With the tournament only days away from beginning, there are a handful of Rugby World Cup players who could [literally] ignite the RWC2019 event.
New Zealand is packed with stardust talent – Beauden Barrett, Ardie Savea and Rieko Ioane – to name a few. Charlie Inglefield looks at five Rugby World Cup players from the other nations who could ‘ignite the World Cup’.
Joe Cokanasiga (England)
It is of no surprise that comparisons have been made of the late, great Jonah Lomu with Big Joe. Cokanasiga is huge and quick but he also has the Fijian gene of outrageous skills to call upon. Already in his short career, we have seen glimpses of just how devastating a runner Cokanasiga is.
Last November, Big Joe made an impressive debut against Japan. He was then thrown in against Australia and promptly bumped off Dane Haylett-Petty to canter over for his second try in England colours. It was a seismic introduction and against serious opposition.
But what will have excited not just English fans but rugby fans, in general, is the way Cokanasiga has since developed his game further.
The Bath winger has added a work rate to his talent emphasized by shunting over Wales’ try-line from close range in the first pre-warm-up game. A quieter match in Cardiff six days later was followed by a thunderous all-action display against the Irish at Twickenham. Two tries do not tell the full story. Cokanasiga’s second try showed his threat of opening up a defence from anywhere on the pitch.
His ability to cut an inside line off Ford or Farrell’s shoulder will be a major attacking Rugby World Cup player. A weapon that England must utilize.
Damian Penaud (France)
We all wait to see what kind of French outfit will turn up in Japan. The word is that their forwards are in better condition and their backs, the right ones. One of them Damian Penaud is genuinely world-class and alongside Antoine Dupont have been the shining beacons from another horrible season. It helps that Penaud has the genes of his dad, Alain, who on his day was a sensational runner for France.
Penaud Jnr has learned his craft with one of Europe’s best teams, Clermont. It helps to have the likes of Wesley Fofana and Camille Lopez as providers.
Damian Penaud is special talent 👏👏 pic.twitter.com/YayT2A4jbX
— Jared Wright (@jaredwright17) December 1, 2018
What Penaud does so well is his ability to continually break the gain line often in the tightest of traffic. Jack Nowell does something similar for England, but Penaud has the pace to match the trickery. It is hard to remember Penaud having a bad game for either club or country.
Even at Twickenham in this year’s Six Nations, where France copped a shellacking, Penaud was head and shoulders above his teammates. There is an exciting feel to France’s backline and France will be infinitely sharper with him in the team.
Kwagga Smith (South Africa)
We have to have a forward in here and there is none better than Transvaal’s Kwagga Smith. This guy is a freak – if given an opportunity by Rassie Erasmus, the Springbok coach. Smith’s try-scoring record is phenomenal and he could be the x-factor in the Springbok team primarily off the bench.
The Northern Hemisphere got a glimpse of Smith when he turned in an extraordinary performance for the Barbarians against the All Blacks, in November 2017. He was named man of the match in a losing cause and his star has risen ever since.
Smith, alongside Malcolm Marx, has brought the Lions out of the doldrums in recent years and these two are poised to do so again in Japan. It’s not just Smith’s support play and running skills but his ability to turn over opposition ball.
On the back of an impressive display in the 16-16 all draw over New Zealand in Wellington, Erasmus had to take him. The conditions will suit the runners in Japan and Kwagga Smith’s impact is every bit as good as some of the backs on show.
Stuart Hogg (Scotland)
Stuart Hogg has been around for a while but at 27 he has plenty of years ahead of him. Scotland with him in the side tend to terrify opposition defences, when he is not they are blunt and rudderless. Importantly Hogg saves his best for the best, as illustrated with his performance against the All Blacks in November 2017. Add in his feisty temperament and his experience, Scotland has an absolute gem in their ranks.
Scotland missed a beat by not selecting Huw Jones to go alongside Finn Russell, as these two with Hogg working in tandem, are a lethal combination.
That said, Hogg will find ways of getting into the game and he is capable of carrying Scotland over the line against Ireland in their opening Pool A clash.
If Scotland is any chance to make a genuine push to the finals then Hogg is their key man. The question will be whether the team can give Hogg enough quality ball for him to do his thing.
Josua Tuisova (Fiji)
Fiji is the unknown package in the 2019 Rugby World Cup. They could petrify anyone they play against or crash out at the pool stages. Tuisova and Semi Radradra are just two of Fiji’s world-class creators and finishers. If the likes of Tusiova and Radradra get decent possession then watch out Fiji.
In the Top 14, Tuisova has scored every kind of try for Toulon even when Toulon were struggling last year. Regularly on the highlights reel, Tuisova swats or bumps defenders out of the way, either from a standing start or on the hoof.
As befitting the Fijians, Tuisova has pace, power and a step on him. Kicking is strictly a second option and Japan’s warm weather will suit Fiji down to the ground. Fiji has such an arsenal at their disposal and not just in the backs, Leone Nakawara, Racing’s second-rower has skills that few backs or forwards can match. Fiji’s front five have to somehow gain parity in the set-piece in order to get Tuisova a yard or two of space to work his magic in.
If they do that Fiji can beat anyone in their group and perhaps damage a team or two in the finals.
The 2019 Rugby World Cup begins on Friday, September 20
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