TEN PLAYERS TO WATCH AT THE RUGBY WORLD CUP
ISRAEL FOLAU (Australia – fullback)
Folau made his name in rugby league when he broke the record for most tries in a debut season in Australia’s NRL. His versatility and athletic prowess was such that Folau then accepted a lucrative deal to play AFL before switching games – again – to rugby union in late 2012.
He was soon called up to the Wallabies, and scored twice on debut against the British and Irish Lions.
The 26-year-old Folau was one of the main draws in Super Rugby for the NSW Waratahs, champions in 2014, and has been a regular for the Wallabies over the past two years.
His record of 17 tries in 31 Tests, coupled with his destructive running, confirms his status as one of international rugby’s most dangerous attacking players.
JULIAN SAVEA (New Zealand – winger)
Savea has lived with the label of ‘the new Jonah Lomu’ for a while.
His prolific try-scoring earned him a nomination for world player of the year, and 30 tries in 35 Tests makes him one of the most lethal wingers in world rugby.
During the World Cup, he has a chance to pass or equal some distinguished company among All Blacks international try-scorers: In his sights are Mils Muliaina (34), John Kirwan (35), Tana Umaga (36), and the big guy himself, Lomu (37).
DAMIAN DE ALLENDE (South Africa – centre)
De Allende injects pace and power into the Springboks backline, and may have done enough in his seven Tests so far to keep the No. 12 jersey and shift returning captain Jean de Villiers to outside centre.
De Allende can power his way through tackles or use his speed to beat defenders, but also has excellent handling and passing skills and is versatile enough to play on the wing if required.
SEAN O’BRIEN (Ireland – flanker)
Weighing nearly 110kg, O’Brien is built like a tank and pretty much plays like one.
The backrower is quick and exceptionally strong in defence. He showed those qualities in abundance when helping Leinster win the European Cup in 2011, and those performances contributed to him winning the European player of the year.
STUART HOGG (Scotland – fullback)
The more attack-minded approach instilled by Scotland coach Vern Cotter is great news for Hogg, who is blossoming into one of the quickest and most elusive runners in European rugby.
The 23-year-old quickly made an impression on the international stage that earned him a spot on the British and Irish Lions tour of Australia in 2013.
NEMANI NADOLO (Fiji – centre/winger)
Not many players, if any, will relish facing Nadolo – for good reason.
Nadolo, who can play inside centre or wing, is 1.95 meters and nearly 130kg of muscle. He’s quick, too, and marking him was once described by Wales centre Jamie Roberts as the “ultimate test” for a rugby player.
LOUIS PICAMOLES (France – No.8)
The bustling Picamoles can carve holes through opposing defenses and cause damage.
He breaks tackles frequently, and has good enough hands to offload cleanly after contact.
JAMIE ROBERTS (Wales – centre)
Roberts in full flow is one of the best sights in rugby, at least for Wales. For opposing teams, he is both a robust midfielder who makes devastating breaks and is a ferocious head-on tackler.
Injury-hit Wales needs him at his best more than ever to qualify from a difficult group featuring England, Australia, and Fiji.
ANTHONY WATSON (England – winger)
England may have unearthed a future star in Watson, whose finishing from the right wing has drawn early comparisons with retired England and British Lions star Jason Robinson.
The 21-year-old Watson has shown early glimpses that he may have similar attributes to Robinson, notably an ability to score tries from a standing start with an explosive burst of speed, and mesmerizing change of direction.
VASIL LOBZHANIDZE (Georgia – scrum-half)
Lobzhanidze could become the youngest player in Rugby World Cup history if he gets on the field.
Lobzhanidze turns 19 after the pool stage. That gives him a strong chance of becoming the first 18-year-old to play on rugby’s biggest stage, against New Zealand, Argentina, Tonga or Namibia.
Thretton Palamo holds the record, playing for the United States during the 2007 World Cup, eight days after his 19th birthday. He’s back again.