In four months time the 2015 Rugby World Cup kicks off in earnest, with hosts England set to take on Fiji at Twickenham, but massive selection dilemmas await the best coaches on the planet between now and summer’s end.
None of the five stars listed below are guaranteed starting spots for their countries at the pill-chasing bonanza, and one or two might not even make it to the tournament, so keep an eye on their progress between now and mid-September.
England – Sam Burgess
The former Rugby League hero clearly hasn’t come on as well as many were hoping since switching codes last autumn, but Manu Tuilagi’s absence from England’s forthcoming squad, after the Leicester idiot’s conviction for assaulting two female police officers and a taxi driver, has handed Burgess a lifeline.
As his Bath coach Mike Ford has been saying for a while, the 26-year-old can provide cover in the back row of the scrum and at centre, with Stuart Lancaster in need of added spark in both positions ahead of the Red Rose’s home World Cup.
He may be a very different player, but the similarly-quick code conversion of Jason Robinson worked well for the British and Irish Lions ahead of the 2001 tour of Australia, which they lost narrowly.
Burgess is an exciting, dynamic player who will get the home crowd going. At this stage, he looks a shoo-in to make Lancaster’s final squad.
New Zealand – Ma’a Nonu
With veteran Conrad Smith, young upstart Malakai Fekitoa, and man-mountain Sonny Bill Williams all competing with Nonu for two starting XV spots at centre for the defending champions, the 33-year-old could hardly have hit top form for his club, the Hurricanes, at a better time.
Like Smith, Nonu will hang up his All-Black shirt after the World Cup and head to France to see out the twilight of his career. After bagging two tries in a 22-18 Hurricanes win over the Chiefs, helping his side all-but clinch the New Zealand conference title, he looks set to go out on a high.
Ireland – Luke Fitzgerald
After becoming the youngest Ireland international in almost 30 years when debuting at just 19 in 2006, huge things were expected of utility back Fitzgerald. Only 27 more caps have followed for his country, plus one for the Lions, and just two tries, due to injury after injury.
The Leinster man made his way back into his country’s starting line up for the first time since 2011 in March, as Joe Schmidt’s side retained their Six Nations title with a 40-10 thrashing of Scotland.
His return couldn’t be more timely, with Ireland lacking depth in the centre behind Jared Payne and Robbie Henshaw, neither of whom have World Cup experience, and in need of experienced wing cover for Tommy Bowe and Simon Zebo.
Australia – Taqele Naiyaravoro
The Fijian-born winger’s bulldozing rampages for the Waratahs in this year’s Super Rugby tournament have seen him compared to Jonah Lomu, but Aussie coach Michael Cheika will have to get a move on if he is to stop Naiyaravoro heading Scotland.
Glasgow Warriors have signed him up for next season, and there has been talk that the 23-year-old will be fast-tracked into Vern Cotter’s international side at the earliest available opportunity, but a clause in the deal means it could be ripped up if Naiyaravoro is called up for Australia in the mean time.
Cheika was recently quoted saying “It would be naive of me not to have a look at him… he’s right up there. He’s a profile that we don’t have, that big type of winger”.
South Africa – Jan Serfontein
Springboks boss Heyneke Meyer has named 19 uncapped players in a mammoth pre-World Cup training camp, but this young Bulls centre will feel assured of a place on the plane after shrugging off late-season injury worries.
The 2013 IRB Young Player of the Year already has 20 caps for his country, but with captain Jean de Villiers and JP Pietersen, a veteran of two World Cups, in his way, Serfontein will have to bide his time this autumn.
Expect him to make an impact in the latter stages.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
Fancy a flutter? Sign up today to claim up to £25 in free bets.