Rugby: World Cup team profiles

The following are profiles of each of the 20 participating teams in the 2019 Rugby World Cup. Pool A | Pool B | Pool C | Pool D   Ireland -- Coach Joe Schmidt -- Key players Jacob Stockdale, Jonathan Sexton, Rob Kearney -- RWC record Have reached the quarterfinals in all but two tournaments, 1999 and 2007, but never further. -- Summary After winning the 2018 Six Nations Championships with a Grand Slam and dispatching New Zealand for only the second time ever, Ireland were riding a wave of momentum going into 2019. While several disappointing performances and injuries to key players including prop Cian Healy put their readiness for the World Cup into question, a pair of confidence-boosting wins over Wales may have signaled a return to form. With head coach Joe Schmidt departing and captain Rory Best set to retire from professional rugby after the tournament, the world's No. 1 ranked team will be gunning hard to reach their first semifinal or beyond.   Scotland -- Coach Gregor Townsend -- Key players Greig Laidlaw, Finn Russell -- RWC record Have played at every World Cup since the inaugural tournament in 1987, their highest finish was fourth in 1991. A regular at the quarterfinal stage, the team has only failed to reach the top-eight once, in 2011. -- Summary Hooker Stuart McInally will captain the team comprising 13 players with previous World Cup experience, including scrumhalf Greig Laidlaw, whose versatile passing and accurate boot put him on the short-list for World Rugby's Player of the Year award in 2015. Star flyhalf Finn Russell and talisman fullback Stuart Hogg will be key if Townsend's squad are to progress further than the previous World Cup when they lost a nail-biter 35-34 to Australia at the quarterfinal stage. However, in preparing for the World Cup the team has shown some inconsistency. They were routed by France 32-3 away in August but orchestrated a come-from-behind 17-14 home win against the same opponents a week later.   Japan -- Coach Jamie Joseph -- Key players Michael Leitch, Kazuki Himeno, Kenki Fukuoka -- RWC record Have played in every edition of the tournament but failed to reach the knockout stage each time, including in 2015 when they won three pool games. -- Summary The host nation come into the tournament with the weight of the nation on their shoulders. Three wins at the last World Cup have ensured nothing but a place in the last eight this time around will be accepted. The recent Pacific Nations Cup triumph once again showed that Japan are too good for the other Tier-2 sides, while the loss to South Africa in their final warm-up game highlighted the gap that still exists between the Brave Blossoms and the nations at the top of the sport. Staying injury-free will be essential if they are to have a chance of reaching the quarterfinals, as Jamie Joseph does not have the depth of pool rivals Ireland or Scotland, but key flanker Kenki Fukuoka is already under an injury cloud going into the first game, complicating the coach's selection decision.   Russia -- Coach Lyn Jones -- Key players Yuri Kushnarev, Ramil Gaisin -- RWC record Have only qualified for one tournament, in 2011, and lost all four pools game on that occasion. -- Summary Russia, including eight players from the team's 2011 debut tournament, will be gunning for their first World Cup win. After initially failing to qualify for the 2019 World Cup, the Bears were handed a ticket when Romania -- who had initially won a place -- as well as Spain and Belgium were sanctioned and docked qualification points for fielding ineligible players. Although unarguably huge underdogs, Russia will receive much attention when they line up in the tournament opener against hosts Japan in Tokyo on Sept. 20. In their previous encounter last November, Japan beat them 32-27. In the run-up to the tournament, Welshman Jones' side faced Italy for their only tune-up test on Aug. 17 and were thrashed 85-15.   Samoa -- Coach Steve Jackson -- Key players Tusi Pisi, Jack Lam, Tim Nanai-Williams -- RWC record Have appeared in eight straight World Cups since 1991. Reached the quarterfinals on their first attempt and again in 1995, then made the quarterfinal playoff in 1999, but never further. -- Summary Samoa's lineup may not have a great wealth of experience but the Pacific Island nation is motivated to escape the pool stage for the first time since 1999. Among the eight who have previous Rugby World Cup experience on the squad, veteran flyhalf Tusi Pisi, who plays for Toyota Industries Shuttles in Japan's Top League, will make his third consecutive tournament appearance at 37, while back Tim Nanai-Williams is also a familiar face in Japan having time with the Ricoh Black Rams. In the Pacific Nations Cup in August, Samoa finished with one win and two losses, prevailing over