Irish Wolfhounds v England Saxons
Wolfhounds v Saxons: Three to watch
Will Macpherson
January 30, 2015
Connacht's Kieran Marmion is a fine prospect © Getty Images

There's plenty of intrigue surrounding Irish Wolfhounds' game against England Saxons on Friday evening that was only heightened when the two XVs were announced on Thursday. The Wolfhounds side has quality coursing through it, with four British & Irish Lions in the side, and six players with more than 25 caps in the starting XV. Much of the Saxons chat surrounded union newbie Sam Burgess but they've got test quality all over the park too, and plenty of capped players. Here's a look at three players you should have your eye on in what's sure to be a fascinating clash.

Exeter's Dave Ewers offloads amid a sea of bodies, Exeter Chiefs v Bayonne, European Challenge Cup, Sandy Park, Exeter, January 24, 2015
Dave Ewers offloads amid a sea of bodies © Getty Images
Dave Ewers

There are plenty more fashionable back-rowers in the Premiership than Exeter Chiefs' Dave Ewers, but very few in finer form. The Zimbabwean-born 24-year-old has a fascinating back story, having fled the Mugabe regime in his homeland aged 13, but the future is looking pretty interesting too, with England caps surely beckoning. 2013-14 was his breakthrough campaign and he's built on that form this season as Exeter continue to punch above their weight and provide the blueprint for recently promoted clubs. He's a forceful back-rower, comfortable at 6 or 8, who breaks the line and tackles relentlessly. He'll wear No.6 on Friday and is joined in the back row by his club-mate Thomas Waldrom and Gloucester's Matt Kvesic. Their match-up with the Leinster trio Dominic Ryan, Sean O'Brien and Jack Conan is set to be a corker.

Kieran Marmion

The Wolfhounds side is full of celebrated names - from Sean O'Brien on the openside to the three Lions three-quarters to Ian Madigan starting at outside-half - but it's the latter's half-back partner, Kieran Marmion, who is most worthy of your attention. Connacht are an exciting side under Pat Lam and they've no more exciting player sets the pulse racing quite like 22-year-old scrum-half Marmion (not even Robbie Henshaw). Marmion made his Ireland debut on the summer tour of Argentina last year and picked up another cap off the bench against Georgia in the autumn.

Marmion's form this season has been simply sumptuous, all slick service, quick feet and obdurate defence. Lam is certainly a fan, saying after Marmion's brilliant try in Connacht's win over Leinster in September, "he's a class player, you know. More important he's gutsy, I've never met anyone as gutsy. I was still coaching Super Rugby, he's be a starter in my team easily, he's that good." High praise indeed. Ireland have another class act at No.9, but one senses it won't be too long before Conor Murray starts to feel Marmion breathing down his neck.

Sam Burgess

It just had to be, didn't it? Just about every headline over the last few months has surrounded this man and such has been the hype it's easy to forget that just 63 days separate his first appearance in a Bath jersey and his first in the red rose. Burgess seems unfazed and has just gone about his business, learning the rules and the nuances of his new code, making small improvements as he feeds off the scraps that being part of such a quality backline provides. With Messrs Eastmond and Joseph around, he was never likely to be getting more than the cameos he has. In this sense, the Six Nations are the most important part of his development yet. Not because he'll be playing for England, but because that pair's expected absence will hand him the game time he so desperately needs at club level if his World Cup pipe dream is to become reality.

Perhaps the most exciting thing about his selection for Friday is the two men around him and the one opposite. Henry Slade is a slick operator with supple hands and wonderful vision who will release the big man effectively, while Elliot Daly's intelligent lines should benefit from Burgess's ball-carrying and offloading. All the while, all 82 of Gordon D'Arcy's test caps wait patiently for Burgess's five union appearances. It's set to be fascinating.

Sam Burgess breaks through in his first game since his code switch © Getty Images
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