The World Cup has a habit of throwing up new stars of the game on each occasion it is held. We take a look at some of the likely lads this time around.
(France - scrumhalf)
Parra made his debut aged just 19 but has made his way in coach Marc Lievremont's tactic of giving international playing time to as many as possible. The latest on the production line of superb French scrumhalves, Parra looks every bit as exciting as the likes of Jacques Fouroux, Jerome Gallion, Pierre Berbizier and Fabien Galthie. A crucial element in France's 2010 Grand Slam, the 22-year-old is a vociferous, tactical genius who also offers the added bonus of being a very accurate goal-kicker. Slipped behind Dmitri Yachvili in the pecking order earlier this year but certain to play a major role in New Zealand.
(Japan - flank)
Now aged 31 and with over 40 caps to his name, the Japan captain Kikutani can hardly be described as a new kid on the block. However, having missed out in 2007, this is his first World Cup and he promises to be the face of a Brave Blossoms side that has high ambitions of using 2011 as a stepping stone for the edition that they will host in 2019. Kikutani, who is an all-action flank, is mindful of the responsibility on Japan's sportsmen and women since the country was his by a devastating earthquake and tsunami in March. "The players coming from the tsunami have wondered what to do to overcome this tragedy," he said. "And the answer was to play rugby, showing our full potential to give courage to our people who were suffering."
(New Zealand - prop)
Owen Franks has had a rapid rise through the ranks. After playing for New Zealand Secondary Schools and New Zealand Under-21 the powerful prop made his Test debut as a 21-year-old. Two years on, he has 24 internationals under his belt. In a position where players normally mature in their late 20s, the powerful 119kg, 1.85m tighthead is only 23 but is already considered one of the world's best. He is not only renowned for his immense strength but also for his fearless physical approach to defence where he relishes head-on tackles. Franks is the younger brother of fellow World Cup All Blacks prop Ben Franks.
(New Zealand - fullback)
Dagg was still at school when his speed, skill and uncanny decision-making ability saw him promoted to play for Hawkes Bay in the top tier of New Zealand provincial rugby. Now aged 23 and in his second season with the All Blacks he is on the fringe of replacing Mils Muliaina as the number one fullback. Dagg was all but ruled out of the World Cup when he suffered a serious thigh injury in May and did not play again until he produced a man-of-the-match performance against South Africa three days before the All Blacks World Cup team was named. An elusive runner, he has played four of his seven Tests on the wing from where he scored the match-winning try against the Springboks in Soweto last year.
(Argentina - prop)
It is over 20 years since an 18-year-old Federico Mendez landed a punch on Paul Ackford's jaw at Twickenham. It was a moment when the world became truly aware of the strength and depth of Argentinian front row power. Props have been rolling off the production line ever since with Figallo and Maximiliano Bustos the latest incarnations of the raging bulls of the Pampas. The 23-year-old tighthead made his international debut in the 41-13 drubbing of France in Buenos Aires last year and impressed enough of the opposition to land a contract with Montpellier. Watch out for the beard and the bullocking runs.
(England - centre)
Brother of a long line of Samoan internationals, Tuilagi is the unlikeliest member of coach Martin Johnson's England side. The 20-year-old Leicester centre came to England on a tourist visa aged 14 and, after completing his education there, ended up battling immigration officials to stay. That battling approach is also evident on the field - a hefty haymaker last season on Northampton wing - and England teammate - Chris Ashton landing him a five week ban. Abrasive in defence and a blockbuster in attack, Tuilagi made his debut in the first World Cup warm-up game against Wales at Twickenham - and duly dotted down his first international try.
(Georgia - prop)
Georgia's rise in the world of rugby has been a rapid one but it has been based less on flyboy flair but on the grunt and grind of the big men. Just as Wales used to have a production line of No.10s, so Georgia keeps pumping out props like Kubriashvili. The 24-year-old tighthead is going to claim a few scalps in New Zealand, he relishes the age-old art of scrummaging and, as a regular for Toulon in the French Top 14 over the past two years, he has learnt his trade in the fiercest of factories. Good enough to play for the Barbarians against England at Twickenham where he gave Joe Marler a torrid afternoon.
