There's just over a week before France and Wales kick off the 2019 Six Nations at Stade de France on Friday, Feb. 1 and with the pre-tournament excitement mounting, we figured it was high time we looked at the key players who could seriously boost your Fantasy Rugby score and send you to the top of the league table.
Remember, ESPN Fantasy Rugby 2019 is all about picking the players who you think will score you the most points throughout the tournament. But there's a catch, as you can only pick a maximum of four players from each nation. With that in mind, here's our pick of three players from each country -- in 2018 table order -- who you should give serious consideration.
Unless he's injured, there is almost no legitimate reason not to pick Stander in your squad. Full of tries, tackles and plenty of hard yards, Stander was a standout player in 2017, making ESPN's Fantasy Rugby team of the tournament. He fell just short last year, due more to epic performances from the three who did make the cut than any shortcomings of his own.
Yes, there's likely to be a certain try machine by the name of Jacob Stockdale on the other Ireland wing, but let's forget the shiny young player for a moment. Look to the other wing, and old man Earls -- he's all of 31 -- who has proved his ability time and again since scoring his debut Test try with his very first touch of the ball back in 2008.
It wouldn't be a proper Six Nations run-in these days without an injury concern over World Rugby's male Player of the Year Sexton, who has been out for a month with a knee injury. The good news, for everyone other than England, is that he's expected to be fit for the opener in Dublin on February 2. Other than that, you really don't need any further explanation over why this guy should be a serious contender for the No.10 shirt in your Fantasy Rugby team, do you?
It's a very special player who is entrusted with the Welsh No. 10 shirt. It has a history of its own and Biggar has worn it, shouting himself hoarse throughout, 65 times, which should tell you all you need to know. With Leigh Halfpenny set to miss at least the opening match of this year's tournament, Biggar is sure to be handed early kicking responsibilities for Wales. He doesn't miss many, either, so consider him a kicking option against France.
The New Zealand-born centre qualified for Wales on residency just over a year ago and looked like he was born wearing the famous red jersey, bagging two man-of-the-match awards in his first five Tests. Things have become a little trickier since -- there were noticeable lapses in perfection in November -- but expect Parkes to be back to his near error-free best in Paris and beyond.
You want every advantage you can get in Fantasy Rugby -- even in positions like the front row that don't usually rack up the big points. Owens will be one of the first names Gatland writes on his teamsheet and even better, he is a force around the park, making tackles by the bucketful and scoring the odd try from the back of a lineout drive for good measure.
The fly-half has always played with staggering levels of confidence, but has added insouciance and next-level nonchalance to his repertoire since joining French side Racing 92. Frankly, he can be breathtakingly daring and has such ridiculous talent that it almost always pays off. You have every right to expect a sackful of points if you go down the Russell route.
The Glasgow centre has missed only one Test since making his debut for Scotland against Japan in November 2016, and that was only so he could be rested for the match against Australia the following week. He now has 19 caps and has scored 10 tries. There's no wonder Gregor Townsend trusts his man. Maybe you should, too.
Back in the international fold after a troubled 2018, Hardie has resurrected his career at Newcastle and has done more than enough to convince Townsend to give him a recall. At his best, he is a nuisance at the breakdown, and with Hamish Watson out with a broken hand, he's likely to get a chance to prove a point and show us just what we've been missing.
Former France coach Philippe Saint-Andre may believe that Toulon's troubles could weigh heavy on the captain's shoulders in this Six Nations -- but his one-man quadruple assault on the tryline during the November internationals after a summer break suggests that Guirado's capable of packing up his club troubles in his old kit bag. There were questions over his captaincy under Guy Noves. Under Brunel, there's no doubt...
Being the old head in a mostly young Toulouse backline has been the remaking of Medard. Full-back or wing, he'll cause problems for defenders with what's still a pretty decent turn of pace -- but mostly because, these days, he's as cunning as a fox in attack and defence. Just ask Freddie Burns...
He's not going to kick any penalties -- Parra, Serin, Ramos or Ntamack will have that job covered between them, but a rejuvenated and fit-again Lopez will do all the other things you need of a No. 10 and he has rediscovered the knack of scoring a cheeky try or two.
Whether he starts at fly-half or inside centre, Farrell is an England man for all Fantasy Rugby reasons. With Dylan Hartley missing the opener against Ireland, there's an argument for giving him the captaincy at first, too...
Big Billy's back. England are a very different proposition when Vunipola is leading the charge from the back of the scrum, or in the loose -- in attack, or in defence. He is absolutely capable of making a complete mess of most defensive set-ups, leaving those tacklers not still desperately hanging off him trailing in his wake.
Not only is Big Billy back, so is Manu. The injury-hit centre has not started a Six Nations match since 2013, so it's a fair bet he's out to make an explosive mark on this tournament. Powerful and on the near-impossible side of difficult to stop if he's not busting holes in the opponent's line, it takes so many players to stop him that there will be wide open spaces for the likes of Jonny May, Elliot Daly and Joe Cokanasiga to roam.
The biggest points scorer of the ESPN's 2018 Fantasy Six Nations tournament, it appears that Allan is the long-awaited solution to Italy's fly-half problem. He has been assured all season in the Pro14 and Challenge Cup for Benetton, so don't necessarily bet against him making a mockery of pre-match expectations.
A product of the same Taranaki side that nurtured a certain Beauden Barrett, Hayward was voted most promising player of the year and back of the year in his debut season in 2008. A year later, he became the second-youngest player, after Israel Dagg, to be included in the Highlanders' Super Rugby Squad. The fact is, talent like that does not fade. He could be well worth a punt as your fullback of choice.
It is, admittedly, a heresy not to include Sergio Parissi in lists like this -- but do seriously consider Negri. The flanker made his debut at No. 6 on the opening weekend of last year's Six Nations but already looks certain to be a key part of Connor O'Shea's plans for the Azzurri. He played all five matches of the 2018 tournament, twice on the summer tour of Japan and three times in November. This season, he has been a key member of the Benetton side that came within a whisker of reaching the last eight of the Challenge Cup.