Autumn Nations Series: Ten players to watch during the end-of-year internationals

David Skippers

It is set to be another thrilling Autumn Nations Series and we discuss some of the tier one nations’ players, who are set to make an impact on the international stage over the next month.

With the Rugby World Cup less than a year a year away, there are some huge encounters set to take place and these players will be in the spotlight for various reasons.

Manu Tuilagi (England)

After his recovery from his latest injury, the Sale Sharks centre’s return to Test rugby will be greeted with glee by England supporters who know that his presence in the backline significantly boosts their chances of victory. When fit, Tuilagi is one of the best players in his position in the world but unfortunately that has not occurred often as his career has been plagued by a plethora of injuries. The 31-year-old has recovered after knee surgery, which ruled him out of England’s tour to Australia in July, and will be crucial for his country during the autumn Tests with his powerful carries set to give them valuable momentum.

Michael Hooper (Australia)

The Wallabies skipper is set to make his return to the international arena after his shock withdrawal from his team’s Rugby Championship opener against Argentina in Mendoza less than 48 hours before that fixture’s kick off. Citing personal reasons, Hooper did not play in any of that tournament’s matches and his absence was keenly felt especially during the latter stages of the competition. The 30-year-old is a veteran of 121 Tests of which he has captained Australia on a record 64 occasions and his leadership and experience will prove vital when they face Scotland, France, Italy, Ireland and Wales.

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (New Zealand)

The 29-year-old made the switch from rugby league earlier this year and although he did well for the Blues during their run to the Super Rugby Pacific final, the transition to the Test arena has not been so smooth. Tuivasa-Sheck has made two Test appearances for the All Blacks but in both those matches – in the third Test against Ireland in July and Australia in the Rugby Championship – he came on as a late replacement and failed to make an impact. He possesses an excellent skill set which he will be hoping to showcase for an extended period at Test level and hopefully he gets his chance in the All Blacks’ run-on side in one of their tour matches.

Emiliano Boffelli (Argentina)

The Edinburgh flyer is a vital cog in the Pumas machine and is one of the first names on Argentina head coach Michael Cheika’s teamsheet. Boffelli is arguably Argentina’s most important player at the moment with his goalkicking often outstanding as proven during the recent Rugby Championship campaign and his country’s series victory against Scotland on home soil in July. With a career goal-kicking percentage of 91%, Boffelli will once again be at the forefront of Argentina’s charge but he also has other strings to his bow with his attacking ability another strength which will be crucial to his country’s cause.

Blair Kinghorn (Scotland)

The omission of the mercurial Finn Russell from Scotland’s squad for this year’s Autumn Nation Series means Kinghorn will, once again, be expected to be his country’s first choice fly-half after he had that role during their 2-1 series defeat against the Pumas in Argentina in July. Although he started his professional career playing in the back three, primarily at full-back, the 25-year-old has caught the eye with some fine performances in the number 10 jersey for his club, Edinburgh, and country. Kinghorn is an outstanding attacker and solid off the kicking tee, although the jury is still out on his tactical play.

Dan Sheehan (Ireland)

With Ronan Kelleher ruled out of Ireland’s end-of-year campaign his Leinster club-mate Sheehan is set to benefit as he is expected to wear the number two shirt for his country. The 24-year-old is no stranger to the role of course as he was one of Ireland’s standout performers during their victorious series against the All Blacks in New Zealand in July. At 6ft 3, Sheehan is tall for a hooker but does well in the execution of his core duties and is a dynamic ball carrier. He has a terrific try-scoring record for Leinster and he has already crossed the whitewash on a couple of occasions at Test level.

Justin Tipuric (Wales)

The flanker has not played international rugby since 2021 after suffering a horrific injury in the British and Irish Lions’ warm-up game against Japan. He returned to the Ospreys side at the start of the United Rugby Championship and played the opening two matches, but he has not featured since. If Wayne Pivac has selected him then the head coach must be confident in Tipuric’s match fitness and is therefore seriously considering starting him, otherwise it would have been better to get a younger player in. At his best, the 33-year-old is still one of the best opensides in the world, so how he fares over the next month will be fascinating.

Johan Goosen (South Africa)

With Handre Pollard injured and Elton Jantjies still not considered by Springbok selectors, the Bulls man is almost the last man standing. Injury has plagued his career but, at his best, he is a wonderful player to watch. In the Boks’ recently named 26-man squad for a training camp, Goosen was the only designated fly-half – with utility Damian Willemse the other player that has featured there regularly – so the 30-year-old should get plenty of game time during their four Autumn Nations Series matches. Goosen was in fine form prior to his injury last October but has struggled to fire since returning at the start of this season. Jacques Nienaber is asking a lot of the pivot.

Thomas Ramos (France)

Toulouse’s Melvyn Jaminet had nailed down the France full-back shirt but his injury has opened the door for someone else. Montpellier’s Anthony Bouthier, who impressed in 2020, has been recalled to the squad but, at the moment, another Les Rouge et Noir player – Ramos – appears to be the next in line. He has all the skills to succeed at Test level but at times he has been a bit flaky, especially under the high ball. It is potentially a big opportunity coming up for the 27-year-old so he needs to step up over the next few weeks.

Ange Capuozzo (Italy)

By the end of the 2022 Six Nations, everyone was talking about this breakout Italian star following a stunning introduction to Test rugby. He scored two tries off the bench against Scotland in the fourth round before starting away to Wales a week later and excelling. Capuozzo produced a superb display in Cardiff and set up the match-winning try in the last minute as the Azzurri ended their seven-year losing streak in the tournament. Can the back three player follow that up against more tier one opposition in November? Italy needs their pack to step up and give them front foot ball if he is but, if they are able to compete physically, then Italy have the ability behind the scrum to unleash the speedster.

READ MORE: Autumn Nations Series: Seven important matches to follow in the end-of-year Tests