With the Rugby World Cup just 87 days, we bring you a team-by-team guide of the minnow nations participating in the sport’s global showpiece, along with their coaches, captains, star captains and their best attempts in the competition so far.
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Coach: Lyn Jones
Captain: Vasily Artemyev
Star man: Vasily Artemyev. The former Irish schools flyer returned to his homeland in 2009 and has gone on to make 84 appearances. Fast and intelligence, the 31-year-old will be aiming to add to his 30 international tries in Japan.
Best finish: Pool stage (2011)
Fixtures: Japan (September 20), Samoa (September 24), Ireland (October 3), Scotland (October 9).
They may not be the fittest and most colourful side to watch in world rugby, but they’re certainly physical and hungry to win their own ball. A productive 2019 saw the Russians play seven matches, a lot of rugby, but match practice should be helpful to their World Cup campaign.
Coach: Steve Jackson
Captain: Chris Vui
Star man: Chris Vui. The versatile loose forward became the youngest skipper in World Rugby in 2017 at 24. He enjoyed a stellar campaign with Bristol in the Gallagher Premiership, recording 176 carries and 190 tackles to help the Bears cope with the physicality of England’s top flight. Will be crucial to Samoa in Japan.
Best finish: Quarter-finals (1991-95)
Fixtures: Russia (September 24), Scotland (September 30), Ireland (October 12)
With Ireland, Scotland and Japan making up Pool A, Samoa face a tough task at this World Cup. They have shown no signs of improvement in recent years either, with their only wins in 2018 coming against Germany and Japan. Leading into Japan, they take on Tonga, USA and Fiji, warm-up fixtures that should make them more competitive.
Coach: Phil Davies
Captain: Renaldo Bothma
Star man: Renaldo Bothma. The flanker is currently plying his trade in the Gallagher Premiership with Harlequins. A powerful ball carrier and a menace in the tackle, the 29-year-old will be key to Namibia’s hopes of a first-ever World Cup victory.
Best finish: Pool stage (1999-2015)
Fixtures: Italy (September 22), South Africa (September 28), New Zealand (October 6), Canada (October 13)
They may be the lowest-ranked side in the competition, at No22, but this is their sixth-straight World Cup, an impressive feat considering how difficult the qualifying process is for lower-ranked sides. As they continue to improve, those days of heavy defeats are hopefully long behind. Will be targeting victory against Canada.
Coach: Phil Mack
Captain: Kingsley Jones
Star man: Tyler Ardron. The 27-year-old lock-cum-backrower plays his rugby in New Zealand with the Chiefs. A dynamic loose forward, he will be hoping to add his greater experience in a budding side in Japan.
Best finish: Quarter-finals (1991)
Fixtures: Italy (September 26), New Zealand (October 2), South Africa (October 8), Namibia (October 13)
Canada are one of only two sides in the competition – alongside Namibia – ranked outside of the world’s top 20. They may be falling behind their improving neighbours USA, but they will by no means be a pushover against middle tier opposition. Should be focusing on beating Namibia.
Coach: Toutai Kefu
Captain: Siale Piutau
Star man: Siale Piutau. The 33-year-old is one of the Premierships most dangerous centres, using his pace, power and accurate passing ability to put Bristol on the front foot on any given weekend. His experience of 34 caps will make him a central figure when Tonga face powerhouses like England and Argentina in the group stage.
Best finish: Pool stage (1987, 1995-2015)
Fixtures: England (September 22), Argentina (September 28), France (October 6), United States (13)
The Sea Eagles have improved a lot over the years since being considered the whipping boys of the competition. Although they have yet to play in 2019, they had a mixed 2018 campaign, winning two of their five matches, including victories over Fiji and Samoa. Will need to pull something extra special out of the fire to cause an upset in Pool C.
Coach: Gary Gold
Captain: Blaine Scully
Star man: Blaine Scully. With pace and a deft passing ability, Scully can play anywhere across the back three. And if he’s not racing through to touch down for a try, he is trying to put his team-mates in formidable attacking positions. After four successful years at Cardiff Blues, the 31-year-old will return to his native America after the World Cup.
Best finish: Pool stage (1987-91, 1999-2015)
Fixtures: England (September 26), France (October 2), Argentina (October 9), Tonga (October 13)
The Unites States are one of the world’s fast improving international rugby teams, with a new competitive league and a successful national sevens team, who are currently second in the World Series behind Fiji. With the World Cup on the horizon, the hope is the success of the sevens side will have a positive effect on the 15-man game.
Coach: John McKee
Captain: Akapusi Qera
Star man: Leone Nakarawa. The Racing 92 supremo was named European Player of the Year last season after a sizzling campaign where the Parisiens reached the Champions Cup final. Strong, skilled and deceptively quick, the 31-year-old embodies everything which is great about Fijian rugby.
Best finish: Quarter-finals (1987, 2007)
Fixtures: Australia (September 21), Uruguay (September 25), Georgia (October 3), Wales (October 9)
The best of the Pacific Island sides to challenge at the World Cup, although it is unlikely they will qualify from a group that includes Wales and Australia. Still, their attractive brand of rugby and sheer athleticism will capture the imagination of the travelling fans. And with star players like Vereniki Goneva, Bill Mata and Nakarawa at their disposal, the Fijians will definitely be one of the teams to watch.
Coach: Esteban Meneses
Captain: Juan Manuel Gaminara
Star man: Juan Manuel Gaminara. The diminutive 30-year-old flanker is the player Los Teros will be looking to for inspiration when they step out under the bright lights at Kamaishi in three months time.
Best finish: Pool stage (1999-2003, 2015)
Fixtures: Fiji (September 25), Georgia (September 29), Australia (October 5), Wales (October 13)
Uruguay are another team that continue to improve, winning 10 out of their last 13 matches. In 2019, they were beaten against Namibia – their only loss of the year so far. The South American side’s inclusion in Japan will only help the development of the national team going forward and inspire other lesser ranked nations to flourish.
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