While we will all debate the runners and riders to lift the trophy in Japan over the next two months, the World Cup also provides an unmatched opportunity for players from the tier two nations to grab the headlines and perform on a global stage.
Whether it was Japan’s heroes from Brighton in 2015 or the plethora of players from the Pacific Islands who have caught the eye in years gone by and won professional contracts in Europe as a result, the tournament, the pinnacle of a career, is also a valuable gateway to other opportunities.
A lot of players will be relatively new names to more casual rugby fans, although there is a good chance they will feel much more acquainted with these players’ talents come the end of October.
We have shortlisted 11 of the tier two players that will be worth setting the alarm for and getting up early to see them in action.
Ataata Moeakiola (Japan)
A former under-20 sensation for Japan, Moeakiola came to the world’s attention back in 2016 when he scored multiple dazzling tries at the age-grade championship. A frustrating period followed at university level where he was utilised in the back row, but the Tongan-born talent has since moved back into his role on the wing with the Chiefs. Still just 23, Moeakiola could catch the eye if given an opportunity later this month.
Kazuki Himeno (Japan)
One of Japan’s most promising players, back row Himeno has become a stalwart contributor in a group that also boasts the likes of Michael Leitch and Amanaki Mafi. Given the money and pending investment in Japanese rugby, the physical flanker won’t be playing for a contract abroad like many of these players, although he could leave the tournament with his profile much boosted on the global stage.
Cliven Loubser (Namibia)
A former Eastern Province and Sharks youth player in South Africa, Loubser has emerged as Namibia’s starting fly-half over the past couple of seasons under the stewardship of Phil Davies. Unfortunately for Loubser, he will find himself on the back foot for much of the World Cup with Namibia in a pool with South Africa and New Zealand. He will need to execute even more precisely than normal if Namibia are to have any chance against Italy and Canada.
Lucas Rumball (Canada)
Rumball will not be a new name to watchers of Canadian rugby or Major League Rugby in the US where the flanker is an ever-present for the Toronto Arrows. An all-action openside, Rumball is exactly the kind of player that Canada will need to help them remain competitive in Pool B. He could be decisive in the match with Namibia, while he might be a potent thorn in the side of the three tier one sides in the group.
Hanco Germishuys (USA)
Speaking of all-action back rows, Germishuys is a fun ball-carrier to watch and he will be pivotal if the USA want to get on the front foot and break the gain line in Pool C. Born in South Africa, raised in the USA and having spent time playing rugby in England with the Gloucester Under-18 side, as well as the Sharks academy in Durban, Germishuys has a lot of experience for a 23-year-old. The likes of England, France and Argentina will need to be aware of the threat he offers.
Kapeli Pifeleti (USA)
At just 20 years of age, Pifeleti may not make the final cut for the USA, with Gary Gold’s side the last the confirm their 31-man squad for the competition. If he does, the hooker warrants plenty of attention in Japan. A cousin of the Vunipola brothers, Pifeleti was the pick of the Saracens Under-18 side two seasons ago but was denied a professional contract due to visa issues. He has been making his way with San Diego Legion since and has already won three caps for the USA Eagles. Could a return to England be on the cards once he has a few more?
Tedo Abzhandadze (Georgia)
This promising fly-half was still playing at the World Rugby Under-20 Championship earlier this year, although he has already made strides as Georgia’s starting fly-half at senior level. A nice balance of playmaking and game management, Abzhandadze, who has signed for Brive, can match his skill set to differing game plans, depending on the opponent Georgia are facing. He has joined Vasil Lobzhanidze at Brive, with the scrum-half having already stacked up a remarkable 44 caps at just 22 years of age.
Milton Haig says he believes his young fly half Tedo Abzhandadze "has the ability to be truly world-class". https://t.co/IUgB0szxFf
— Tier 2 Rugby (@T2Rugby) May 29, 2019
Giorgi Kveseladze (Georgia)
One of the few talented young Georgians not to have been snapped up by a French club, Kveseladze brings power and punch to the Georgian midfield, as well as offering some added dynamism on the wing when Milton Haig opts to use him there. Kveseladze was a big part of helping Georgia establish themselves in the Championship, the top tier of under-20 rugby, and his transition to the senior set-up since has been relatively seamless. Although the Lelos may struggle to live with the pace of some of the back lines at the tournament, look for Kveseladze to be a potent weapon of their own.
Eroni Mawi (Fiji)
This loosehead has been an integral part of the Fijian national team, as well as the Fijian Drua in the NRC, for the past couple of seasons, with surprising little interest from abroad for his services. A solid ball-carrier and mobile prop, Mawi should be fielding interest after the tournament, especially if he can help Fiji upset the odds and turn over one of Wales or Australia in Pool D.
Frank Lomani (Fiji)
Another player who has done very well for Fiji and their Drua side, Lomani offers accurate distribution, urgency and a carrying threat from the scrum-half position. Fiji will need to play fast if they are to counter the power and set-piece threat of the Tier 1 nations – and Georgia – at the tournament, and Lomani will be key to delivering that tempo and making the right decisions as he does.
Manuel Ardao (Uruguay)
This 20-year-old hooker/back row is an ace up the sleeve of Uruguay head coach Esteban Meneses. A mobile ball-carrier with a effective step, not to mention good skills at the contact area and as a chop tackler, Ardao’s work rate will shine for Los Teros, particularly in those games when they are under the pump. Given they face Australia, Wales and two of the better tier two teams in Fiji and Georgia, Uruguay will need everything they can get from their squad which could offer several glimpses at what Ardao can offer even at this young age.
WATCH: Part two of Operation Jaypan, the two-part RugbyPass documentary on what the fans can expect to experience in Japan at the World Cup
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