They won’t receive any medals or laps of honour but the people who could have the decisive impact on this year’s Six Nations are the medical and physio staff of the country able to patch up and maintain as high quality a squad as possible through to the middle of March.
What was already shaping up to be the most open tournament for years has been given an extra levelling layer of unpredictability by the extraordinary catalogue of injuries suffered by every nation in the lead up to a competition that is now just over a week away.
Lions scrum-half Rhys Webb is the latest big-name Wales player to be added to an ever-growing casualty list, a knee injury ruling him out of the opening game against Scotland and casting his involvement in the tournament at all in doubt.
Here in Scotland the focus has been on our own troubles, particularly focused in the front row, that has mounted up as the season has progressed. However, it is a problem that has afflicted every team and simply adds to the ongoing debate about the sustainability of the ever more physical and intense modern game, with the average professional club now accepting the fact that at least around 25 per cent of the squad will be injured at any given time.
World Rugby has said it is too early to attribute the rising casualty rates to new laws introduced, including three to the ruck/tackle area, which it is claimed has led defending to commit fewer players to the breakdown, reducing space and raising the number of collisions.
That is the conclusion an RFU report on the Aviva Premiership made this season but the world governing body says a full season-long and global analysis is needed.
In the meantime, the Six Nations injury lists paint a picture, although not a black and white one. Beyond the players listed below there are a host of players who are doubtful or in the short-term category and may come back to the fray at some point in the gruelling seven-week test.
As it stands, the tournament has been robbed of some of the key men for each nation. Scotland are without their No 1 tighthead WP Nel, while England’s Billy Vunipola, France’s Camile Lopez, Wales’s Sam Warburton and Italy’s Michele Campagnaro will play no part.
Ireland are the squad who seem to have negotiated their way to the starting line in the best shape. Aside from some long-term absentees they have only had to make one change to their Six Nations squad, with prop James Cronin replacing fellow Munsterman Dave Kilcoyne.
Eddie Jones spoke enviously of the Irish central contract system at Wednesday’s Six Nations launch and, in typically flamboyant style, declared “I’m not Donald Trump, I can’t build a Wall between us and the clubs”.
Centre Henry Slade (shoulder) and prop Kyle Sinckler (hamstring) have both been ruled out of England’s opener in Italy, with flanker Chris Robshaw and full-back Mike Brown battling to be fit.
The two other Celtic nations, who have similar powers to manage their players not available to England and France, have not been as lucky as the Irish, though.
In addition to the definitely outs, Scotland are sweating on lock Richie Gray (calf), centre Alex Dunbar (concussion) and Ryan Wilson (ankle), and are missing a number of players for at least the first stage of the tournament, such as looseheads Allan Dell and Darryl Marfo and centre Duncan Taylor.
Aside from Webb, Wales are without stand-off Dan Biggar for the first three games, Taulupe Faletau for the bulk of the campaign and, probably, Lion Liam Williams too. George North will return for his club Northampton at the weekend but is not certain to be ready for the opener.
Once the action gets under way, it is in the churn of inevitable fresh injuries and timely comebacks that the underlying story of how the title is won will be told.
The players from each nation who have been ruled out of the whole of this year’s Six Nations
WP Nel – Broken arm.
Zander Fagerson – Foot injury.
George Turner – Knee medial ligaments.
Ross Ford – Pectoral injury.
Fraser Brown – Concussion.
Al Dickinson – Foot injury.
Billy Vunipola – arm fracture.
Elliot Daly – Ankle injury.
Tom Curry – Dislocated wrist.
Semesa Rokoduguni - shoulder injury.
Gabriel Lacroix – Ruptured ACL
Camille Lopez – Broken ankle.
Judicael Cancoriet – Ankle injury
Charles Ollivon – Fractured shoulder blade.
Damian Penaud – Fractured foot.
Wesley Fofana – Herniated disc.
Jamie Heaslip – Back injury.
Rhys Ruddock – Hamstring tear.
Tommy O’Donnell – Shoulder injury.
Jared Payne – Head injury
Michele Campagnaro – Ruptured knee ligaments.
Angelo Esposito – ACL injury.
Ornel Gega – Knee injury.
Rhys Priestland – Hamstring injury.
Sam Warburton – Knee injury.
Dan Lydiate – Knee injury.
Jonathan Davies – Foot injury