It will take a whole 33-man effort to win the upcoming Rugby World Cup, but there are players that are simply crucial to their respective side’s hopes.

For the teams to achieve their goal later this year certain individuals must stay fit, and we duly delve into who they are from the 20 nations that are competing in France.

Pool A

Antoine Dupont (France): The single most important player in the tournament. Les Bleus have a plethora of quality nines but their ability still pales in comparison to the great Dupont. Everything goes through the Toulouse man, with the 26-year-old outstanding in pretty much every department on attack, but he is also an excellent defender and consistently puts his body on the line. It will be a disaster if the captain gets injured ahead of the Rugby World Cup.

Ardie Savea (New Zealand): For years, the All Blacks kept him on the bench as an impact replacement before moving him around the back-row, but he has finally settled into the number eight position. With the other two back-row slots open, Ian Foster has been fortunate to have Savea, who has been a consistently high quality performer at the base of the scrum. A brilliant ball carrier, a superb athlete and excellent at the breakdown, he has become one of the best in the game.

Michele Lamaro (Italy): Sebastian Negri provides ballast few others in the team have while Paolo Garbisi is crucial behind the scrum, but Lamaro, as well as being an outstanding player, is an inspirational leader. He has a good rapport with referees, speaks incredibly well off the field and leads by example on it. The Azzurri are gradually becoming a more competitive outfit but, without him there, you wonder whether they would resort to the rabble of previous years.

Santiago Arata (Uruguay): Another country that is moving in the right direction, but it is fair to say that the scrum-half is undoubtedly their star. Since joining Castres in 2020, Arata has become their first choice number nine and started in the 2022 Top 14 final defeat to Montpellier. The 26-year-old controls the game beautifully from the base but also has the pace and footwork to make him a significant threat around the fringes.


Reviví el espectacular try de Santiago Arata en el triunfo de Los Teros ante España en la gran definición de la #NationsCup2017

— Rugby Clubes (@RugbyClubesURU) June 19, 2017

Johan Deysel (Namibia): The captain of Welwitschias, the hard-running centre has been a key part of their squad since making his debut in 2013. Memorably scored a try against the mighty New Zealand at the 2015 World Cup and has continued to impress for Namibia following that tournament. They don’t have much high-end quality in their squad, but Deysel is certainly among their better performers.

Pool B

Eben Etzebeth (South Africa): Even if skipper Siya Kolisi recovers from injury and makes it to the global tournament, the towering Etzebeth still remains their most important forward. He was simply exceptional in 2022 and brings physicality, athleticism and technical excellent to the second-row. The Springboks have plenty of talent at lock, especially if Lood de Jager, RG Snyman and Franco Mostert are all fit and available, but Etzebeth is the linchpin in the South African pack.

Johnny Sexton (Ireland): Second only to Dupont in terms of importance to his nation. Ross Byrne did a fine job as stand in during the Six Nations but the fortunes of Leinster in the United Rugby Championship and Champions Cup showed why Sexton has been so vital for the Irish. When the pressure comes on and they need the leaders and playmakers to take control, Andy Farrell can have confidence in Sexton doing that. Hopefully his body holds up and he remains free of injury during the global tournament.

Finn Russell (Scotland): The fly-half’s relationship with Gregor Townsend may have been strained at times following the 2019 World Cup but the head coach has now seemingly realised that Russell is indispensable. If the Scots are to upset either South Africa or Ireland, or perhaps even both, they won’t do it without the 30-year-old in the squad. He may have the odd brain fade but Scotland will just have to accept that if they are to stand a chance of having a positive competition.

The passing and offloading ability of Finn Russell…

— Andrew Forde (@andrewfrugby) October 26, 2021

Ben Tameifuna (Tonga): Thanks to the World Rugby law amendment, this Tongan team could well be stacked come World Cup time. From the athletic back five forward Vaea Fifita to the likes of George Moala, Malakai Fekitoa and Charles Piutau in the backline, they have talent aplenty in the wider channels, but they still need that platform from the front-row to thrive. Out of all the Pacific Island nations, they traditionally have the stronger scrum and Tameifuna has the qualities to become that focal point.

Atila Septar (Romania): This is not the Romanian side of old, where they had a pack which could compete with some of the best around. Heading into the World Cup, The Oaks appear set to be the whipping boys of a fiercely competitive Pool B, but they do have a point of difference in Septar. A former France U20 player, the powerful back provides a genuine running threat in the backline.

