Friday, September 14, 2007

RWC07 Key players

England - Jonny Wilkinson
It is a bit obvious. The man who helped them to win the World Cup in 2003 - with that sweetly struck drop-goal in extra-time - is back. Even when he is not playing, Wilkinson features in more headlines than most other players and that is because he is such an important part of the England set-up. It may be an illusion, but one gets the impression that England have no real chance at the World Cup without him - as was evident during a succession of injuries that sidelined him from international duty for much of the past four years.

South Africa - Fourie du Preez
Yes, there are other world-class players like Schalk Burger and Victor Matfield that will have the spotlight focused on them. And they are indeed important cogs in the system. However, the important decisions will be made behind the pack, which is why Du Preez is the key to the Springbok campaign. With question marks remaining over the ability of fly-halves André Pretorius and Butch James to stay injury-free, Du Preez will be called upon to dictate terms from scrum-half with his educated boot and take the pressure off SA's outside backs and keep that gargantuan pack going forward.

Samoa - Alesana Tuilagi
The Tuilagi brothers - Anitelia, Alesana, Henry and Freddie - have earned cult status at Leicester Tigers, but it is Alesana that has earned the biggest wraps from his peers. He is regarded as Samoa's version of All Blacks megastar Jonah Lomu and rightly so. Whether Tuilagi will have the same impact as Lomu did at the 1995 World Cup remains to be seen, but he is likely to show why he is already a household name in the northern hemisphere. All three Tuilagis will feature in the tournament - Alesana on the wing, Anitelia in the midfield and Henry at No.8.

USA - Mike Hercus
At 28 he could be regarded as a veteran, but he Hercus made his debut for the US Eagles against Scotland in 2002 only. The former Sale Sharks fly-half has scored nine tries and an American record 361 points in his 31 Tests in five years. He got his rugby grounding when he went to school in Sydney, Australia, where he began playing rugby at age six. He has also played for Llanelli Scarlets and Newport Gwent Dragons, before returning to America to join Belmont Shore in the US semi-pro league.

Tonga - Otenili Langilangi

Better known as Nili Latu, southern hemisphere fans will know him from playing for the Hurricanes in the Super 14, but in his role as Tongan team captain, he has now reverted to his Pacific Islands name of Langilangi. This dynamic 25-year-old flanker was given the nickname 'The Tongan Torpedo' in New Zealand and captained his country in the Pacific Nations Cup tournament this year, after making his debut last year against Japan. He has also represented NZ U19 and NZ Secondary Schools, before opting to play for Tonga.

Australia - Stephen Larkham
You can pick any one of four players - George Gregan, Stephen Larkham, Matt Giteau and Stirling Mortlock. However, the one we feel will have the biggest influence is Larkham. Not surprising then that coach John Connolly is considering placing his 33-year-old fly-half in cotton-wool. In the pool stages he will face Wales, while his real tournament will begin when the play-offs start. With 101 Tests this is in his final international season, but his classic ball-running and passing abilities still make him one of the game's premier fly-halves.

Fiji - Netani Talei
The 24-year-old flanker - who can play at lock as well - epitomises what Fijian forwards are all about; maybe not as monstrous as those produced by South, Africa, New Zealand, France or England, but certainly a lot more athletic. Talei has grown steadily to become Fiji's best utility back row forward; blending size and athleticism, which allows him to play anywhere in the back row. Although relatively inexperienced, the powerhouse flanker's talents have been recognised and he has signed a one-year deal with Worcester.

Canada - Morgan Williams
As Canada's captain he is one of only a handful of professional rugby players in the side. The 31-year-old scrum-half has 51 caps and is a veteran of the 1999 and 2003 World Cups. Canada's star of the '99 Rugby World Cup, Williams scored two tries against France and one against Namibia. Williams has played professionally with Bordeaux-Begles (1999/2000 season), Stade Français (2000-02 and 2006) and Saracens (2002-05).

Japan - Daisuke Ohata
Another Rugby World Cup veteran, 30-year-old Daisuke scored three tries for Japan against Georgia in May of last year, in doing so breaking the world record for tries in Test matches previously held by Wallaby ace David Campese. Ohata has now scored 69 tries for his country in 55 games. He usually plays at wing and sometimes centre, for Kobe Steel Kobelco Steelers in the Japanese Top League. He made his name internationally as a speedy ace in the IRB World Sevens Series, and is now a regular member of the Japan national 15-man side.

