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The World Cup Omissions XV

By Alex McLeod
Damian McKenzie. (Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)

The World Cup is just two-and-a-half weeks away, and every nation competing in the tournament – bar the USA – has named their final 31-man squad to travel to Japan.


The announcement of any World Cup squad is an exciting and nerve-wracking time for all those involved, but those emotions can quickly dissipate into despair and disappointment for those whose names aren’t read aloud.

Plenty of players with varying degrees experience and stature across the globe have endured such feelings over the past three weeks or so as each country’s squad has been rolled out.

Some of these omissions were widely expected, some have come as a shock, while others have had to go through the dejection of missing out purely due to an untimely injury.

With so many high-profile names absent from this year’s World Cup, RugbyPass presents the World Cup Omissions XV – a team composed of players who are certainly good enough and were eligible to be in Japan, but won’t partake in the tournament for one reason or another.

1 – Rob Evans (Wales)

Age: 27

Caps: 36

Club: Scarlets

World Cup appearances: 0

There haven’t been many glaring loosehead prop omissions around the globe since the World Cup squads have been announced, but Warren Gatland’s decision to leave Rob Evans out of his squad was one that raised a few eyebrows among the Welsh faithful.

Both he and tighthead prop Samson Lee have more test experience than that of Rhys Carré, Whyn Jones and Dillon Lewis combined, but neither will board the plane from Cardiff to Tokyo, with the aforementioned trio joining Tomas Francis and Nicky Smith as the preferred options.


Honourable mentions: Tom Robertson (Australia), Lizo Gqoboka (South Africa)

2 – Dylan Hartley (England)

Age: 33

Caps: 97

Club: Northampton

World Cup appearances: 1 (2011)

A knee injury sustained last December has ruined Dylan Hartley’s chances of appearing at a second World Cup, after the ex-England captain missed the ill-fated 2015 tournament due to disciplinary issues.

Subsequently, the New Zealand-born hooker wasn’t included in Eddie Jones’ final side – which was the first to be announced of all competing teams – and will watch on from Northampton as Jamie George leads England’s hooker contingent consisting of Luke Cowan-Dickie and the inexperienced Jack Singleton.


Honourable mentions: Tatafu Polota-Nau (Australia)

3 – Owen Franks (New Zealand)

Age: 31

Caps: 108

Club: Crusaders/Northampton

World Cup appearances: 2 (2011, 2015)

The biggest surprise of the All Blacks‘ World Cup squad announcement was Steve Hansen’s decision to leave out 108-test, two-time World Cup-winning prop Owen Franks.

The Northampton-bound veteran had been one of the first names etched into New Zealand’s match day squad for the best part of a decade, but his lack of mobility and ball-carrying prowess has counted against him.

Instead, Joe Moody, Nepo Laulala, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Angus Ta’avao and Atu Moli have been included, thus bringing down the curtain on Franks’ illustrious international career.

Honourable mentions: Samson Lee (Wales), Ramiro Herrera (Argentina), Harry Williams (England), Wilco Louw (South Africa)

4 – Devin Toner (Ireland)

Age: 33

Caps: 67

Club: Leinster

World Cup appearances: 1 (2015)

Controversy has surrounded Joe Schmidt’s decision to exclude veteran second rower Devin Toner from his World Cup side, with South African-born Jean Kleyn, who only became eligible for Ireland two days before his test debut last month.

Regardless of the reasoning for his omission, it’s disappointing nonetheless for Toner, who had previously been an integral part of the Irish forward pack, but missed out as a result of Kleyn’s ability to cover the back row.

Honourable mentions: Felix Lambey (France), Luke Jones (Australia)

5 – Will Skelton (Australia)

Age: 27

Caps: 18

Club: Saracens

World Cup appearances: 1 (2015)

When Will Skelton left Australia to pursue a club career with Saracens in 2017, he weighed in at 140kg and was on the outer of Michael Cheika’s selection plans for the Wallabies.

