Six New Stars to Watch in the 2024 Guinness Men’s Six Nations

Six New Stars to Watch in the 2024 Guinness Men’s Six Nations

Our friends who are expert Opta data editors pick out one unheralded player from each of the teams to keep an eye on as the 2024 Guinness Six Nations Championship kicks-off this weekend.

You heard it here first: these guys are the future and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Immanuel Feyi-Waboso

Born in Cardiff, 21-year-old Immanuel Feyi-Waboso had the option of representing Wales or England at senior level and has decided to pledge his allegiance to the latter. The Exeter Chiefs winger has had a breakthrough season in the Gallagher Premiership, drawing plaudits from all corners and seemingly expediating his journey to the Test arena.

Feyi-Waboso’s main strength is his strength, combined with lightning pace. He’s recorded the best dominant carry rate (77%) and the best dominant tackle rate (36%) of any player to play 240+ minutes in the Premiership this season. This dominance in contact has seen him cross for five tries so far this season, with only Alex Lewington and Ollie Sleightholme (both six) scoring more in the league.

Over 1,000 players (1,107 to be exact) have made 15+ carries across the Premiership, United Rugby Championship and TOP 14 this season. Feyi-Waboso has gained more metres per carry (11.5) than any of them.

Feyi-Waboso is a box-office player, of that there there is no doubt. The only question is whether he’ll get the chance to be the main attraction or if it’s deemed he needs more time to settle in under Steve Borthwick.

He looks ready…

Joe McCarthy

Ireland are blessed with quality players in virtually every position, but nowhere is their strength in depth more apparent than in the second row, as they look to secure back-to-back grand slams. It’s a testament to the performances of 22-year-old Joe McCarthy that he’s already pushing for a starting berth alongside the likes of Tadhg Beirne, James Ryan and Iain Henderson.

Leinster have been in typically imperious form this season, and they owe a lot of that to the performances of McCarthy at lock. Not only has he made the most carries of any URC second row across the league and Europe since November (84), but he has also been supremely efficient with the ball in hand, gaining more metres (145) and beating more defenders (18) than any other second rower. His 57% gainline success rate is also the highest of any lock to make more than 30 carries in that time.

McCarthy’s work off the ball has been just as impressive, with the Irishman the only URC lock to have made over 10 dominant tackles in the league and Europe since November (12) and ranking second for jackal turnovers won (5), just behind compatriot Beirne (7).

Despite having just five Irish caps and no Six Nations appearances to his name, McCarthy has already shown promise on the international stage. He played 220 minutes of Test rugby before he missed his first tackle, while his last three caps have seen him win four turnovers in just 128 minutes of action.

Simone Gesi

Zebre have endured a challenging first half of their 2023-24 URC campaign, but one shining light has been the form of winger Simone Gesi. The 22-year-old has crossed for six tries (three braces) in the competition this season – only Johnny Matthews (10) has more – while his tally of nine breaks is only bettered by Aphelele Fassi (10).

Although Gesi doesn’t get his hands on the ball all that often – an average of six times per game this season – he makes a huge impact when he does, gaining over 40 metres per match on average and overall beating more defenders (23) than any other teammate.

Gesi has just one cap to his name so far for the Azzurri having started against Scotland in the 2023 Six Nations last year. Prior to that senior debut he was a star of the 2021 U20s Six Nations, ranking top for metres gained per carry (14.4) and joint second for breaks (8) as well as crossing for two tries and assisting another.

Eight of the players to appear for Italy in that 2021 U20 Six Nations have been picked for this year’s Six Nations. From that crop, Gesi is joined by Alessandro Garbisi, Lorenzo Cannone, Lorenzo Pani, Luca Rizzoli, Mirco Spagnolo, Ross Vintcent and Tommaso Menoncello.

Alex Mann

Wales are on the cusp of a generational transition. Alun-Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric, Dan Biggar and Leigh Halfpenny have ended their international careers; that’s over 450 caps’ worth of experience gone, just between those four.

