Southern stars to shine in northern showpiece
January 30, 2014
Billy Vunipola is making a name for himself as a player who makes ground with ball in hand © Getty Images
The southern hemisphere can lay claim to several players who will play a role in the Six Nations, with at least 13 men born in Australia, New Zealand, southern Africa and the Pacific Islands set to feature in the northern showpiece.
Durban-born centre Brad Barritt won two caps for the Emerging Springboks, playing in the final of the 2006 Under-21 Rugby World Championship and at the IRB Nations Cup in 2007, and played 36 Super Rugby matches for the Sharks before pinning his colours to the England mast He qualified for England through his Rhodesian parents, and is known in particular for his defensive ability. He was called into the British & Irish Lions squad for the 2013 tour to Australia due to injury concerns in the back line
New Zealand-born Dylan Hartley remains a feisty Kiwi at heart despite having moved to England in 2002, aged 16, and he is best known for a lack of control on the pitch despite having won 50 caps for England. He has been suspended four times for acts of indiscipline, for eye-gouging, for biting, for punching and for verbal abuse of a referee, the last act costing the hooker his place in the 2013 British & Irish Lions squad to Australia. For all that, he remains a robust front-rower seemingly among the keys to England's hopes.
Manu Tuilagi is quite probably the highest profile southern star, at least in Australia and New Zealand for his wrecking-ball performances for England against the All Blacks and for the British & Irish Lions against the Wallabies, but he won't be featuring until England's final two matches, if at all, as he continues to recover from the chest injury that forced him to miss the end-of-year Tests against Argentina, Australia and New Zealand.
Billy Vunipola and Mako Vunipola, the Sydney- and Wellington-born sons of former Tonga captain Fe'ao Vunipola, cousins of Wales and British & Irish Lions star Toby Faletau, play alongside each other at Aviva Premiership leaders Saracens and are each locked into the England set-up as prototype modern-day players who have physical strength, tremendous athleticism and handling skils. Mako is perhaps better known in the southern hemisphere, having progressed in just a few months from callow prop to make a tremendous impression on the British & Irish Lions tour of Australia, but Billy also ranks as one of the brightest rising stars in English rugby and he is an important - and damaging - ball carrier who punches holes that allow the backs to play. He is also reminiscent of Toutai Kefu in his manner of play so Aussies, in particular, will warm to him.
The Vunipola brothers are becoming twin pillars of the England side © Getty Images
South African-born back-rower Bernard Le Roux made his Test debut only last year, playing two matches against New Zealand and one against Tonga, having moved to Paris only in 2009, when he ignored the opportunity to join the Lions Super Rugby franchise in favour of signing a three-month deal as an injury replacement with Racing Metro. He liked the French club so much, he stayed. And French rugby liked him so much they put him through the academy representative system. Now he faces the unenviable task of replacing Thierry Dusautoir in Les Bleus' back-row
Isaac Boss was added to the Ireland squad to cover the injury to Eoin Redden © PA Photos
New Zealand-born Isaac Boss was cut from the original squad only to be re-instated to win his 18th cap when Eoin Redden went down injured in training. Hailing from the famed New Zealand rugby nursery of Tokoroa, where Richard Kahui and Sean Maitland were also born and raised, and to where Quade Cooper moved from Auckland aged seven, he earned New Zealand Under-19 recognition and cut his teeth with the Chiefs and the Hurricanes in Super Rugby before following his Irish heritage to play for Ulster and latterly Leinster.
Luke McLean's aerial skills are the least of his ability © Getty Images
South African-born scrum-half Tobie Botes moved to Italy to take up a contract with Treviso having played Currie Cup with the Griquas and Super Rugby with the Cheetahs, and he made his Test debut after passing the residency clause against France in 2012.
Melbourne-born second-row Joshua Furno grew up in Italy in the southern town of Benevento, and now plays in France with Narbonne having made his Test debut as a substitute in the 13-6 win against Scotland in 2012.
Veteran South African-born lock Quintin Geldenhuys is now a fixture in the team having debuted against Australia in 2009, having passed the residency requirements, and he brings to the Azzurri the formidable qualities we associate by tradition with all South African second-rows. He qualified for Italy through residency.
Queensland-born Luke McLean, an under-19 world championship winner with Australia, won his 50th Test cap when Italy hosted the Wallabies in 2013, and he enjoyed the day, even in defeat, after scoring the opening try of the game. He often plays as a strike-running fullback, having failed to establish himself as first-choice fly-half, but his true value to the team is in his ability to cover any position in the backline. He qualified to play for Italy through his Italian grandmother after his grandfather had to give up his citizenship in order to buy land when they migrated to Australia.
Sean Maitland scored on Test debut against England © Getty Images
Former Canterbury, Crusaders, All Blacks Maori and New Zealand Junior World Championship-winning winger Sean Maitland became the latest "Kilted Kiwi", but he was unable to crack the All Blacks so moved to Glasgow and followed the dream of playing Test football for Scotland through his family heritage. He made a fast start in scoring a try on debut against England, and did enough in his five matches of last season's tournament to earn selection for the British & Irish Lions. He is a cousin of Quade Cooper and is also related to All Blacks centre Joe Stanley.
Zimbabwe-born David Denton qualified for Scotland as his mother was born in Glasgow, and he moved there to attend university after making several appearances for Eastern Province in Port Elizabeth. He graduated through university rugby to earn Scotland Under-20 selection and to claim a professional contract with Edinburgh. He is known for his strong defence and ball carrying, and performed so well in a losing side against England last year that he was named man of the match.
Zimbabwe-born David Denton is a hard-hitting back-rower © Getty Images
Tobey Faletau has established himself as a star for Wales and the British & Irish Lions © Getty Images
The Tongan-born back-rower, a cousin of England's Vunipola brothers, is now the only Wales player with a southern-hemisphere tale to tell, after Johannesburg-born British & Irish Lions tourist Ian Evans was ruled out of contention by a 12-week suspension for stamping; but what a story he tells. Toby Faletau moved to Wales aged seven when his father, Rugby World Cup 1999 player Kuli Faletau, joined Ebbw Vale, and his star has risen continually since: he made his Test debut in 2010; produced standout efforts at Rugby World Cup 2011 12 months later; produced a key performance for the British & Irish Lions in the deciding Test against Australia in 2013; and played every match of Wales' back-to-back Six Nations-winning campaigns, including the 2012 Grand Slam. Faletau is undoubtedly of the stars of world rugby for his tackling, pilfering and abrasive ball carrying, and Wales no doubt are looking for him to stamp his mark deeper on the tournament.
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