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Summer Nations Series – Six players you need to know

Summer Nations Series – Six players you need to know

Summer Nations Series – Six players you need to know

A Gallagher Premiership winner, URC record-breaker and European hat-trick scorer are among the new names looking to make an impression in the Summer Nations Series.

With matches coming thick and fast over the next few weeks, there will be plenty of opportunities for some less familiar faces to make their mark.

But these five uncapped stars are by no means making up the numbers and will want to state their case for a World Cup spot as the Guinness Six Nations sides put the seal on their preparations.

Theo Dan – England

Pursued by Romania but firmly in Steve Borthwick’s plans, Theo Dan’s journey to England selection has been far from run of the mill.

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Both of Dan’s parents herald from Romania and the 22-year-old, who has long been coveted by the Oaks, still makes regular trips across the continent.

Brought up as a centre and winger, Dan flourished on loan at Bishop’s Stortford en route to earning an England Under-20s cap, working closely with former England, Bath and Northampton hooker Andy Long.

He began last season playing against club side Saracens for Ampthill but has since played No.2 (quite literally) to Jamie George.

After a series of decisive contributions for the north London club, including in their Gallagher Premiership final victory, he will look to push George hard for a starting spot in the absence of Luke Cowan-Dickie.

Tom Stewart – Ireland

Staying in the front row and while Ireland are well set in the hooker department, injury issues in recent World Cups have forced a mid-tournament rethink.

Jerry Flannery was sidelined shortly after the start of the 2011 event, while Sean Cronin was a late casualty four years ago.

Rob Herring was the beneficiary in Japan and he now faces fierce competition from fellow Ulsterman Tom Stewart for a spot on the plane this time.

Stewart was called up as cover to Andy Farrell’s Guinness Six Nations squad this year and later broke the URC record for tries in a season, crossing the whitewash on 16 occasions.

Louis Bielle-Biarrey – France

It feels as though Louis Bielle-Biarrey has been on the cusp of the France XV for a good while but it’s no surprise he has had to bide his time given the quality at Fabien Galthié’s disposal.

Wing Bielle-Biarrey, who cites Jonny Wilkinson as one of his rugby heroes, announced his arrival on the European stage with a hat-trick for Bordeaux-Begles against Scarlets on debut in January 2022.

Then just 18, he was noticeably smaller than his more senior counterparts but after a season in which he has made 22 appearances for the Top 14 club, he is edging ever closer to a first international start.

France have certainly been patient with Bielle-Biarrey, who has scored on six occasions during his 10 appearances for the Under-20s, and this summer could be the perfect time to take the handbrake off.

Paolo Odogwu – Italy

The oldest player in our list, 26-year-old Paolo Odogwu is the Coventry-born back hoping to make a splash for Italy this summer.

Odogwu appeared to be heading for an England cap during the 2021 Championship after selection in Eddie Jones’ training squad but he never made a matchday 23.

That was a result of a breath-taking start to the season for Wasps with six tries coming in eight matches.

Odogwu, who qualifies to play for the Azzurri through his father, has since joined Benetton via Stade Francais and the 5ft9, 15-and-a-half stone flyer will now finally be unleashed on the international stage.

Stafford McDowall – Scotland

Cameron Henderson was billed as Scotland’s upcoming star to watch heading into this year’s Championship but it’s Stafford McDowall who takes that honour this time round.

The Glasgow centre narrowly missed out on a place in Gregor Townsend’s squad for the 2019 Rugby World Cup and has remained patient since.

Few would deny that the 2022/23 season has been his best yet and he was handed the captain’s armband by Franco Smith on a few occasions.

Fellow Warriors Huw Jones and Sione Tuipulotu have formed a formidable partnership in the centres for club and country but McDowall has shown previously that he can stand in for either and may have the chance to do so at the highest level later this summer.

Taine Plumtree – Wales

It has been quite the few weeks for Welsh prodigy Taine Plumtree, who was swiftly named in Warren Gatland’s World Cup training squad shortly after signing for Scarlets.

The back row arrived from New Zealand, where he was playing Super Rugby for Auckland-based Blues and provincial rugby for Wellington.

At 6ft5, he offers Gatland size that is otherwise lacking in the back row and his arrival could not be more timely after Taulupe Faletau picked up a knock following long-term injuries to Ross Moriarty and Josh Macleod.

The Swansea-born star, who has played against Wales at Under-20s level, was something of a surprise inclusion for the trip to Switzerland but could make his Test debut when England visit Cardiff on 5th August.

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