(Scotland - lock)
The 21-year-old Scottish lock was the breakthrough player of the last Six Nations, his blond locks helping to highlight his dynamic, ball-handling style of play that belied his 2.07m/127kg standing. His performance in defeat against France in Paris alerted numerous French clubs to his potential resulting in a reported £500,000 a year salary being dangled under his nose. His presence is re-energising interest in rugby in Scotland - Richie Gray masks have been spotted as far afield as Afghanistan and Mt Everest - but for the moment he remains a Glasgow Warriors player facing his biggest challenge so far. "It engenders a huge sense of pride to be representing your country," he told The Scotsman in August. "I'd love to think that what we do this year might inspire youngsters to pick up a rugby ball."
(Australia - fullback)
After a meteoric rise, the Aboriginal Beale is one player who will command plenty of airtime and column inches during the World Cup. A shift from flyhalf to fullback gave the 22-year-old more space to launch attacks and he was crowned the 2010 Wallaby Rookie of the Year and later was nominated for the IRB Player of the Year Award. Beale's rugby has flourished under coach Robbie Deans since his international debut against Wales in 2009. A last-minute 55-metre penalty last year not only deliver Australia their first victory on South Africa's high veldt in 47 years but confirmed that Beale, who will play with the Melbourne Rebels next season, possessed the bottle for the big occasions.
(Ireland - flyhalf)
The 26-year-old Sexton has finally come of age, taking over the mantle as Ireland's outside-half from stalwart Ronan O'Gara. The two players will go head to head for the jersey in New Zealand but it appears as though coach Declan Kidney has now settled on Sexton as his starting 10 with O'Gara as back-up. Sexton has been fortunate to have had O'Gara as a mentor as well as Felipe Contepomi, his predecessor with Leinster. When the Argentinean limped out of the European Cup semifinal in 2009, Sexton took over and went on to steer the province to victory in the final. An adept kicker, Sexton can also light the torchpaper for the flair outside him. If he is on his game, watch Brian O'Driscoll fly.
(Ireland - flank)
First capped in 2009, the 24-year-old O'Brien has emerged as one of the leading back row forwards in the Six Nations - and in May was named European player of the year for his superb performances with Leinster. So worried were his club Leinster by French raiders, O'Brien was snapped up on a three-year deal last January. The blindside flank offers a teak-tough defence and a powerful attacking potential - the prospect of facing down one of his trademark charging runs will send shivers down many an opposition spine. A knee injury hampered his World Cup preparations but that should not be a concern by the time the Irish face the United States in their opener on September 11.
(Italy - scrumhalf)
With all due respect to those who have tried, Italy have never found a worthy successor at scrumhalf to the estimable Alessandro Troncon who stepped down after the last World Cup. There are signs, though, that Fabio Semenzato is about to put that right. Coach Nick Mallett preferred the 25-year-old Treviso scrumhalf for the Six Nations ahead of Edoardo Gori and Tobias Botes and he played a crucial linking role between No.8 Sergio Parisse and the backs. His likely partnership with flyhalf Luciano Orquera will be vital if the Italians want to emerge from the pool stage for the first time.
(Russia - lock/back row)
Following his move from Aurillac in France to English Premiership side Sale Sharks in May, the world is sure to hear a lot more of the 24-year-old Muscovite after the World Cup. But keep a close eye on him during the tournament as the Bears grapple with Australia, Ireland, Italy and the United States. His 198cm, 110kg frame fits the Bears moniker well. Often a lock at club level he plays in the back row for Russia lending height, weight and pace around the park. Ostrikov was 16 when he was first taken to a rugby training session; a year later he was in the national Under-18 side touring France. Agen liked the look of him and he has since learned his rugby in France. "Ostrikov is a fantastic athlete," purrs team director Kingsley Jones. "He still has a lot to learn about the game but he has massive potential."
