Argentina: Nicolás Sánchez, 26, fly-half
Sánchez plays his club rugby at RC Toulon, in France, surrounded by world superstars, which has improved his overall game. His kicking is fantastic, and he often uses well placed grubber kicks and chipped balls to advance the ball over the defensive line.
Australia: Israel Folau, 26, full-back
Folau has quickly risen to become the best at his position in the world. At 1.93m tall and quick as a bullet, Folau has the ability to turn a game on it’s head with his elusiveness when returning kicks. Australia’s forward pack has been sub-par for the past few years, and because of this, the backs have to attack a lot and defend a lot. Folau’s tackling could definitely use improvement, but his speed and size mean that as the last defender, he can bring down a stray runner.
England: George Ford, 22, fly-half
Ford made his first start for England in October of 2014, but in a few short months has changed the way England play their rugby. Although his goal kicking needs improvement, Ford’s ability to hold the ball and pass the ball flat to runners opens up defences. Prior to Ford, England’s back line attack lacked fluidity and flair. They often relied on the strength of the forwards to do attacking work through pick-and-go’s. Once the ball reached the backline, it would usually be kicked away. Ford has the vision to delay his pass to the second receiver, drawing in defenders as he moves forward to create gaps for his backline to burst through. He plays at Bath with other English players. Their moves and connectivity at club level translates to the international level, where Ford is easily able to communicate with his Bath team mates, almost telepathically, to keep undoing defences.
France: Thierry Dusautoir, 33, flanker
The French captain has been around for ages and this will be his last tournament. His team was knocked out of the 2007 tournament in the semi-finals. In the 2011 final, he scored a try against New Zealand, and although it was not enough to beat the All Blacks, it brought the French to within one point of the eventual champions. Dusautoir, is known for his leadership on the pitch, will be looking to make one last push to reach the promised land. His defensive game is incredible and the captain is often rated as one of the best tacklers in the game.
Fiji: Vereniki Goneva, 31, centre
After making his mark in the Aviva Premiership at club level for the Leicester Tigers, Goneva will try to translate his success to the international level. In what is possibly his last tournament, Goneva wants to sign off in style with upset victories over Australia, England and Wales. However, the only team Fiji have beaten in their pool are Wales, after a shock 2007 pool victory that knocked the Welsh out. In 2011, Fiji were dominated by Wales for 80 minutes, losing 66-0. Goneva is quick on his feet and very powerful for a centre. His Fijian team mates will attempt to make him the focal point of their attack, and if Goneva gets the ball, the opposition are in trouble.
Ireland: Johnny Sexton, 30, fly-half
For most of his career, Sexton played in the shadows of Irish great Ronan O’Gara and and Leinster’s Felipe Contepomi. As those players neared the end of their careers, Sexton made his mark for both his club and country. Regarded as the best fly-half in Europe, Sexton has been influential in Ireland’s rise over the last few years. At the moment, his kicking is second to none, either in play or from the tee. Sexton always finds himself with time on the ball, and is able to carve up defences as the first receiver. He is paramount to Ireland’s hope of lifting the Webb Ellis trophy in October.
New Zealand: Dan Carter, 33, fly-half
Dan Carter has consistently been the best fly-half in the world for the last 10 years. He is currently the highest scoring player in Rugby Union history. Carter was named in New Zealand’s 2011 World Cup squad, however missed out due to a groin injury. He hopes that his last World Cup will end in success. Like all good number 10s, Carter has the ability to control the game and build upon the hard work done by his forwards. As first receiver, he usually orchestrates an attack to break down tired defences after his forward pack have worn out the opposition. His place kicking is incredibly accurate and reliable, while his kicking in game to touch is just as perfect. He’s had numerous injuries over the years which have kept him out of games, so when Carter does play, New Zealand have an added dimension to their game.
Scotland: Stuart Hogg, 23, full-back
Hogg is another young European talent, and hopes to leave a lasting mark on the Rugby World Cup when he makes his first tournament appearance in September. He is the first Scottish player in a while to posses that x-factor. His quickness paired with his defensive skills mean that he is one of the most elite defenders in the game, and his tackling is great. On the flip side, his quickness paired with his attack means that he can leave defenders in the dust as he cuts up the middle of the pitch or races along the sideline. Hogg’s finishing is also world class. In the recent Six Nations, he made the most metres and beat the most defenders over the course of the tournament. Hogg was the standout player in a struggling Scottish team.
South Africa: Schalk Burger, 32, flanker
After a disappointing 2011 World Cup, Burger hopes to end his World Cup career with victory in England this year. He missed two games in the 2007 Cup due to foul play, but came back to be instrumental in South Africa’s final win against England. He is one of the toughest players in World Rugby, constantly taking big hits when attacking and dishing them out on defence. But, Burger has often been citied in his career for illegal play. In 2009, he was cited for eye gouging and was slapped with an eight-week ban. In addition to being sidelined with bans, Burger has been kept out for large periods of times with neck and knee injuries.
Wales: George North, 23, winger
Even at such a young age, George North has become one of the best wingers in the world. In his Rugby World Cup Debut in New Zealand in 2011, he scored two tries against Namibia to become the youngest player to score a try in the World Cup, at 19 years and 166 days. Following a record-breaking move to Northampton at club level, North asserted himself as the best winger in Wales and is one of the first to be included in the Welsh starting fifteen on match day. His knack of being in the right place at the right time, as well as his pace and elusiveness means that he has already scored 24 international tries. On the defensive end, he is never afraid to put in a big tackle, however that has become a source of worry for North, as he is notorious for suffering head injuries. Just this past spring, North was knocked out and suffered a concussion for a third time in four months. When concussed against England, North stayed on the field. As long as he stays fit for the tournament, North will be one of the top try scorers. The future of his career depends on how many more blows to the head he takes.