Tuesday 16 July 2019

Six players to watch at the Rugby World Cup

Ireland's Iain Henderson
Ireland's Iain Henderson
George North
Aaron Smith
Israel Folau Team: Australia Age: 26
George Ford
Louis Picamoles

World Cup history is laced with memories of wonderful individual performances, whether through unforgettable tries, match-winning heroics or inspired leadership - and this year's tournament promises more of the same. Andrew Baldock picks six players who could make the world sit up and take notice

Aaron Smith

New Zealand

The All Black squad is packed full of world champion experience, but it is the scrum-half who has come on to the scene since their 2011 success that so often makes them tick. Highlander Smith is the undisputed world No 1 in his position with a fast, precise pass and a break that will keep the best defences guessing. It helps that he almost always has good ball as a result of Richie McCaw and Co's efforts, but the 26-year-old makes the most of his talents and will be a real threat this month.

Israel Folau

Australia

Australia possess arguably the most lethal back division in world rugby, and Folau is the fearsome strike weapon at its heart. The 26-year-old played rugby league for Australia and Melbourne Storm as a teenager before embarking on a stint in Aussie Rules with Great Western Sydney Giants. Now, 33 appearances into his rugby union Test career, the Wallabies full-back is set to grace the sport's biggest stage, and it looks highly likely to be a box-office appearance.

George Ford

England

Twelve years after the most famous England fly-half of all time drop-kicked his country to World Cup glory, Ford now finds himself with the keys to No 10 that were once held by Jonny Wilkinson. At 22, there is enormous responsibility on his shoulders to not only guide England through the toughest ever World Cup pool - Australia and Wales are among their opponents - but he must also attempt it on home soil. He has coped impressively with every challenge in his career so far, but this is another level completely.

George North

Wales

Juggernaut wing North has all the attributes to be a headline act of the World Cup. A powerful try-scoring machine - his current Wales tally of 22 touchdowns is bettered only by Shane Williams, Gareth Thomas and Ieuan Evans - he is now fully fit and firing again following a testing time last season when he suffered three concussions and was out of competitive action for five months. North (23) will be critical to Wales' World Cup hopes, but the bigger the occasion, the more he thrives.

Louis Picamoles

France

France have been occasionally brilliant but often dire during the reign of coach Philippe Saint-Andre, which comes to an end after the World Cup. The age-old question of which French team will turn up - good, bad or ugly - is once again relevant, but in barnstorming No 8 Picamoles they possess a player of considerable stature who can influence a game through his physical prowess and prodigious ball-carrying ability. Likely to be exceptional, whatever the circumstances.

Iain Henderson

Ireland

The Ulster tyro is at his first World Cup and is primed to make a big impact on a global stage. Still just 23, Henderson's power and footwork makes him a rare threat with ball in hand. His ability to cover second-row and blindside flanker means his caps have largely come off the bench so far, but Joe Schmidt must be sorely tempted to put him in from the start in Ireland's biggest games.

Irish Independent

The Throw-In: Kerry back to their best, Connolly’s return and Cork’s baffling inconsistency

In association with Bord Gáis Energy

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport