulder injuries, such is Scotland coach Gregor Townsend’s faith in the Bath centre that he still included him in his tournament squad.

The 22-year-old son of former Scotland scrum-half Bryan Redpath starred on his Test debut as the Dark Blues enjoyed their first win at Twickenham in 38 years during last season’s Six Nations.

Given he was born in France, where his father played for Narbonne, and raised in England, where he won an Under-20 cap for the Red Rose, Redpath was eligible for several countries before committing his future to Scotland.

PAOLO GARBISI (Italy)

Rising star – Italy fly-half Paolo Garbisi (L) in action for French club Montpellier © AFP / XAVIER LEOTY

Amid a stretch of 32 successive Six Nations defeats, a run dating back to 2015, it is hard to see many positives for Italy ahead of what promises to be another gruelling Six Nations.

Paolo Garbisi, however, could provide a ray of hope if he maintains the form that has seen him supplant World Cup winner Handre Pollard as fly-half at French club Montpellier.

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