Tonga but losing to the United States and Fiji. Pool A | Pool B | Pool C | Pool D   New Zealand -- Coach Steve Hansen -- Key players Sam Whitelock, Richie Mo'unga, Beauden Barrett, Rieko Ioane -- RWC record Three-time champions. Have only finished outside the top-four once when they were defeated by France in the quarterfinals in 2007. -- Summary They may have lost the world No. 1 ranking recently after a decade atop the sport, but New Zealand remain one of the favorites to hoist the Webb Ellis Cup for what would be the third consecutive tournament and fourth time ever. One of the world's most successful head coaches, Steve Hansen, is overseeing his second and final tournament in charge of the All Blacks but he will do so with some of his most tried and tested players, like Dan Carter and Richie McCaw, now in retirement. In their place, young players like flyhalf Richie Mo'unga and flyer Rieko Ioane, and grizzled veterans like captain Kieran Read will need to step up if the men in all black are to maintain their historic run of world domination. A middling one-win, one-draw, one-loss Rugby Championship record in the lead-up to the World Cup shows that New Zealand are far from untouchable, but under the bright lights they usually shine.   South Africa -- Coach Rassie Erasmus -- Key players Malcolm Marx, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Handre Pollard -- RWC record Two-time champions, their first World Cup appearance came in 1995. The team's worst performances were in 2003 and 2011 when they were knocked out in the quarterfinals. -- Summary The Springboks come into the tournament as the Rugby Championship winners and having just avenged their infamous loss to Japan four years ago in England. Coach Rassie Erasmus has developed a side that can not only play the traditional South African power game but also an expansive brand of rugby that makes use of some superb finishers out wide such as Cheslin Kolbe and Makazole Mapimpi. Linking the forwards and backs are the likes of Faf de Klerk and Handre Pollard, and their kicking game gives the Springboks another attacking weapon, particularly early on in the tournament when it could still be relatively hot and humid.   Italy -- Coach Conor O'Shea. -- Key players Sergio Parisse, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Matteo Minozzi -- RWC record Have never advanced to the knockout stage, despite competing in every tournament since the inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1987. -- Summary Sergio Parisse, who is set for a record-equaling fifth World Cup, will captain a youthful side, in which 23 of the 31 players have never competed at the sport's showpiece event. As the clear third-best team in Pool B behind New Zealand and South Africa, the Azzurri will need to stage a shock repeat of their 20-18 victory over the Springboks in 2016 to reach the knockout stage for the first time. Thumpings at the hands of France, 47-19 in Paris, and England, 37-0 in Newcastle, see the Italians entering the tournament with low expectations of winning a quarterfinal berth.   Namibia -- Coach Phil Davies -- Key players Johan Deysel, Eugene Jantjies. -- RWC record Have played at every World Cup since 1999 but have yet to win a match. -- Summary The Welwitschias are looking to grab their first win in 19 attempts at the World Cup from a tough pool. Scrumhalf Eugene Jantjies is set to appear in his fourth World Cup, while Johan Deysel, who scored a try against New Zealand at the 2015 tournament, will captain the squad. Their unenviable 0-19 win-loss record at the tournament demonstrates the mountain they have to climb and their most recent test match, a 20-0 Nations Cup loss to Russia, does not inspire much confidence that they will be able to muster a shock.   Canada -- Coach Kingsley Jones -- Key players Tyler Ardron, Phil Mack, DTH van der Merwe. -- RWC record Canada have played in every World Cup since the inaugural tournament in 1987. They have advanced past the pool stage once, reaching the quarterfinals in 1991. -- Summary The final nation to qualify for this year's World Cup, Canada earned their spot by going unbeaten at a repechage tournament in Marseille. Facing New Zealand and South Africa in their pool, the Canucks have virtually no chance of emulating their best World Cup result, a quarterfinal berth in 1991. The 22nd-ranked North Americans, coached by former Wales international Kingsley Jones, will have their best opportunity for a win at the tournament against Namibia on Oct. 13 in Kamaishi. The Canucks are captained by Tyler Ardron, a versatile forward who can play in either the second or back row. The 28-year-old is the first Canadian to play in the Super Rugby competition after joining the New Zealand-based Chiefs in 2018. Longtime Japan rugby fans will remember the Brave Blossoms meeting