(Samoa - back row)
When Australia lost to Samoa in July, the shockwaves were felt all around the world, even in Newcastle in the north of England where the Falcons management spotted a missing piece to their jigsaw - the big, rampaging Samoan loose forward Tu'ifua. Playing in New Zealand for Pukekohe, he made his Test debut in a 34-15 win over Japan earlier this year, going on to play against Fiji and the Wallabies. Still a rookie at Test level, he has already shown that the spirit of Pat Lam - that most sublime of Samoan back row forwards - lives on. "He's a big man, a good ball carrier and will give us so many dimensions to our set-up," said Falcons coach Alan Tait. The same goes for Samoa.
(Fiji - fullback)
Although selected as a fullback Murimurivalu is equally at home on the wing. The former Fiji age-group captain's talent was recognised early by French side Clermont-Auvergne who offered him a contract in 2009 at the age of 20. The Fijian flyer's try-scoring ability saw him elevated to the national side in July for the Pacific Nations Cup where he played in the opening match against Tonga. A month later he scored his first Test try in a World Cup warm-up match, also against Tonga, and did enough there to earn his ticket to New Zealand.
(South Africa - utility back)
The fan club of play-anywhere Springbok back Patrick Lambie includes World Cup-winning flyhalf Joel Stransky. "Patrick never gets flustered nor panics and there is no hint of alarm about his play," says the Bok whose extra-time drop goal won the 1995 final. "He has brilliant skills, a kicking game, tackles well and, most important, possesses a wonderful temperament." High praise for someone just 20 years old and who looks far too gentle for the ultra-physical world of Test rugby. While many Springbok backs rely on brawn, Lambie displays flair on attack, steadiness in defence and is a top-class goal-kicker. Not a shoe-in to start but could displace first-choice fullback Francois Steyn.
(South Africa - prop)
South African rugby crowds know him as 'The Beast' and shout his name every time he charges forward with ball in hand. Zimbabwe-born and educated Tendai Mtawarira is a cult hero off the field across the country. On the field, his love for scrummaging has produced a number of high profile victims, notably 2009 British and Irish Lions Phil Vickery, who was pulled off after 45 minutes of Mtawarira-inflicted 'torture' in the Durban Test. "He is an exceptional ball carrier and packs power in the scrum," leading scrumming coach Dougie Heymans says of the 26-year-old who is 1.88m tall, and weighs 120kgs. The Sharks prop is set to start at loose-head ahead of reigning South Africa Player of the Year Gurthrö Steenkamp who is still coming back from injury.
(Wales - flank)
The Newport Gwent Dragons blindside flank has emerged from an under-performing regional side as Wales' leading No 6. The 23-year-old England-born forward made his Wales debut in 2009 but did not feature in the Six Nations until last season. His progress, however, means that he is now likely to be packing down for Wales opener against the Springboks. His road to the World Cup is made even more remarkable by the fact that in a European Cup tie in Perpignan he broke his neck, ruptured every neck ligament and required a bone graft from his hip to replace a crushed disc. "I didn't know if I would walk or whatever, but it was established I was going to be fine," he said. Now a World Cup beckons.
(Wales - wing)
It is 16 years since Jonah Lomu set a new template for wings during the 1995 World Cup. Pace was all very well but allied to a massive frame it was well nigh impossible to stop. George North is from the same mould. Standing 1.93m and weighing in at 108kgs, the 19-year-old North is a big lad. He is also quick. But the most impressive thing is that, unlike many retreaded back-rowers, he genuinely thinks like a wing - his positioning, sleight of hand and nose for the line making him a genuinely exciting player. Dangerous too as the Springboks found out last November when the Scarlets wing dotted down twice on his Test debut. With North, Leigh Halfpenny and Shane Williams available for wing service the Welsh should pose a serious attacking threat to anyone.
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