Rugby World Cup Player Watch: Tight 5
With less than a month to until the opening kick off of the 2015 Rugby World Cup, there is a lot of talk of who will win the tournament and who will fall. I’ll look at the players and positions that we should keep an eye out for. I’ll begin by looking at the tight five, the men that are at the coal face of the game and keep the engine room running.
The loosehead prop is where scrums are won. By having a smart loosehead with strength and grit, the scrum can be solid and might be able to win a few opposition ball. Some of the best scrum tacticians can be found in Argentina.
For a very long time, the Pumas have been known to have a technically superior scrum and this year is no exception. The lead loosehead in Argentina is Marcos Ayerza, in fact he may be the best in the world. He plies his trade for Leicester Tigers but really makes his experience count on the international stage, earning 60 caps for the Pumas. He will be one to look out for.
Along with him to watch would be South African Springbok, Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira. Every time he gets the ball in hand, most crowds let out a call “BEEEAST!”. He is famously understated but has earned 67 caps at the international level. He is a powerful scrummager and has held the Bok number 1 jersey for a long, long time. He also has phenomenal strength in open play and has been known to press his team mates well above his head when acting as a lifter.
New Zealand have produced some fantastic looseheads but the man that should be watched is Tony Woodcock. He has made a huge impact this season, this being his last season before he heads into retirement. He has accumulated 113 caps for New Zealand and looks to finish his career in style.
England have an strong front row and boast the name of Joe Marler. You cannot really miss this guys with his mohawk hairstyle and solid build. He hasn’t reached the 50 mark of caps earned, but he is a smart scrummager and will force his presence through the opposition.
Ireland have been strong upfront this season an din fact, the past few seasons. Some of the credit should go to the coach Joe Schmidt but really, the hard work is done by Cian Healy. He has had a bad run with injuries lately but he should be fit and should feature in the World Cup.
Some of the best hookers are more than front row players and some act as a fourth loose forward. Arguably, the best hooker at the moment is South Africa’s Bismarck Du Plessis. He has the aggression and size to get into the action. He has earned 73 test caps and is one of the best turnover specialists in the game.
Close to Du Plessis is the young All Blacks, Dane Coles. He is very new to the scene but has made a name for himself. Even though he isn’t a fetcher on the ground, he has the pace of a loose forward which has been seen in this year’s internationals. If New Zealand don’t play Coles, they’ll play the veteran Keven Mealamu who has over 100 caps for the All Blacks and is solid in every facet of his game.
Australian captain, Stephen Moore is also one of the best hookers out there. His leadership is invaluable to the team and he is a warrior on the field and one to look out for.
There aren’t many Northern Hemisphere hookers that can compete with the skill of the South, but if there was one to look out for, Ireland’s Rory Best is one to look for. He is strong in contact and is able to slow the ball down in the rucks.
Lastly, another world class hooker is Puma’s Augustin Creevy, the Argentinian captain. He has an impressive work rate and guides his pack around the park well.
Tighthead props are where scrums can be lost. The position is put under a lot of pressure and needs to be the strongest on the field. These men are few and far between, especially at world class level. They are part of the unsung hero class and go unnoticed often but no less put in maximum effort.
The players to look out for, with the number 3 on their backs, are Italian veteran Martin Castrogiovanni. He can’t miss this guy with his wild hair and presence around the field. Over the years he has earned 110 caps and still puts in the had work.
Wales have produced some memorable tightheads in the past, like the now retired Adam Jones (another with wild hair) but his replacement over the past season or two has been Samson Lee. He is a young up and comer with 12 international caps but worth a watch. He was held back through injury but should be fit for the World Cup.
Yet again, the South Africans produce players to watch and in this case, Jannie Du Plessis, a veteran and brother of Bismarck. He has 64 test caps and completes one of the most experienced and formidable front rows in the world with Beast and Bismarck. He had a mediocre Super Rugby season but his test form has been brilliant.
New Zealand have one or two guys to keep an eye for, but the likes of Owen Franks, the brother of Ben Franks, holds the title of being the best tighthead. He is very mobile around the field and causes a lot of problems for the opposition.
The French aren’t known for massive forward packs, but their tighthead Nicolas Mas has made a name for himself over the past few seasons and is solid upfront.
And lastly, a name hat might be mentioned a few times would come out of Australia Sekope Kepu. A 56 test veteran and a man that has added stability and strength to the once flimsy Australian scrum.
Behind the front rows are the locking pair. The aerial men, the tall timber and the giants of the squad. These men are quite literally in the middle of it all. There are a number of names to keep an eye out for.
Scotland may not be the most powerful rugby nation, but they have had some legends wear the shirt. This World Cup, the Gray brothers, Richie and Jonny. Richie has been included in the British and Irish Lions squad and with his younger brother, Jonny, form a powerful locking pair for Scotland.
New Zealand’s locking pair is considered by many as the best pair in the world with Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock are the two names that will be mentioned by the commentators often. Retallick has an unstoppable work rate and was named player of the year in 2014.
South Africa offer anther formidable locking pair in Eben Etzebeth and Victor Matfield. Etzebeth is a hot-headed, no holds barred player with Matfield being a living legend. He may be 37 years old, but has unlimited experience at top flight level.
Australia haven’t been known to produce top class locks in recent times, and with the recent squad announcement, have cut one of the most experienced campaigners, but there is a giant amongst them. Will Skelton stands at just over 2 metres but tips the scales at 143kg. He will feature heavily in Australia’s plans to bash the ball up field.
Welsh player and sometimes captain Alun Wyn Jones, is player to watch. He is one of the hardest workers on the field. A forece to be reckoned with and twice a British and Irish Lions player.
Fijian lock, Leone Nakarawa is one of the men in the underdog teams, but has had experience in the Fijian ‘s setup. He has the size and pace to create a number of problems if he has some space.
Another underdog team that boasts a big name is the USA. Lock and big hitter, Samu Manoa doesn’t have a lot of international experience but he is known to lay opposition players flat with powerful runs and huge tackles.
England have a strong locking pair that has the name of Courtney Lawes attached to the position. Lawes may have lost a bit of form last year but is looking good to come back hard in the World Cup and someone to look out for.
Those are the tight five players that I personally would keep an eye out for. I know that not everyone will agree, but these aren’t what I consider the best players, just players that will be mentioned and could create powerful runs and scrums in pressure games. Keep in mind that not all squads have been announced so a name or two may drop off but I seriously doubt that these names will be left off the traveling squad.
Next time I’ll look at the loose forwards, the men that can cause massive turnovers at key moments in the game and a position that some coaches build a game plan around.