Canada at successive World Cups in 2007 and 2011, with both matches ending in draws. Pool A | Pool B | Pool C | Pool D   England -- Coach Eddie Jones -- Key players Maro Itoje, Owen Farrell, Ben Youngs -- RWC record Rugby World Cup champions in 2003, they suffered a disastrous pool stage exit as host at the 2015 tournament. Twice runners-up, in 1991 and 2007, and finished fourth in 1995. -- Summary Experienced and respected England boss Eddie Jones returns to Japan having shocked some by picking a relatively inexperienced World Cup squad. Hoping for no repeat of the team's embarrassing 2015 Rugby World Cup two-win, two-loss pool stage capitulation as tournament hosts, the 2019 Six Nations runners-up will rely on captain and flyhalf Owen Farrell and his halfback partner Ben Youngs to guide the team around the park. Strong contenders for the trophy, which they got their hands on with a 20-17 win over hosts Australia in the 2003 final, much will depend on how they clear the first hurdle of pool rivals Argentina and France if a return to the final is on the cards. In the lead up to the tournament, England traded wins with Wales and blew current world No. 1 Ireland off the Twickenham park 57-15 before closing their pre-Japan games with a healthy win over Italy, confirming themselves as cup contenders.   France -- Coach Jacques Brunel -- Key players Guilhem Guirado, Louis Picamoles, Gael Fickou -- RWC record Three-time runners-up, in 1987, 1999 and 2011. Have reached at least the quarterfinals at every tournament. -- Summary Perhaps the most successful team to have never won a World Cup, eighth-ranked France go into this tournament in patchy shape, demolishing Scotland 32-3 last month in the first game of a double-header test but squandering an early lead to lose 17-14 in the second leg. After controversially dropping veterans Mathieu Bastareaud and Morgan Parra from the squad, head coach Jacques Brunel will be counting on young talent such as scrumhalf Antoine Dupont and prop Demba Bamba to make an impact on the field. Les Bleus face tough competition in Pool C against England, Argentina, the United States and Tonga, but as 2023 World Cup hosts they will be looking to put on a convincing performance.   Argentina -- Coach Mario Ledesma -- Key players Agustin Creevy, Nicolas Sanchez, Joaquin Tuculet -- RWC record Two-time semifinalists. Finished third in 2007 but lost to South Africa in the bronze medal match in 2015. Have advanced to the knockout stage four times. -- Summary While the country is best known for producing some of the world's best soccer players, rugby also has deep roots in Argentina. The Jaguares have competed in Super Rugby since 2016, and finished runners-up this year their best-ever finish. Los Pumas head coach Mario Ledesma, a four-time representative of Argentina at the World Cup and for a long time the lynchpin of the fearsome Argentine scrum, named a squad made up largely of members of the Jaguares, while also calling up France-based flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez, Argentina's record point scorer. The team enters the tournament on a losing streak, however, with four defeats from four -- albeit against top teams New Zealand, South Africa and Australia -- in 2019, a worrying sign.   United States -- Coach Gary Gold -- Key Players AJ MacGinty, Joseph Taufete'e, Paul Lasike -- RWC record Have played at every World Cup except 1995, but have never advanced past the pool stage. Have yet to win more than one game in a single campaign. -- Summary The United States are still a work in progress with just three wins at a World Cup -- two of them against Japan -- under their belt. And while Gary Gold's side are a long shot to break out of a tough Pool C, the Eagles are brimming with potential. New Zealand-born NFL fullback-turned-center Paul Lasike boasts both quick feet and passing ability, while hooker Joseph Taufete'e has the power to bulldoze his way to the try line. AJ MacGinty can control the pace of the game with precision kicks, though the Dublin-born flyhalf is coming off of an injury sustained last month.   