Over the course of the following 18 months, however, the 2.03m behemoth has shed 21kg and has been in the form of his life for the English and European champions, playing with a much higher work rate and making a more explosive on-field impact.

Desperate to add some size and power to his tight five, Cheika tried to negotiate the 18-test Skelton out of a new two-year deal with Saracens to bring him back to an Australian Super Rugby franchise next year, which would have made him available for World Cup selection.

Those talks fell through, though, and with Skelton coming up well short of the 60-cap threshold for overseas based Australian players wishing to play for the Wallabies, he will be watching the World Cup from London rather than playing in it.

Honourable mentions: Romain Taofifenua (France), Jackson Hemopo (New Zealand), Sam Skinner (Scotland)

6 – Liam Squire (New Zealand)

Age: 28

Caps: 23

Club: Highlanders/NTT DoCoMo Red Hurricanes

World Cup appearances: 0

While his Super Rugby campaign this year was riddled with injuries and personal issues, Liam Squire was still considered by many to be a frontrunner for the All Blacks’ No. 6 jersey at the World Cup.

That was until the new NTT DoCoMo Red Hurricanes recruit made himself unavailable for New Zealand’s Rugby Championship squad, telling Steve Hansen that he “didn’t feel ready” for international rugby.

Instead, he has been plying his trade in the Mitre 10 Cup with Tasman, where he has been in barnstorming form for the Mako.

A change in heart saw Squire make a late call to Hansen days before the World Cup squad was set to be announced to confirm his availability, but it was too little too late, as he has instead been placed on standby should injury strike.

Honourable mentions: Brad Shields (England), Marcell Coetzee (South Africa), Shannon Frizell (New Zealand)

7 – Sean O’Brien (Ireland)

Age: 32

Caps: 61

Club: Leinster/London Irish

World Cup appearances: 2 (2011, 2015)

Another key cog of Ireland’s forward pack, experienced flanker Sean O’Brien’s hopes of attending a third World Cup ended in tatters in May when he sustained a hip injury which is expected to rule him out until November.

It means Peter O’Mahony, CJ Stander, Josh van der Flier, Rhys Ruddock and Jack Conan are left as Ireland’s back rowers for the World Cup, and will be unavailable for the beginning of the Premiership season with new club London Irish.

Honourable mentions: Dan Leavy (Ireland), Jordi Murphy (Ireland)

8 – Taulupe Faletau (Wales)

Age: 28

Caps: 76

Club: Bath

World Cup appearances: 2 (2011, 2015)

Another star ruled out of contention due to injury, Faletau’s hopes of travelling to Japan were cut short after picking up a broken collarbone during a Welsh training session last month.

His experience will be sorely missed by Gatland, who will now have to rely upon Justin Tipuric, Ross Moriarty, Josh Navidi, Aaron Shingler, Aaron Wainwright and James Davies as Wales’ loose forwards.

Honourable mentions: Facundo Isa (Argentina), Warren Whiteley (South Africa)

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9 – Danny Care (England)

Age: 32

Caps: 84

Club: Harlequins

World Cup appearances: 1 (2015)

Danny Care has spoken of his bitter disappointment at missing out on England’s World Cup squad to New Zealand-born halfback Willi Heinz, who is one of only two halfbacks – alongside the long-serving Ben Youngs – to be included in the team.

Heinz was named in the squad just a day after making his test debut against Wales at the age of 32, leaving Care, who has accumulated 84 tests since 2008 but hasn’t played for England since last November, on injury standby.

“Since Eddie [Jones] came in, he put a clock up on the wall counting down the weeks, days and hours until the World Cup final,” Care told the Daily Telegraph.

“I felt I was part of that mission and now I am not there to finish it off.”

