Ten men of power set to light up Rugby World Cup

Monday, September 16th, 2019 00:00 |
Eben Etzebeth (South Africa).

1. Amanaki Mafi (Japan)

Mafi’s career has been plagued by off-the-pitch trouble and he is currently awaiting trial for an allegedly vicious assault on Melbourne Rebels team-mate Lopeti Timani.

Despite the incident, Japan coach Jamie Joseph has included Mafi for World Cup selection with the trial likely to take place in 2020.

The back-row forward is arguably Japan’s best player and lit up the tournament in 2015. He is a massive ball carrier and makes his presence known in defence too. 

2. Manu Tuilagi (England)

A fit and firing Manu Tuilagi will give defence coaches sleepless nights and Eddie Jones’s human wrecking-ball looked sharp in the warm-up games.

He’s 28 now and this World Cup could be a career-defining tournament for the Leicester Tiger.

Tuilagi has the kind of raw power and hunger for contact that is uncoachable and a genuine point of difference for any team. If Owen Farrell manages to create the openings for him, the centre will use all 114kgs to wreak havoc. 

3. Alivereti Raka (France)

As erratic as France can be in the intervening years, they just love a World Cup and this man could be their superstar.

The flyer’s surname literally means ‘rugby’ in his place of birth, Fiji, and he’s got all the tools in his locker to perform on the biggest stage.

Raka isn’t exactly a man mountain at 6ft and 88kg but he is incredibly powerful and possesses as piston-like hand-off along with the ability to step off both feet. He is box office with ball in hand and well worth keeping an eye on. 

4. Taniela Tupou (Australia)

Tupou is one of the most promising young props in the game. At 23, he has the world at his feet and the Australia Rugby Union clearly rate him as they’re willing to pay him $1million (Sh100 million) a year.

The rampaging front-rower went viral as a schoolboy, skittling defenders in his highlights video and he’s grown into a 135kg giant with frightening agility for his size.

At 5ft 8in, his low centre of gravity and footwork gives defenders a nightmare. 

5. Eben Etzebeth (South Africa)

Ben Tameifuna (Tonga)

Eben Etzebeth has specially made dumbells for himself, weighing 75kgs each. He can benchpress 175kgs and the circumference of one of his biceps is 19 inches.

At 6ft 8ins and 19 stone, the man is a behemoth. The measurements are mind boggling but he’s not just a gym monkey.

There’s no way you can start as a lock for South Africa without some serious snarl to your play and ability to go with it. He loves the dark arts and comes from the Bakkies Botha school of physical intimidation but can run 40m in 5.11 seconds and is arguably the most impressive all-round physical specimen in Japan. 

6. Billy Vunipola (England)

At 6ft 2in and 130kg with the cardio to back it up, Vunipola transforms the threat posed by England from the back of the scrum.

When he was sidelined by three broken arms in a row, the team lost so much dynamism and ability to create space off his rampages through the gainline.

Vunipola has spoken of his ambition to become the best No8 in the world and if he gets anywhere close to that, England should have a strong campaign. 

7. Louis Picamoles (France)

King Louis. A No8 who has managed to be one of the most consistent French performers over the last few years.

Consistency and the French? I know it’s hard to believe but Picamoles is renowned for his professionalism and packs a serious punch from the back of the scrum.

Levani Botia (Fiji)

Now 33, his powers might be slightly on the wane, but he’ll be the man to get Les Bleus on the front foot in Japan.

He’s known as the Iceberg as all the weight is carried at the bottom and no doubt a few defenders will give their best impression of the Titanic over the next few weeks. 

8. George North (Wales)

North has never quite managed to reach the dizzy heights of the Lions tour to Australia in 2013 but the Welsh powerhouse seems to be finding some form again.

The 6ft 3in and 109kg finisher loves a big stage and it would be no surprise if he showcased his combination of twinkling footwork and monstrous power in Japan.

He’s nearing 100 international caps already and at 27-years-old is now entering his prime. 

9. Ben Tameifuna (Tonga)

The heaviest man in Test rugby. Tameifuna’s official weight has been debated but in 2018 he said he tipped the scales at 153kgs.

The Tongan giant earns his corn at the set piece and with occasional meaty carries but fancies his skills too. Like most front-rowers, he loves to have a kick at goal in training. 

10. Levani Botia (Fiji)

‘Demolition man’ is Botia’s nickname and that sounds about right. He makes grown men look like schoolboys when he moves through the gears.

There isn’t much subtlety to the La Rochelle man’s game but there doesn’t need to be when he can bounce tacklers off with such regularity. The fact that he can play centre or flanker marks him out as a rare talent.

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