This will cause some uncertainty, but it also gives fresh opportunities to the next generation. When Warren Gatland picked his squad for this championship – straight after the shock of Louis Rees-Zammit’s NFL announcement – he selected five uncapped players. One of whom is the highly rated Alex Mann.

A former Wales U20s captain, Mann has been on the radar for a while, but what does he offer?

You can definitely rely on him for a defensive shift. He’s averaged 16.2 tackles per 80 minutes this season in the United Rugby Championship – the best rate of any of the 70 players to play 500+ minutes. The 22-year-old is also a big asset in keeping attacking momentum going, with only two players that play for one of the Welsh regions in the URC boasting a better attacking ruck effectiveness rate (92%, 50+ rucks hit).

Helping his side achieve quick ball and keeping the pressure on in attack could be a key factor in whether Mann gets game time or not. Last Six Nations, only England (3.8 seconds) had a slower average ruck speed than Wales (3.6), while they also had the worst rate of points per 22 entry (1.6) of any nation. Can Mann bring the urgency needed to help Wales pull some surprises in 2024?

Nicolas Depoortère

French rugby has been churning out top-class talent for several years now, and with their U20s winning the World Championship three times in a row, that doesn’t look like slowing down. Nicolas Depoortère could be the next star talent to emerge for Les Bleus.

The 21-year-old centre has made himself at home in a star-studded Bordeaux back line featuring the likes of Matthieu Jalibert, Maxime Lucu, Louis Bielle-Biarrey, Yoram Moefana and of course, Damian Penaud – one of the best finishers in world rugby. And that’s even without mentioning three-time Six Nations Player of the Tournament winner Antoine Dupont.

There are certainly similarities between Depoortèreand Penaud. Both started life in the centre and both have an eye for the try line. Depoortère was directly involved in eight tries in the 2023 World Rugby U20s, scoring a joint-high five tries and registering a further three assists.

They’re also incredibly elusive runners with ball in hand – Depoortère recorded the best tackle evasion rate at that U20 tournament, a stat that Penaud regularly tops at both club and international level. In fact, Depoortère beat 12 defenders in his opening game of the 2023 edition, the most by any France player at the tournament since, you guessed it, Penaud in 2016 (15).

While Penaud has since turned into one of the best wingers in the world, it seems more likely that Depoortere will try and stake a claim for the #13 jersey. Don’t take your eyes off him, especially if you’re trying to tackle him.

Andy Christie

Scotland have no shortage of quality back rows, with the likes of Rory Darge, Jack Dempsey, Matt Fagerson and Jamie Ritchie all vying for a place in the Scotland squad for their opener against Wales. Saracens’ Andy Christie is yet another name to add to the list of options that head coach Gregor Townsend has at his disposal.

Predominantly deployed in the number seven jersey this season, Christie has also started at number eight and blindside flanker, and his ability to play across the back row could well work in his favour when it comes to team selection. His performances have been impressive regardless of jersey number though, impressing with ball in hand, in defence and at the breakdown.


Of forwards to carry the ball into contact on 50+ occasions in the Premiership this season, he’s one of just two players to have a dominant carry rate over 60%, alongside Sarries teammate Theo Dan (both 65%).

His breakdown work in attack has been accurate, too – of the 62 forwards to hit 100 attacking rucks in the English top flight in 2023-24, only Hanro Liebenberg (94%) has a better ruck effectiveness rate than Christie who has cleaned out or secured 93% of his 134 ruck hits.

Defensively it’s a similar story. At the ruck, he’s either won a turnover or slowed down almost a quarter of the opposition rucks that he’s hit this league campaign (24%); in fact, only two forwards have had more impact at defensive rucks overall than Christie (12, Will Evans – 17, Tommy Reffell – 15). Meanwhile, his 121 tackles see him rank him in the top five in the league this season.

The 24-year-old will face stiff competition in the Scotland back row, but he has all the attributes to thrive in Test rugby. It’s hard to imagine we won’t see more of him in a navy shirt in the coming years.

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