ESPNscrum Fantasy Rugby Preview
Mixing the right fantasy cocktail
January 30, 2013
Dan Cole should be the first name in your Fantasy XV © Getty Images
Last year's ultimate XV
The Six Nations is nearly upon us and with it, the ESPNscrum Fantasy Rugby Game for 2013. So if you are looking for any advice over who to choose for your team, here is a rundown of some of the players we think you should be picking in your XV and a few hidden gems.
With more points awarded for playing the full 80 minutes, the key is finding a front row player who is likely to last the whole match - easier said than done given the demands of Six Nations rugby. Wales' Gethin Jenkins may not start their opener against Ireland, with Bath's Paul James also in the mix, but if he does get the nod, then he, more often than not, manages to get through the entire match. Richard Hibbard should be named at hooker and could also be an option.
From an England point of view, Dan Cole was the only front-rower during the autumn internationals to play a full match - a feat he managed twice. He also played all 240 minutes of their three June Tests against South Africa.
Despite their undoubted quality, the familiar faces in the Italy front-row very rarely play a full 80 minutes with the best bet being Martin Castrogiovanni.
It is hard to predict who will play for Scotland as they have a new coach in Scott Johnson and a new forwards coach - Dean Ryan. Dougie Hall is back at hooker but do not expect him to complete a full game with Ross Ford waiting in the wings but Ryan Grant did manage a full game against South Africa. You may be better of staying clear of the Scottish front-row from a fantasy point of view.
Ireland's Rory Best, one of the top scoring front-rowers in last year's tournament, should shine again while his team-mate Cian Healy is also a solid bet for scoring a try with three for Leinster this term. France will favour Nicolas Mas at tight-head so he could be a solid option for any team.
Our selection: Cian Healy, Nicolas Mas, Dan Cole
It is probably a good idea to avoid Wales' second-rows at the moment as they all seem to be under some sort of injury curse with Luke Charteris, Bradley Davies and Alun-Wyn Jones all out. For England, Leicester's Geoff Parling has played every minute of every match he has started (10 games) under Stuart Lancaster so has to be in the fantasy XV. If England opt for Joe Launchbury at lock and Courtney Lawes on the bench, then Lawes is more likely to replace the Wasps man than the Tigers second row.
Scotland's Jim Hamilton is likely to get the nod for them alongside Richie Gray and contrary to public belief, neither are walking time bombs on the yellow card front with just one between them while on the Test stage.
Pascal Pape is France's captain so is worth an inclusion in any XV and he is likely to be partnered by Yoann Maestri. For Ireland, Mike McCarthy and Donncha Ryan are in line to be their second-row pairing but there might be some chopping and changing as Declan Kidney attempts to fill the void left by the injured Paul O'Connell.
Pascal Pape will skipper France and should be a good fantasy pick © Getty Images
Our selection: Geoff Parling, Pascal Pape
Wales' Toby Faletau played a full match in three of their four Tests during the autumn series so if you are banking on appearance points, then put Faletau in your team. Italy's Sergio Parisse was substituted just once during last year's Six Nations and started all three of their autumn Test matches, completing each game. And for a try-scoring back-row wildcard, Robert Barbieri has six tries so far in this season's RaboDirect PRO12.
England's Chris Robshaw should get the nod as he very rarely gets substituted and as captain of Lancaster's side, he will start every game if fit - similar to Scotland's Kelly Brown and Ireland's Jamie Heaslip.
From a France point of view, Louis Picamoles should walk into most individual's XV as he will start for Les Bleus and also loves a try - he has four for Toulouse this term.
Our selection: Sergio Parisse, Louis Picamoles, Chris Robshaw
Edoardo Gori looks set to be Italy's first choice scrum-half going into the tournament but he very rarely plays the full match. For Wales, Mike Phillips, who was last year's top scrum-half, looks likely to start at No.9 but like Gori, he is unlikely to play the 80. In terms of England's scrum-halves, it will be a straight shootout between Harlequins' Danny Care and Leicester's Ben Youngs. The same can be said for France. Saint-Andre favoured Maxime Machenaud during the autumn Tests but there is no doubting Morgan Parra's immense talent so selection there can almost be decided on a flip of a coin.
And with Mike Blair now retired from international rugby, Scotland have chosen Greig Laidlaw at scrum-half. He is included in our fly-half list, having started all of his matches for Scotland there, so he is out of the reckoning. Ireland's Conor Murray should get the nod but has never played a full 80 for his country and has one try in his 14 Tests so perhaps best to stay clear of the Munster No.9.
Our selection: Mike Phillips
There are three standout candidates for this position. Ireland's Jonathan Sexton seemingly has the No.10 sewn up for club, country and the British & Irish Lions while England's Owen Farrell looks set to keep the fly-half berth for the tournament opener. And then there's Frederic Michalak. If he plays to his best then he could emerge from the Six Nations as the top point scorer.
Elsewhere, if Italy's Kris Burton gets any game time, he loves a drop-goal having nailed two of the three in last year's tournament. From a Wales viewpoint, they are likely to chop and change their fly-halves throughout the tournament so don't yet hedge your bets on Dan Biggar or James Hook.
Will Jonathan Sexton be a points machine? © PA Photos
Our selection: Jonathan Sexton
If fit, Manu Tuilagi will guarantee you tries. He has nine in 17 for England and crossed in their last match against the All Blacks but will miss the opener against Scotland. Brad Barritt is also one of Lancaster's favourites so could be worth a punt. Tommaso Benvenuti usually completes his matches for the Azzurri and has an eye for the tryline having played his earlier matches on the wing. Scotland's aptly named Matt Scott could also be worth a shot having played every minute of their autumn Test programme.
If fit, both Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies should get the nod for Wales but Roberts is injury prone and has a lack of game time under his belt so opting for Davies could be the better bet. And then there is the legendary Brian O'Driscoll - the man who is the Five/ Six Nations top try-scorer. It could be his last Six Nations and he is certain to want to go out with a bang so expect something special from him. For France, last year's star performer in the centres Wesley Fofana is now listed in the outside backs so if you want some Gallic flair then Maxime Mermoz and Florian Fritz are your best options.
Our selection: Brad Barritt, Jonathan Davies
From a Wales point of view, if you can fit him in with selection restricted to four players per nation, Leigh Halfpenny should be one of the first names on your team sheet. He has failed to finish a match just once since the first game of last year's Six Nations and is also lethal with the boot, finishing the 2012 tournament as the top-points scorer. Alex Cuthbert is also someone who usually plays a whole match, having been substituted just once in a Wales jersey, and also possesses the ability to get across the whitewash.
England's Chris Ashton broke his try-scoring duck in their last match against the All Blacks, and if he can replicate his 2011 Six Nations form where he managed to score six tries, then he will be worth his weight in gold in terms of fantasy points. And Alex Goode is also a favourite of Lancaster having played every minute of their autumn Test programme.
Scotland's Tim Visser could also be worth a bet having scored four tries in his five Test matches while Sean Maitland is an unknown quantity. For France, Fofana could play on the wing rather than in the centres so is likely to see plenty of ball and is well worth a place in any side. And then there are those bright young things over at Ireland. Craig Gilroy and Simon Zebo, who both start against Wales, have the potential to be Lions bolters in the summer so either could be worth a a spot on the wing.
Our selection: Craig Gilroy, Alex Cuthbert, Wesley Fofana
The ESPNscrum Fantasy Rugby 2013 International Game is in partnership with Dove Men+Care
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Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.