X Factor

6 players to watch out for in the upcoming November Tests

We pick out a French out-half, a Kiwi midfielder, a Welsh prop, an English centre, a Scottish lock and an Australian wing.

Sonny Bill Williams

The outstanding centre is back in international rugby union and if his performance against the US last weekend was anything to measure by, Williams will be at his best in a very short space of time.

Sonny Bill Williams Williams was back in black last weekend. Photosport / Andrew Cornaga/INPHO Photosport / Andrew Cornaga/INPHO / Andrew Cornaga/INPHO

Now 29, the code-hopping 6ft 4ins powerhouse is among the finest athletes in the sport, and his superb handling and offloading make him a constant threat. While the injured Ma’a Nonu remains an important player for New Zealand, Williams offers a different dimension.

We are looking forward to the offloads, but Williams will be keen to demonstrate that he is a more rounded player in his second stint with New Zealand.

Samson Lee

Adam Jones is something of a legend in the tighthead propping stakes, meaning his exclusion from the Wales squad this month came as a surprise in some quarters. While the 33-year-old is busy attempting drop goals, Lee will look to take a stranglehold on Wales’ number three slot.

Rugby Union - Dove Men Series - Wales v Australia - Millennium Stadium Lee picked up a five-week ban for a headbutt during last summer's tour of South Africa. David Davies David Davies

Still only 21, the Scarlets prop is remarkably young for an international tighthead, but he packs considerable strength into his 115kg mass. While Australia may look to target Lee at scrum time, he has already come through several demanding Heineken Cup tests.

As Warren Gatland strives to get Wales back towards their peak, the set-piece platform at scrum and line-out will be key. Samson will need to lock out those areas, while also contributing around the pitch, as is his habit.

Camille Lopez

Having spent almost the entirety of last season sidelined with a knee injury as Perpignan were relegated from the Top 14, Lopez is fit again and sparkling at out-half for new club side Clermont.

Clermont AuvergneÕs Camille Lopez Lopez has been in excellent form for Clermont so far this season. Inpho / Billy Stickland Inpho / Billy Stickland / Billy Stickland

The 25-year-old has taken a slightly unorthodox route into international rugby, having worked his way up from France’s third-tier Fédérale 1 and into the Top 14 over the course of five seasons.

His two France caps against New Zealand in 2013 saw his defensive game questioned, but there is little doubt over Lopez’ vision, distribution and multi-faceted kicking game. A cross-field specialist and perhaps the man to finally nail down France’s 10 shirt.

Kyle Eastmond

While French rugby fans wonder which half-pack pairing will take them into the World Cup in 2015, English supporters have been uncertain over the identity of their centre partnership.

Conrad Smith pushes off Kyle Eastmond Eastmond [on the receiving end of Conrad Smith's fend here] was hauled off at half-time during a Tests against the Kiwis last summer. Photosport / Jason Oxenham/INPHO Photosport / Jason Oxenham/INPHO / Jason Oxenham/INPHO

Billy Twelvetrees has failed to nail down the 12 jersey, while Manu Tuilagi and Luther Burrell are currently sidelined through injury. That means Kyle Eastmond and Brad Barritt get the opportunity to impress against the Kiwis this weekend.

Eastmond has been excellent for Bath again this season, standing out with his darting footwork, clever passing and for the fact that he repeatedly punches well above his 5ft 7ins, 85kg frame.

Jonny Gray

Younger brother of Castres lock Richie, the 20-year-old looks likely to be an important pillar of the Scotland side over the next decade or so. Four inches shorter than his sibling, Jonny has slightly different strengths but may become the better second row.

Jonny Gray Gray offers himself up for plenty of the close-in carrying. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Gregor Townsend has backed Gray at Glasgow Warriors over the last two seasons, being rewarded with string of high-quality performances. In what essentially remains a work-rate position, Gray has a whole lot of engine.

Accurate and aggressive in his clearing out, energetic in defence and a key contributor at the line-out, the 120kg lock has the potential to be a Scottish great. Gray is already at the five-cap mark, one of those a start, and will hope to add to the collection against Argentina this weekend.

Henry Speight

Australia have been missing a little X-factor out wide in recent times, although that is not meant as a slight on the likes of Adam Ashley-Cooper, Rob Horne or Joe Tomane, who have all performed well on the wings.

Rugby Union - Killik Cup - Barbarians v Australia - Twickenham Impressive hair, impressive speed. David Davies David Davies

Having bided his time as he waited to qualify for Australia, Fiji-born Speight will now look to add another layer of attacking ability to the Wallabies’ back three options. The 26-year-old wing has been a menace for the Brumbies for the last four years, and expects to bring that tackle-busting threat to the international game.

Speight made his first appearance in green and gold in the uncapped and hugely entertaining clash against the Barbarians last weekend, but Saturday afternoon’s encounter with Wales is likely to be another step up.

NB – We’ve gone for an international flavour in this piece, having picked out five Irish players who need a big month in a separate article yesterday.

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