Seven Players To Watch In The Rugby World Cup

Joe Taufete'e Gets A Kiss From The Coach

From a Test match point-scoring stalwart to a World Cup winner, from an Olympic champion to an emblematic leader who transcends sport as well as a fresh-faced rookie, take a look at seven players who could turn out to be the headline-grabbing names of the Rugby World Cup starting in Japan on September 20.

1. Johnny Sexton, Ireland

The reigning World Rugby Player of the Year heads to his third World Cup having featured in only one of four of Ireland's warmup matches due to injury. 

The influential flyhalf returned during the victory over Wales in early September to win his 84th cap in the No. 10 jersey. Sexton trails only the man he displaced at flyhalf,  Ronan O'Gara, as Ireland's all-time points scorer, with 770. O'Gara scored 1,083 international points.

Sexton is joined by Munster's Conor Murray in forming an experienced halfback partnership under head coach Joe Schmidt.

2. Beauden Barrett, New Zealand

The 28-year-old, a world champion four years ago, travels to Japan along with brothers Scott and Jordie, after a difficult few months.

Barrett, a two-time World Rugby Player of the Year, has been moved to fullback by head coach Steve Hansen to accommodate for Richie Mo'unga in the No. 10 shirt and deal with an injury to Damian McKenzie.

Despite persistent doubts about the accuracy of his goalkicking, Barrett's talent and speed in open play, especially on the counterattack, make him one of the most dangerous players with ball in hand.

3. Joe Taufete'e, USA

At only 26 years old, Taufete'e is already the leading scorer of any tight-five player in rugby history. The hooker surpassed Keith Wood with 20 tries in just 22 appearances. Taufete'e is a crossover athlete from American football and currently on contract with the Worcester Warriors in the Premiership.

Taufete'e's inclusion in the 2015 Rugby World Cup came somewhat as a surprise to many. This World Cup he's undoubtedly the best forward for the USA and he'll be in peak form in Japan.

Taufete'e is matched up with England's Jamie George in the first match of the World Cup; it'll be a hooker battle for the ages.

4. Leone Nakarawa, Fiji


The "Octopus," as he is called by teammate Jale Vatubua, is among four Fiji squad members at the World Cup who also won a gold medal at the Rio Olympics in 2016.

The Racing 92 second row stands 1.98m tall. His ability to use his long arms to offload the ball can be almost undefendable. His reach also means he is dangerous disrupting opposition ball high in the air at lineouts as well as during driving mauls.

With 59 caps, the 31-year-old Nakarawa is one behind Campese Ma'afu as the Pacific Islanders' most experienced player heading to Japan. 

5. Santiago Socino, Argentina

The least known player on this list is Argentina's World Cup bolter and brother of FloRugby contributor JP Socino. In 2018, Santiago Socino had a successful season at hooker with the Newcastle Falcons in the Premiership before he was recruited away by Argentina head coach Teo Ledesma. 

The hooker earned 34 caps with Newcastle and fulfilled the residency requirements necessary to play for England, but instead decided to return home to play for the Jaguares and his country. Socino runs and tackles like his center brother, and originally intended to play professional rugby as a back-rower.

Socino's meteoric rise earned him his first cap for Argentina in the Rugby Championship. While Socino will sit behind captain Agustin Creevy in the England and France matches, he could see decent time against the USA and Tonga.

6. Siya Kolisi, South Africa


South Africa's first black Test captain will look to follow in the footsteps of Francois Pienaar and Jon Smit by guiding the Springboks to a World Cup title.

The Stormers flanker, who wears the same No. 6 as Pienaar did in 1995, has been a key part of the Rassie Erasmus-led turnaround of the national team after pitiful defeats to Italy and Wales in the space of seven days in November 2016.

Kolisi missed the last-gasp draw with New Zealand in June but was at his all-encompassing best in the victory over the All Blacks last September, a side they will face again in Japan in their opening pool match. 

A lot of his most important work is done in the shadows but he stands out as a ball-carrier an abrasive forward pack.

7. Jordan Petaia, Australia


The uncapped 19-year-old has had his Test debut delayed since early August because of continuing fitness problems but could become the Wallabies' youngster ever World Cup player.

Although he is not a direct replacement, Petaia's power and threatening running gives for head coach Michael Cheika another option as he deals with the loss of sacked Israel Folau.

If he stays fit, he will compete with a wealth of quality for a starting spot in the Aussie backline. His international bow will most likely come against Uruguay or Georgia in the final two pool matches.

—AFP plus FloRugby

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