December 2, 2020, 5:27

Ten potential breakout stars of Rugby World Cup 2019

Ten potential breakout stars of Rugby World Cup 2019

At every World Cup, players from nations across the tournament take things by the scruff of the neck and make people notice.

Every four years, individuals from Tier 1 and Tier 2 countries use the World Cup as a platform to truly announce themselves on the international scene.

Below, we look at players with the potential to do just that over the next six weeks in Japan…

Sevu Reece (New Zealand)

All Blacks wing Reece didn’t even earn a Test cap until July 2019, but has more than taken the opportunity since to display his pace, work ethic and clinical finishing ability.

It’s incredible how things have changed for Reece. Back in May 2018, it was announced he had signed a contract with Irish province Connacht – taking him completely out of the equation for All Blacks recognition at that point.

He was then left without a club when the Irish province reneged on the deal in light of Reece pleading guilty to a domestic abuse charge.

From there, he broke into one of the best club sides in the world in the form of the Crusaders, initially just as an injury replacement in March, going on to score a competition-high 15 tries in 2019 and winning a Super Rugby title.

A little over a year later, he’s heading to Japan with the double world champions and will start against South Africa on Saturday.

Josua Tuisova & Semi Radradra (Fiji)

Fiji may be a Tier 2 nation, but for many people they are the dark horses to do well in this World Cup.

In Tuisova and Radradra, they have two backs with all the qualities to perform at a genuinely world-class level. Former teammates at Toulon, the pair’s offloading skills, speed, agility and power mark them out as threats against even the stingiest of defences.

Wing Tuisova is one of the most powerful backs in world rugby, and has the ability to attack from anywhere. Centre Radradra will make history at the World Cup as the first ever player to play in three forms: Rugby League World Cup, Sevens World Cup and Rugby World Cup.

Radradra’s ability to step past as well as romp over defenders, and create gaps for his team-mates mark him out as an invaluable performer for Fiji too.

These two could take the World Cup by storm.

Joe Taufete’e & Paul Lasike (USA)

In March 2019, hooker Taufete’e made history as he broke the record for the most tries scored by a No 2 in Test rugby. The record-breaking tally of 20 tries in 22 Test matches surpassed former World Player of the Year and Ireland hooker Keith Wood’s record.

The 26-year-old Worcester Warrior, who comically first started playing rugby to impress his now-wife, is set to enjoy his second Rugby World Cup campaign after making his USA debut against South Africa in the 2015 edition of the tournament.

Also within USA ranks, keep an eye out for Harlequins centre Paul Lasike, whose road to this point is remarkable.

The Auckland-born 29-year-old moved to the USA to play rugby on a scholarship at Brigham Young University in Utah. Once in the nation, his attentions turned to American Football and he managed to feature for the Arizona Cardinals and Chicago Bears in the NFL.

Released from the Bears in 2016, Lasike took up rugby again with the Utah Warriors in Major League Rugby and in 2018, he signed on with Quins in the Premiership. Since 2018, he has picked up 16 caps and been nicknamed ‘the missile’. What a story – it’s sure to be one you’ll hear again during the World Cup.

With the USA in Pool C alongside England, keep an eye out for these two.

Alivereti Raka (France)

Fans of Saracens will know all about the danger that wing Raka poses to a side, while those who enjoyed the Top 14 on Sky Sports will be well-versed in his work too.

Raka’s stunning all-round display at Allianz Park in December 2017 – a hat-trick producing performance – was mesmerising but wasn’t just a one-off.

He has the unique ability to merge together the innate handling skills that come from his Fijian heritage with an almost unrivalled combination of power and pace.

The winger’s offloading game will bring those around him into the mix, creating opportunities that wouldn’t previously have been there, and his direct lines will slice through most defensive units.

Also within the France ranks, keep an eye out for Raka’s club colleague Damian Penaud on the opposite wing, who may well be the quickest man at this World Cup. Scrum-half Antoine Dupont is also one to watch with his wonderfully stylish and skilful play.

Like the USA, France are in England’s pool and Raka will need special attention in order to keep him and co quiet.

Jordan Petaia (Australia)

The uncapped World Cup rookie won’t be available for Australia’s opening clash against Fiji on September 21 due to recovering from a hamstring injury, but there are positive signs he will be in contention to face Wales eight days after.

The 19-year-old has almost made his Test debut on a number of occasions: against Italy in November 2018 and Samoa in September, but was denied by an irksome hamstring, while he barely featured at Super Rugby level this year either, having played just a game-and-a-half before his season ended with injury.

With his ability to play in the centres and on the wing, Petaia provides a relatively unknown quantity for Michael Cheika to unleash, and it’s potential the head coach has clearly seen and liked.

Did you know?

There’s 16 years difference in age between Jordan Petaia, the youngest member of the Wallabies’ squad, and their oldest – Adam Ashley-Cooper.

The back plies his Super Rugby trade at the Queensland Reds and has shown sizzling pace and vision with the handling skills to boot too. The young man has a box of tricks at his disposal and as long as he holds his nerves in check, could grab his World Cup opportunity with both hands.

Kazuki Himeno (Japan)

In 2017, Japan flanker Himeno was plucked straight from university to became captain of club side Toyota Verblitz by World Cup-winning coach Jake White no less.

Just eight starts for his club later, Himeno received a call-up to the Japan Test squad, making his debut against Australia in November 2017 and scoring a try.

The sizeable forward is used as one of Jamie Joseph’s primary ball carriers for Japan, while also as one of their main sources of breakdown turnovers.

The 25-year-old is viewed as a future captain of his country, and alongside the highly experienced Michael Leitch in the back-row, will be keen to impress in front of the home support and watching world.

Beka Gorgadze (Georgia)

Beka Gorgadze, according to Georgia’s forwards coach – and former England and British & Irish Lions coach – Graham Rowntree, is an “outstanding talent” at No 8.

The 23-year-old has 19 caps to his name, plays his domestic rugby at Bordeaux in the Top 14 and will be making his Rugby World Cup debut in Japan.

With great Georgian forward (and namesake) Mamuka Gorgodze coming out of retirement to be in the squad for Japan, Gorgadze has an exceptional team-mate to turn to for advice and guidance.

A quick glance at Gorgadze’s highlights reel will show you a No 8 with considerable speed and a fend that will concern backs from every nation. If a slighter player gets in his way they will know about it.

Lucas Rumball (Canada)

Though Canada’s Rugby World Cup record may not be great: just seven wins from 29 Tests against only four nations – Tonga, Fiji, Romania and Namibia – they do have a history of producing players who have gone on to have superb careers in Europe and the southern hemisphere.

The likes of DTH van der Merwe, Tyler Ardron, Jamie Cudmore, Taylor Paris, Jeff Hassler and Evan Olstead have forged hugely successful stints in the professional game across the top leagues in Europe and in Ardron’s case, the Chiefs in New Zealand also.


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