New Zealand - Dan Carter
There are two key names in the All Blacks squad, first five-eighth Dan Carter and openside star Richie McCaw. The latter is the captain and generally regarded as the best openside flank in the world and his leadership and abilities at the breakdown are crucial to New Zealand's cause. But, for all McCaw's strengths, it is Carter who will be pulling the major strings for the All Blacks at the World Cup. The 25-year-old is generally regarded as the world's premier number 10 and his 636 points in 41 Tests are evidence of his value to the side.

Scotland - Chris Paterson
Having often played at full-back or wing, where he started out, Paterson is also more than comfortable at fly-half. One of the best running backs in world rugby with explosive pace and deceptive strength, he is also a world-class goal-kicker and is closing in on former skipper Gavin Hastings's national points record of 667. There is still a debate whether he will serve his country best at No.15 or No.10, but for now it appears the 64-Test veteran will be the first choice fly-half at the World Cup.

Italy - Alessandro Troncon
The influential scrum-half, who has made more Test appearances than any other player in Italian history, has well over 90 caps to his name and is about to embark on his fourth World Cup campaign having played in 10 matches in total at the 1995, 1999 and 2003 tournaments. If all goes well, the 33-year-old could reach the magical 100 appearances in the Pool C match against Portugal on September 19 after being recalled to the Azzurri in time for the 2007 Six Nations where he helped Italy beat Wales and Scotland.

Romania - Petru Balan

If there is one thing the Romanian team has brought to previous World Cups it is powerhouse props - men who could scrum against the best. Balan - 2003 RWC 'veteran' - is one of those, with the 31-year-old currently plying his trade for Biarritz Olympique in the French Top 14 competition, having initially represented Dinamo-Bucuresti in Romania. He also played for FC Grenoble in the 2002/03 Challenge Cup and European Shield competitions and moved to Biarritz for the 2003/04 season.

Portugal - Pedro Leal
When Portugal first made their mark on the IRB Sevens circuit it was through classy running backs like Leal, who is now also a regular in the Portuguese 15-man side - which will be the only amateur side at the World Cup. He has 20 Test caps for Portugal and plays at full-back for the national side. He is widely considered Portugal's best player on the Sevens circuit, where he has scored over 40 tries on the IRB Sevens circuit.

France - Yannick Jauzion
This 29-year-old French midfielder is a key player behind Toulouse's and France's recent achievements. He was a member of the Toulouse team that reached the Heineken Cup Final in 2003, '04 and '05 - and was named as the Man of the Match in the 2005 Heineken Cup Final as Toulouse defeated Stade Français. He earned his first national cap against South Africa in 2001 and played in France's Grand Slam-
winning team of 2002 and 2004. He missed the 2006 6N, but played all the matches during the '07 Six Nations Championship that France won.

Ireland - Brian O'Driscoll
Brian O'Driscoll is the best outside centre in the world, which was highlighted by the huge fuss surrounding the facial injury he suffered against Bayonne in a warm-up match - the injury coming courtesy of a punch from lock Mikaera Tewhata. While it is indicative of Ireland's strength in depth that several of their squad could be key to their success, the talismanic midfielder, who is known as 'BOD', still remains their key man. It has become a mantra mainly from Irish supporters that without 'BOD', the Irish are three men down.

Argentina - Juan Martin Hernández

Whilst veteran scrum-half and captain Agustín Pichot - set to take part in his fourth World Cup - is Argentina's most recognisable player, pundits are looking to Hernández to make the biggest impact in France. He currently plays for the French club Stade Français and is a utility back - capable of playing fly-half, centre, or full-back, which has seen many clubs throw generous amounts of money at him. Hernández generally prefers fly-half, but he is likely to be utilised mostly at full-back this year.

Georgia - Goderdzi Shvelidze

Georgia might be considered easy-beats at the World Cup, but their set-piece, with Goderdzi Shvelidze at the fore, is a key, and successful, aspect of their game. The 29-year-old Rustavi-born hooker is back for his second World Cup campaign, having been part of his team's 2003 effort in Australia. An experienced front rower, who used to play prop, Shvelidze plays his club rugby for Clermont Auvergne where his powerful scrummaging and ball-in-hand abilities have seen him develop into a key man.

Namibia - Kees Lensing

It says a lot for his ability that he was once rated as a possible Springbok prop - but by the time he reached that level, Lensing had already laid down his marker with Namibia. He now captains them and the 29-year-old prop forward is not only a leadership figure, but his experience - with the Bulls and Sharks in the Super 14 competition - will be crucial for his team at the World Cup. Lensing, who starred for Namibia at the 2003 RWC, has also played for Leeds Tykes in the English Premiership and at 125kg is a serious chunk of African beef at loosehead prop.

England v South Africa
South Africa v Argentina (37-13)
England v France (14-9)

1 comment:

Mark T said...

No Wales? I know we played very badly but you did give Namibia one