World Cup: Emerging stars to watch

Date published: September 10 2015

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We already know most of the big names who will star at the World Cup but during the pool stages some new faces will shine.

Between the Rugby Championship and the Six Nations, the tier one nations have plenty of coverage, but during the pool stages, and possibly into the knock-outs, there will be players from the so-called minnows who also hit the headlines.

Just think of Takudzwa Ngwenya's try in 2007, one of the iconic images of that tournament, while the best match was probably Fiji's stunning win over Wales.

In this piece we are going to look at one player from each of the ten tier two teams, but forget the likes of Nemani Nadolo, Alesana Tuilagi and Ngwenya himself, who are well-known to those who have more than a passing interest in the game.

Pool A

Peceli Yato (Fiji): We could have gone with one of the countless top class wingers available to Fiji, but instead we're going for a rising star in the back row. Peceli Yato, who is still only 22, scored seven tries in just nine starts for Clermont last year, and did enough to earn a call-up to the national team for the first time. He's not yet a guaranteed starter, but his combination of size, speed and athleticism mean that it's only a matter of time.

Juan de Freitas (Uruguay): Ok, it's going to be hard for any Uruguay player to shine, given that they are in the pool of death against four of the world's top nine sides according to the current rankings. Having said that, Juan de Freitas is worth looking out for simply because of his versatility. The 25-year-old has already started Tests at blindside, openside, fly-half, inside centre and on the left wing! Richie Vernon and Sam Burgess eat your heart out!

Pool B

Masataka Mikami (Japan): The Brave Blossoms have long been stereotyped as undersized and quick, but in the last two seasons they've developed a top quality scrum. Former France hooker Marc dal Maso has had a lot to do with that, and under his tutelage, Masataka Mikami has established himself as arguably the team's best loosehead. Expect him and the rest of the Japanese pack to break some of the stereotypes about Japanese rugby in the pool stages.

Ole Avei (Samoa): Regular watchers of the Top 14 will know all about Ole Avei, who plays his club rugby for Bordeaux, but having not even played Champions Cup rugby, he is not as well-known as he should be. An absolute livewire around the park, he's tough to bring down when he gets up a head of steam, as Sean O'Brien found out to his cost back in 2013. 

Danny Barrett (USA): The USA are definitely not minnows on the Sevens scene any longer, having already booked their place in Rio next year. One of the stars of that team is Danny Barrett, who plays in the back row in the 15-man game. Supremely powerful but with the speed and fitness to be a top class Sevens player, he should make a few European clubs sit up and take notice. The one-two punch provided by Samu Manoa and Barrett will ensure the Eagles are never short of dynamic ball carriers.

Pool C

Viktor Kolelishvili (Georgia): Georgia will match or better anyone in the scrum, that is pretty much a given, but they now have talent beyond the front row as they continue to develop as a side. Following in the footsteps of the great Mamuka Gorgodze, Clermont's Viktor Kolelishvili packs quite a punch, literally. With six yellow cards and a red in just 32 Tests, indiscipline is an issue, but Kolelishvili is a huge presence in the back row and will relish going toe-to-toe with the All Blacks and Pumas, not to mention Tonga and Namibia.

Torsten van Jaarsveld (Namibia): Officially the worst team in the tournament if the world rankings are anything to go by, Namibia go in search of a first World Cup victory in their fifth World Cup. Jacques Burger is obviously their stand-out player, but Torsten van Jaarsveld was a valuable member of the Cheetahs in this season's Super Rugby. It's no coincidence that his return, along with the likes of Renaldo Bothma, saw Namibia's fortunes change in their World Cup warm-ups.

Sonatane Takulua (Tonga): Newcastle fans will already know him well, and he should catch the eye of plenty of spectators during this tournament. Scrum-half Sonatane Takulua is in the form of his life right now, having scored five tries in five Tests in 2015. Remarkably physical despite his small stature, he won't be afraid to get involved, and with some big carriers in the back row, expect him to always be on the shoulder in support.

Pool D

John Moonlight (Canada): It's been a rough 18 months for Canada, who come into the tournament on the back of just two wins since the start of 2014. They should do ok in the back row, where Ospreys number eight Tyler Ardron will lead the way, and alongside him should be John Moonlight. Captain of the Canadian Sevens team, Moonlight is versatile enough to be a regular starter at XVs as well, and is a natural leader on the pitch. 

Mihai Lazar (Romania): It might have come as a surprise that we tipped the Japanese scrum to perform well, but for Romania, a strong pack is far less unusual. The Oaks will look forward to taking on the likes of Ireland and France up front, and in Mihai Lazar they have a very solid customer. The Castres loosehead turned a few heads four years ago, but without the legendary Marius Tincu alongside him, expect his impact to get more limelight this time around.

By @pauleddison

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