With the Pacific Nations Cup currently playing host to the pick of world rugby’s tier two nations aside from Georgia, what better time to debate what a prospective tier two Rugby World Cup XV could look like?
The upcoming finals in the Japan will give plenty of these players an opportunity to make an impact in international rugby on a more even footing than they would usually be given.
From the devastating Fiji back line and back row stars to the muscle and control of Georgia’s front row and half-backs, the global game does not lack for talent in the second tier.
Read on to see who makes our combined XV, with Japan, Tonga, Samoa and USA also offering up candidates for selection.
- Telusa Veainu (Tonga)
Veainu might not currently be in Tonga’s PNC squad but, if fit and available, he is a certainty to be in their 31-man RWC squad. Since arriving at Leicester Tigers, he has lit up the Gallagher Premiership with his dazzling footwork and excellent counter-attacking skills. An injury-disrupted 2018/19 campaign should see him eager to re-establish himself in Japan later this year.
Alternative – Alivereti Veitokani (Fiji)
- Josua Tuisova (Fiji)
The 25-year-old is off to Lyon this summer after a very impressive six-year stint at Toulon where he was a constant source of tries on the outside. The power he is able to generate through his size and speed is among the very best in global rugby and both Australia and Wales will be wary of the threat he poses at the RWC.
Alternative – Alapati Leiua (Samoa)
- Semi Radradra (Fiji)
Perhaps not quite as defensively rounded out as he is in attack, Radradra has the ability to rip holes in defensive lines and is yet another potent ball-carrier that Fiji will be able to call on. The centre hit the ground running at Toulon after his shift from rugby league and although the buzz has lessened somewhat around him over the last 12 months, he is more than capable of lighting up the RWC, something which could pave the way for a return to the NRL.
Alternative – Timothy Lafaele (Japan)
- Levani Botia (Fiji)
Although not guaranteed to be in the centres, with the La Rochelle man also very comfortable at flanker, Botia has been one of the most exciting players in European rugby over the last few years. He will keep Fiji moving forward and getting over the gain line and will be another thorn in the side of their Pool D opponents.
Alternative – Paul Lasike (USA)
- Vereniki Goneva (Fiji)
Again, it’s hard to look beyond the Fijian players at this position, despite Canada’s DTH van der Merwe and the Japan pair of Kenki Fukuoka and Kotaro Matsushima also impressing. Goneva gets the nod here based on his consistency and ability to still, even at 35 years of age, leave defenders stuck in the ground or grasping at thin air.
Alternative – Filipo Nakosi (Fiji)
- AJ MacGinty (USA)
There is not quite the pool of talent at this position as there is in the rest of the back line, although MacGinty has shown his ability to execute a gameplan and a run a team at both Connacht and Sale Sharks, as well as with the USA. Tier two fly-halves rarely make it at the highest level in Europe, although Brive will be looking to buck that trend with the signing of Tedo Abzhandadze.
Alternative – Tedo Abzhandadze (Georgia)
- Vasil Lobzhanidze (Georgia)
From the under-18s to senior international rugby, Lobzhanidze has taken every step in his budding professional career with, seemingly, remarkable ease. The Brive player will link up with Abzhandadze this summer at club level in what should prove a hugely important pairing for the Georgian national team.
Alternative – Sonatane Takulua (Tonga)
- Guram Gogichashvili (Georgia)
The rise of Gogichashvili over the last 12 months has been extremely impressive and is enough to see him edge out Georgian veteran Mikheil Nariashvili here, although the Lelos could well opt for experience in their starting XV later this year. The Racing 92 loosehead looks to be firmly on the path to becoming the next wonderfully destructive Georgian prop in the Top 14.
Alternative – Keita Inagaki (Japan)
- Shota Horie (Japan)
Japan’s experienced hooker has proven time and time again that he can cut it at Super Rugby and international levels against the toughest of opponents. At 33 years of age, this will likely be Horie’s last RWC and potentially one of his last times in the Japan jersey, with the impressive Kosuke Horikoshi coming up fast behind him on the depth chart.
Alternative – Joe Taufete’e (USA)
- Ben Tameifuna (Tonga)
The big Tongan tighthead might not be the most athletic or well-conditioned of props currently playing in the second tier of international rugby, but he offers formidable impact on the pitch. You could also take your pick of a couple of Georgians here, as the tier two nations continue to produce high-quality props at a noteworthy rate.
Alternative – Titi Lamositele (USA)
- Leone Nakarawa (Fiji)
Nakarawa is widely regarded as one of the best second rows in world rugby and his skill set is almost unique at the position. Few players can keep phases alive as well as the Fijian does, and he is yet another dangerman for the tier one nations to keep an eye on in Japan later this year.
Alternative – Albert Tuisue (Fiji)
- Chris Vui (Samoa)
After an exceptional campaign with Bristol Bears, where he was one of the key contributors to keeping the club in the Premiership, Vui is the glue in the Samoan forward pack. Samoa’s fortunes may have faded of late relative to the successes that Fiji have enjoyed, but the work rate in defence and set-piece ability of Vui will help them in their efforts to claim a scalp or two at the RWC.
Alternative – Steve Mafi (Tonga)
- Kazuki Himeno (Japan)
The options come thick and fast in the back row, with the likes of Maama Vaipulu and Sione Kalamafoni all also in the mix, though Himeno’s performances for the Cherry Blossoms have set him apart in recent seasons. The 25-year-old injects physicality and work rate into the Japanese back row, which has a stock of options on a level with many of their tier one rivals.
Alternative – Peceli Yato (Fiji)
- Semi Kunatani (Fiji)
Everything hasn’t quite clicked for Kunatani at Harlequins yet, although there were signs at the end of last season that he was beginning to become fully acclimatised to English rugby. His potent carrying ability can singlehandedly wreck opposition gameplans and given how Fiji will likely opt to use him at the RWC, he is going to be a box office attraction at the tournament.
Alternative – Michael Leitch (Japan)
- Viliame Mata (Fiji)
The depth of options at No8 is exceptional, with Sione Vailanu, Tyler Ardron and Beka Gorgadze just some of the players missing out. Mata has followed in the footsteps of Nakarawa by moving to Scotland and not only prospering individually, but also by energising his club, Edinburgh. If teams allow the game to become loose against Fiji, the islanders will hurt them.
Alternative – Amanaki Mafi (Japan)
WATCH: Nadolo, the exclusive RugbyPass documentary on legendary Fijian player Nemani Nadolo
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