Tonga -- Coach Toutai Kefu -- Key players Siale Piutau, Sonatane Takulua -- RWC record Have been knocked out at the pool stage in all seven appearances. -- Summary Despite amassing eight wins over 21 test matches since the conclusion of the previous World Cup in 2015, the 'Ikale Tahi aim to make team history by advancing to the knockout stage for the first time. Head coach Toutai Kefu, a Tonga-born Wallabies legend, said he has named a 31-man squad consisting of "exciting" players, all but one of whom are based abroad in clubs including New Zealand, Australia, England and France. Pool A | Pool B | Pool C | Pool D   Australia -- Coach Michael Cheika -- Key players Michael Hooper, David Pocock, Marika Koroibete -- RWC record Australia is the second-most successful nation in World Cup history alongside South Africa. The Wallabies won the tournament in 1991 and 1999, while finishing runners-up in 2003 and 2015. -- Summary Despite living in the shadow of their neighbors across the Tasman Sea, the Wallabies have a knack for stepping things up at the World Cup, becoming the first multiple winners in 1999 and reaching the final twice since then. Following a morale-boosting 47-26 win against New Zealand in Perth last month, Michael Cheika's men were crushed 36-0 by the All Blacks the following week in Auckland. But the world No. 6 team arrive in Japan knowing they can match it with the reigning champions on their day. Captained by flanker Michael Hooper, Australia will battle world No. 5 Wales for supremacy in Pool D, with top spot likely to be determined when the two teams meet in Tokyo on Sept. 29. If they are to lift the Webb Ellis trophy for a record-tying third time, the Wallabies will need big performances from their talented backline including wingers Reece Hodge and Marika Koroibete, as well as resurgent flyhalf Christian Lealiifano.   Wales -- Coach Warren Gatland -- Key players Alun Wyn Jones, Dan Biggar, George North. -- RWC record Third in 1987 and fourth in 2011, Wales have appeared in every World Cup. -- Summary Injuries to Gareth Anscombe and Taulupe Faletau have deprived them of the first choice flyhalf and No. 8, respectively, but coach Warren Gatland has plenty of depth and the Six Nations champions remain one of the sides favored to go all the way. However, much will depend on which Wales turns up -- the side that earlier this year completed a 14-game winning streak or the team that lost three of its four warm-up games to England and Ireland. That recent inconsistency was reflected in their roller-coaster ride in the world rankings, the men in red having risen to No. 1 spot only to fall to fifth on the back of two losses to Ireland.   Georgia -- Coach Milton Haig -- Key players Mamuka Gorgodze, Vasil Lobzhanidze -- RWC record Never advanced past the pool stage in four attempts. Did not get a win in their tournament debut in 2003, got one in 2007, one in 2011 and two in 2015. -- Summary The Lelos have gone from Rugby World Cup also-rans to a legitimate second-tier force in the game on the back of a fearsome reputation as strong scrummagers. Traditionally, the bulk of their forward pack plied their trade in France, allowing them to develop in one of the world's best competitions. The team's Kiwi coach Milton Haig brought Mamuka Gorgodze back into the fold for his fourth World Cup and as the team's all-time leading try-scorer and spiritual leader, he will boost their chances. But in a tough pool, the Georgians may struggle to match or better their two-win record from the 2015 World Cup.   Fiji -- Coach John McKee -- Key players Ben Volavola, Dominiko Waqaniburotu -- RWC record Reached quarterfinals twice, in 1987 and 2007. Qualified to the quarterfinal playoffs in 1999. Have failed to emerge from their group at the two most recent tournaments. -- Summary Known to move the ball and their bodies perhaps better than any team in world rugby, the Flying Fijians have been quickly building their profile as more than just showmen. Fiji's bevy of Europe-based stars has allowed them to consolidate themselves in the top-10 in the world. Fiji showed what they can do in the seven-a-side game at the 2016 Olympics, winning the first men's gold in the sport, now the question is whether they can harness their undoubted flair and skill on the biggest stage. They demonstrated their potential when they secured perhaps their most significant ever victory, a 21-14 win over France in Paris in November 2018, but in a pool with Australia and Wales, their path to the quarterfinals will be steep.   Uruguay -- Coach Esteban Meneses -- Key players Juan Manuel Gaminara, Juan Manuel Cat, Felipe Berchesi -- RWC record In three World Cup appearances, they have two wins to their name, one each in 1999 and 2003. -- Summary Los Teros reached the tournament as Americas 2 after beating Canada twice in a home-and-away qualifier, and they have targeted their first two games -- against Fiji and Georgia -- as the most important. Coach Esteban Meneses has picked a squad that contains a good mix of youth and experience, and given the nature of the group they are in with heavyweights Australia and Wales, has opted for players who he hopes can match the physicality of the opposition, not to mention a tough schedule that sees them play their first three games in 11 days. The first of those is in Kamaishi, a game that is expected to be of huge media interest given the venue's location in the area so badly devastated by the 2011 earthquake-tsunami disaster. Pool A | Pool B | Pool C | Pool D  

Sep 11, 2019 | KYODO NEWS