Honourable mentions: Martin Landajo (Argentina), Nick Phipps (Australia), Joe Powell (Australia), Kieran Marmion (Ireland), Rhys Webb (Wales)

10 – Damian McKenzie (New Zealand)

Age: 24

Caps: 23

Club: Chiefs

World Cup appearances: 0

Set to be one of the All Blacks’ main men thanks to his ability to play both first-five and fullback, Damian McKenzie’s World Cup bid collapsed when he tore his ACL while playing for the Chiefs in April.

The injury has ruled him out of action until next year, meaning the All Blacks will have to make do with Richie Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett as partners in the 10-15 axis.

Honourable mentions: Gareth Anscombe (Wales), Quade Cooper (Australia), Danny Cipriani (England), Joaquin Diaz Bonilla (Argentina)

11 – Aphiwe Dyantyi (South Africa)

Age: 25

Caps: 13

Club: Lions

World Cup appearances: 0

The 2018 World Rugby Breakout Player of the Year’s career is in the balance after testing positive for anabolic steroids at a training camp with the Springboks in July.

A ‘B’ sample has confirmed the findings, which means Dyantyi could face a ban of up to four years, sending not only his World Cup hopes down the drain, but potentially his professional rugby-playing future.

Honourable mentions: Bautista Ezcurra (Argentina), Steff Evans (Wales), Nemani Nadolo (Fiji), Teddy Thomas (France)

12 – Ngani Laumape (New Zealand)

Age: 26

Caps: 13

Club: Hurricanes

World Cup appearances: 0

Ngani Laumape has won many admirers over the past two seasons with his rampaging style of play for the Hurricanes and All Blacks, but was the unlucky player of a five-man midfield group that needed to be trimmed down to four.

In the end, it was a straight shootout between him and the injured Ryan Crotty, but the experience, leadership and versatility of the latter won him the nod over the former.

However, while Laumape hasn’t been named in the original squad, don’t be surprised to see the ex-NRL star called up given the injury proneness of both Crotty and Sonny Bill Williams.

Honourable mentions: Ma’a Nonu (New Zealand), Ben Te’o (England), Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias (Argentina),

13 – Huw Jones (Scotland)

Age: 25

Caps: 23

Club: Glasgow Warriors

World Cup appearances: 0

After exploding onto the test scene in 2016 following an impressive campaign with the Stormers in Super Rugby, form has eluded Huw Jones over the past year, and now he has paid the ultimate price of missing out on a spot in Japan.

Taking his place in Gregor Townsend’s World Cup squad are midfielders Peter Horne, Duncan Taylor, Chris Harris and Sam Johnson.

Honourable mentions: Jan Serfontein (South Africa), Scott Williams (Wales)

14 – Santiago Cordero (Argentina)

Age: 25

Caps: 35

Club: Exeter Chiefs

World Cup appearances: 1 (2015)

One of the stars of Argentina’s run to the World Cup semi-final in 2015, Santiago Cordero has missed the boat this time round as Pumas head coach Mario Ledesma has opted for the likes of Ramiro Moyano, Bautista Delguy, Santiago Carreras, Emiliano Boffelli and Joaquin Tuculet instead.

It’s an omission that has puzzled numerous fans, with Cordero’s sparkling Premiership form with the Exeter Chiefs thought to be enough to secure him a place in this year’s World Cup.

It wasn’t to be, though, so Cordero will watch his compatriots on from the south of England.

Honourable mentions: Juan Imhoff (Argentina), Sebastian Cancelliere (Argentina), Chris Ashton (England), Waisake Naholo (New Zealand)

15 – Israel Folau (Australia)

Israel Folau. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Age: 30

Caps: 73

Club: N/A

World Cup appearances: 1 (2015)

Regarded by many as the best fullback on the planet, Israel Folau’s prolific multi-code sporting career came to a standstill in April after he published a homophobic post on Instagram, which led to an uproar worldwide.

Consequently, Folau was controversially sacked by Rugby Australia and the Waratahs, and remains out of contract within rugby union, rugby league and AFL circles.

Honourable mentions: Mike Brown (England), Tom Banks (Australia), Simon Zebo (Ireland)

In other news:

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