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Six Nations: Zach Mercer, Rhys Patchell & Jacob Stockdale among six to watch

Ugo Monye on Matthieu Jalibert graphic

Which players can we expect to break through in this year’s Six Nations?

The Rugby Union Weekly podcast team of former England winger Ugo Monye and BBC commentator Chris Jones has picked six men to keep a close eye on.

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England – Zach Mercer

Zach Mercer attacks for Bath<!–

He captained England Under-20s at the World Rugby Championship last summer and was comfortably one of the best players at that tournament.

Still 20, the Bath number eight is no longer an “apprentice” with England and is a fully fledged part of the Six Nations squad, although sadly he’ll miss the first weekend because he is ill.

He’s different to England’s other number eights Billy Vunipola and Nathan Hughes, who are both injured. He doesn’t have their power, but he excels in the wider channels, and if England are to play at a high tempo, he can really come into his own.

This could be a really big year for him. He’s not quite an 80-minute player for me at the moment, but off the bench the impact he could make could be huge. UM

Wales – Rhys Patchell

Rhys Patchell in action for Wales<!–

There is a lot of growth in Patchell. The 24-year-old Scarlets fly-half has excelled at Champions Cup level but although he has five caps he has never played in the Six Nations or started a Test match at 10.

However, I just feel he’s one of those players who – when he takes the next step up – could become bigger and better.

I think there is more potential for Wales with him at fly-half, compared to Gareth Anscombe or Owen Williams.

You couldn’t blame Wales boss Warren Gatland if he’d been conservative against Scotland given the key men he’s got missing, and I feel that given the right backing at 10 we could see something special from Patchell this Championship, and it will be fascinating to see how he goes this weekend. CJ

Scotland – Stuart McInally

Stuart McInally on the charge for Edinburgh<!–

I’m going to go for Edinburgh hooker Stuart McInally.

He’s been around the block for a while at the age of 27, but has had to bide his time behind Ross Ford, and Saturday will be new ground for him because he has never started a Six Nations game before.

A converted back rower, he impressed in the autumn, and with the injuries in the Scotland front row, he becomes a key figure for Gregor Townsend’s side. UM

Ireland – Jacob Stockdale

Jacob Stockdale scores for Ulster<!–

I’m not sure Leinster’s Jordan Larmour, 20, will definitely get a start in this Six Nations, but Stockdale will and is in the team to face France on Saturday.

The 21-year-old is big, a good finisher with a high work-rate, loves coming off his wing, and is the kind of player to take Ireland to the next level.

The Ulster player been around the international scene for the best part of a year and has four caps, but has never played in the Six Nations. There is something about him that suggests he will have an impact in this year’s tournament. CJ

France – Matthieu Jalibert

France fly-half Matthieu Jalibert looks on<!–

He’s only 19, but he’s got that instinct for rugby. A wonderful talent, the only question is, is he ready? Well we’ll find out over the next few weeks because he’s been handed his debut against Ireland on Saturday.

I’m excited about seeing this guy and I love that he has been give the chance to impress.

The Bordeaux-Begles fly-half has game-management skills, as well as the ability to beat players with dazzling footwork. He’s the kind of player to get us excited about French rugby again. UM

Italy – Carlo Canna

Carlo Canna in action for Italy<!–

There are a handful of young and extremely talented players in the Italy squad, for example the Zebre trio of flanker Giovanni Licata, back rower Renato Giammarioli, and full-back Matteo Minozzi – who are all highly rated.

But considering Italy’s long-standing problems at number 10, this is a big tournament for Carlo Canna.

Italy need solidity and consistency at fly-half, and at the age of 25 with 25 caps, Canna needs to deliver that if selected ahead of Tommaso Allan and Ian McKinley. CJ

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