Thursday 16 January 2020 8:21 pm

Six Nations 2020 squads: Rees-Zammit a hugely exciting prospect for Wales, Sexton uncertainty a problem for Ireland

Squads for the Six Nations started to be announced this week and the call-up of Louis Rees-Zammit for Wales has been the standout selection so far.

The Gloucester winger is riding a wave at the moment. He is in outstanding form for his club, having scored nine tries in 12 appearances this season, and looks like an unbelievable talent.

The 18-year-old’s first international call-up is hugely exciting for him, but new Wales coach Wayne Pivac needs to make sure he is managed properly and allowed to develop. 

He is understandably on cloud nine, but there are plenty of examples of promising youngsters being poorly managed and their international careers and confidence being damaged as a result.

Mathew Tait is one. He was thrown straight into the lion’s den by Andy Robinson, who gave him his England debut, aged 18, against Wales in 2005.

Tait was on the receiving end of two big tackles by Gavin Henson, was dropped by Robinson afterwards in a decision which nearly ruined the poor lad’s confidence. It was terrible management and something Pivac has to avoid doing with Rees-Zammit.

Louis Rees-Zammit
Rees-Zammit was the Premiership’s player of the month for December (via Getty Images)

Rees-Zammit could have an opening in the Wales side, with first-choice wingers Josh Adams and George North being trialled at centre as possible replacements for the injured Jonathan Davies.

It’s a time of change for Wales and, although they reached the Rugby World Cup semi-finals and won the Grand Slam last year, I don’t see them challenging for the Six Nations title.

Davies is a huge miss, Liam Williams hasn’t played since the World Cup due to an ankle problem and Rhys Webb’s reintegration after the fallout over his move to Toulon may take time.

Sexton uncertainty

Like Pivac, new Ireland head coach Andy Farrell also announced his first squad this week. It is full of quality, but again there are question marks.

Johnny Sexton was named captain following Rory Best’s retirement and although he is a world-class fly-half, he is 34 and currently struggling with a knee injury. 

With Joey Carbery also injured, Ireland do have alternatives at No10 and I’d love to see Billy Burns given the opportunity. He is on fire for Ulster and would increase the side’s attacking flair after a disappointing World Cup campaign. 

Ulster's Billy Burns
Ulster’s Burns has a chance to play at fly-half for Ireland in the Six Nations (via Getty Images)

The question for Ireland is whether Farrell can re-energise them after Joe Schmidt’s brilliant spell in charge ended on a flat note.

There is one thing in Ireland’s favour though. I think form in the Champions Cup is a good way of assessing the Six Nations and Leinster and Ulster have won nine of their 10 games between them so far. 

However, by the same measure it is France who have reasons to be cheerful, with Clermont, Toulouse and Racing 92 all top of their pools. With Fabien Galthie and Shaun Edwards implementing a new structure I think the French can make an impact in the tournament.

New challenge

Finally, I’m delighted to have been appointed to lead the Wales Women Sevens programme. Welsh Rugby Union performance director Ryan Jones called me on my honeymoon to talk about the role in September when Richie Pugh left to join the Ospreys coaching staff, and it is a great fit for me.

Our goal is to get a medal at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and I will be trying to put everything in place in order to achieve it. 

The talent is definitely there, so in the short term it is going to be about putting in the hard yards to up the fitness levels. I am excited to throw myself into it.

Former England Sevens captain Ollie Phillips is a director within the real estate & construction team at PwC and founder of Optimist Performance. Follow Ollie on Twitter and on LinkedIn