Six Nations Championship 2014: Key Players Who Must Come Up Big in Next Matches

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Six Nations Championship 2014: Key Players Who Must Come Up Big in Next Matches
David Rogers/Getty Images
George North battles against France.

Despite the Six Nations being famed for a number of high-spirited team performances, there are always individuals that go above and beyond the call of duty for their sides.

That's no different, as the tournament enters crunch point with three title-defining matches, and chances for men to become heroes for their respective nations.

So let's take a look at who must play a pivotal role in placing their nation one step closer to Six Nations success.

 

Owen Farrell, England

David Cannon/Getty Images
Title charge: Farrell gallops against Ireland.

The England fly-half has had an excellent first three matches in this year's tournament, kicking for glory on a number of occasions, including the winning conversion in his side's 13-10 win over Ireland.

Sitting third in the top points scorer charts with 45, behind Wales' Leigh Halfpenny with 74 and Scotland's Greig Laidlaw with 61, Farrell must continue his good kicking performances in order to maintain his own personal form, as well as keeping alive England's title ambitions.

After his side's 30-3 defeat by Wales during last year's competition, Farrell will be looking for revenge this time around, as highlighted by England Rugby's tweet:

But for Farrell to have his chance to see his name in lights, he'll be hoping that team-mates such as Danny Care can continue to make the tries that present him with match-winning opportunities.

Against Wales, that will be no certainty.

The visitors overcame fourth-placed France in Cardiff last time out, in a thrilling 27-6 result that showed the side's dominance with the ball, as well as Leigh Halfpenny's ability to out-kick any opponent.

 

George North, Wales

Stu Forster/Getty Images
George North in action for Wales.

North's try against France, which set up one of Halfpenny's six chances to score from a set-piece, capped an excellent performance by the Welsh winger.

The powerful and pacy play-maker has enough about him to worry the very best in international rugby, with driving potential that saw him bag an opportunist try against France.

His Northampton Saints team-mate Luther Burrell, who looks set to line up against North at Twickenham, knows too well of his ability to turn a game on its head.

In an interview with the Guardian's Robert Kitson, Burrell highlighted the Welshman's Jekyll-and-Hyde nature:

George has got two personalities; you get him on the field and he's an animal, get him off the field and he's the complete opposite.

With George you just have to shut his space down because you don't want to give him time …you know he has the x-factor and that he can get over the gain-line and sidestep you. We will have to put a couple of defenders on him or he will be away. 

Burrell added to coach Stuart Lancaster's belief that the 21-year-old was among the most feared players in the world:

I would say he is right up there. Whether he is on the Jonah Lomu scale I don't know because Jonah was my idol growing up and it will be pretty hard to knock him off that pedestal.

But what he does in games is fantastic and the way he trains is brilliant. I think that is the reason everything falls into place for him.

That's just how North will look to open up England. Give him an inch of space, and he'll make you pay in points.

It's this very tenacity with the ball that North will have to continue if his side are to beat an in-form England and, therefore, put his side in the driving seat for their third successive Six Nations title and, in the process, all-but end England's hopes.

 

Jonathan Sexton, Ireland

According to Independent.ie, Jonathan Sexton looks set to play in his side's match with Italy.

It had looked like a thumb problem would rule the player out of action against the Italians; however, scans to the fly-half's hand have given Ireland assistant coach John Plumbtree confidence of his man's involvement:

I think he'll be pretty good for the weekend, just as long as Joe [Schmidt] makes that call on Thursday, and I think that's positive news. It looks like the scan is clear, so again it's just how that thumb feels.

I guess there are certain aspects of the game, like tackling and grappling that will give it a true test. So we'll give all that a bit of test on Thursday.

In any case, coach Joe Schmidt may opt to leave Sexton on the bench as he keeps one eye on a potential title decider against France in Round 5.

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However, it may be folly for Ireland to think that the match with Italy will be an all-too-easy affair, with the side still smarting from their last-minute defeat by Scotland.

It is imperative that the hosts do not take the match for granted, given the visitors' mentality going into the match. Ireland should look to field a strong team to ensure their place in the title challenge next time out.

Sexton will prove vital to that, and with four conversions and five penalties in the tournament so far, he must make sure that he keeps a grip on his emotions and remains cool, calm and collected with the boot if Ireland are to progress well for the final round.

The player's presence among the Ireland squad will not only provide comfort to his co-workers as they go to war on the Aviva Stadium turf but, if they're to win, they will have to source Sexton's Grand Slam experience and give him the ammunition he needs to see his side home and hosed.

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