Pool C

Ken Owens (Wales): Given the shambolic couple of seasons they have endured, it is difficult to know who Warren Gatland sees in his first choice 23. Even experienced players such as Taulupe Faletau, Dan Biggar, George North and Liam Williams are not guaranteed to start, but we think Owens is one name that will be inked into the XV. They have some decent back-up hookers in the shape of Elliot Dee, Ryan Elias and Dewi Lake, but Owens provides solidity in set-piece and work ethic in the loose. He was certainly one of their better performers during the Six Nations.

Rob Valetini (Australia): Both Michael Hooper and Quade Cooper are vital to the Wallabies’ cause but we do feel they are potentially replaceable, given the right structure and game plan. However, it is much tougher to substitute like for like when you are talking about out and out power, which is what Valetini has. For a long time, Australia have lacked physical ball carriers up front and it is why Valetini is so crucial – he is a back-rower that consistently gets over the gain line. If Jones can get him alongside Taniela Tupou, Will Skelton, Samu Kerevi and Marika Koroibete in the XV, you know what, they could surprise a few in France.

Eroni Mawi (Fiji): Like Tonga, their talent away from the front five is not in doubt. They have so much depth in the back-row and a ridiculous number of speedsters out wide, but it is in the technical aspects of the game where they have struggled. Fiji have always faltered at half-back and going into the 2023 World Cup, they are once again lacking there, but the playmakers will find it much easier should Mawi and co. form a stable platform. He has just won the Premiership title with Saracens and is a strong scrummager, so the Fijians will be relying heavily on the loosehead.

Davit Niniashvili (Georgia): The opposite to Fiji in that everyone knows the physicality the Lelos will bring to the set-piece, but doubts still linger behind the scrum. They are certainly improving in that area and their pathways are producing far more potent backs, but Niniashvili remains the jewel in the crown. He is currently on the sidelines but should return in time for the World Cup and, if he does, watch him go. Just 20, the Lyon flyer is a stunning talent at either full-back or on the wing.

The Georgian commentary is too good not to leave in😂. Davit Niniashvili is an insane talent at 19 already.#GEOvITA

— EK Rugby Analysis (@ek_rugby) July 10, 2022

Tomás Appleton (Portugal): A largely unheralded side but one which could surprise a few at the global tournament. Not necessarily in terms of results but certainly in performance, with the squad featuring several French-based players. Appleton is one of their home-based individuals but he has become the linchpin in the backline, forming an excellent partnership with José Lima. The 29-year-old also captains the team and he has a big job on his hands in France.

Pool D

Courtney Lawes (England): Some might say Owen Farrell, given the influence he exerts over the whole group, but the Red Rose really miss the Northampton Saints flanker when he is not available. He has developed into one of the finest blindsides in the game and adds so many qualities to the England pack. Lawes is obviously a fine lineout jumper, strengthening their set-piece significantly, but the 34-year-old has also improved tremendously as a ball-carrier and at the breakdown.

Kazuki Himeno (Japan): Doesn’t really get the plaudits he deserves but Himeno genuinely is one of the best back-rowers in the world game. A tremendous athlete who is powerful in the tighter exchanges, he has ultimately taken over from the magnificent Michael Leitch as Japan’s most important player. From his ability with ball in hand to his excellence in defence, the number eight, who can also feature at flanker, is one to watch later this year.

Julian Montoya (Argentina): Up there as one of the best hookers in the world, his standard of play has been exceptional since the last World Cup. Montoya played almost 80 minutes in each of Argentina’s victories over New Zealand in 2020 and 2022, inspiring Los Pumas in both those successes. They may well struggle if something happens to the Leicester man ahead of the global tournament.

UJ Seuteni (Samoa): Unlike in previous World Cups, the Samoans don’t quite have the same star power in the backline. The Pacific Islanders are better served up front where the likes of Steven Luatua and Jordan Taufua reside, which means that they will be looking for that game breaker behind the scrum. It could come in the form of the La Rochelle star, who was utterly magnificent in their run to the Champions Cup title. Able to play fly-half, centre or full-back, Seuteni will be vital for Samoa wherever he fits in.

Rodrigo Fernandez (Chile): Their national squad primarily comes from one side, Selknam, which is based in the Chilean capital of Santiago. Fernandez is therefore the star player for both club and country and rose to prominence during the South Americans’ World Cup qualifying run. The playmaker scored the try of the season against the USA on July 9 and was instrumental in their away leg triumph in Colorado. A wonderfully balanced runner with excellent distribution, let’s hope he gets the platform to thrive later this year.

READ MORE: All the training squads announced so far ahead of the Rugby World Cup

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