Who’s hot and who’s not: David Havili and the Rugby World Cup inclusions, Agustin Creevy’s landmark and abject England

Planet Rugby
Who's hot and who's not image 7 August 2023.jpg

David Havili and Henry Slade feature in our Who's hot and who's not.

It’s time for our Monday wrap of who has their name in lights and who is making the headlines for all the wrong reasons after the weekend.


David Havili and the Rugby World Cup inclusions: Who saw that one coming? Havili was parachuted into the All Blacks’ squad for the Rugby World Cup as head coach Ian Foster announced a strong selection for the upcoming tournament in France. The likes of Leicester Fainga’anuku and Tamaiti Williams will also be delighted to make the cut as they, like many others, head to their first World Cup. England too named their squad and it’s joy for such players as Theo Dan, Bevan Rodd and Ollie Lawrence. Congratulations to all those that made it.

Richie Mo’unga settles fly-half debate: If it wasn’t already in coach Foster’s mind. Damian McKenzie is a brilliant rugby player who has enjoyed a tremendous campaign for the Chiefs. He will also be a vital player in Scott Robertson’s All Blacks team after the Rugby World Cup, but at the moment Mo’unga is a class above. McKenzie struggled in Dunedin on Saturday and the game changed when the Crusaders man – alongside Aaron Smith – came onto the field. He is now the front-runner to start the big games at number 10 in the upcoming World Cup.

Fiji in good shape after PNC triumph: The Pacific Islanders made a statement of intent ahead of the Rugby World Cup as they finished their Pacific Nations Cup campaign with a full house of bonus-point victories to be crowned tournament champions for 2023. Fiji kicked off their title charge by clinching a 36-20 victory over Tonga in Lautoka before beating Samoa 33-19 in Apia in Round Two and they ended their campaign in style with a 35-12 triumph over Japan in Tokyo on Saturday. The Flying Fijians have hit their straps at the right time and their superb form is a warning to their World Cup pool rivals – Australia, Wales, Georgia and Portugal – ahead of the global showpiece in France.

France’s youngsters: Fabien Galthie gave his fringe players a chance to impress against Scotland and they certainly made his job harder in narrowing down his squad for the Rugby World Cup. The head coach gave debuts to 20-year-olds Emilien Gailleton and Louis Bielle-Biarrey, who both looked right at home at his level. Bielle-Biarrey marked his first Test with a try, while both he and Gailleton played a major part in  scrum-half Baptiste Couilloud’s opening try of the game. It is a massive shout to say both players will make it into the final 33 this year, but what is for certain is that they will be key members of the Les Bleus squad in the next four-year cycle. Watch out for these two young stars.

Agustin Creevy’s landmark: Argentina may have lost but it was still an emotional moment when the legendary hooker came onto the field to pick up his 100th cap against South Africa on Saturday. After making his debut in 2005, Creevy has become one of the great front-rowers in the game and, even at the age of 38, is still going strong, with another World Cup tournament on the horizon – his fourth in total.

Jac Morgan leads by example: Warren Gatland named the Ospreys back-rower as captain for their encounter against England and he more than justified that call. Morgan was outstanding, especially in the second period, as Wales picked up a morale-boosting victory against the Red Rose. His huge tackle on Tom Pearson was a real statement and arguably proved to be the turning point in the contest, while he set up Gareth Davies’ try with a superb run. Did he and Aaron Wainwright just nail down their positions in the team for the Rugby World Cup?


Alex Dombrandt and the others who missed out: On the flipside to our opening paragraph, delight for some means dismay for others. Dombrandt, Henry Slade, Tom Willis et al for England will be hugely disappointed to miss the cut while for New Zealand, Braydon Ennor in particular must be frustrated to be jettisoned out for Havili. It’s a cruel part of the game these tournament selections but as we’ve seen many times in previous World Cups and Lions tours, injuries can quickly turn things on their head so all those missing out today must stay ready.

Abject England: Quite simply, where is the improvement? Steve Borthwick’s defenders will say that it was a makeshift team who haven’t played together, but that is overlooking the fact that France did a similar thing to the English and yet looked so much more cohesive. Les Bleus’ structure is obvious and it is quite evident that there is a clear framework which every player in that team adheres to. With the Red Rose, on the other hand, they are still lacking an identity. They have had almost three months training together, so what are they doing?

Italian injuries: The Azzurri gave a decent account of themselves against Ireland but ultimately came up short to their rivals 33-17 on the day. The biggest concern from the clash is the injury toll and in particular the talented duo of Marco Riccioni and Tommaso Menoncello who are crucial stars in the Italian set-up. The extent of the injuries are yet to be confirmed but it may well complicate Kieran Crowley’s decisions.

Japan continue to struggle: It was another tough run-out for the Brave Blossoms who seem to have more bad than good weeks at the moment. Japan fell 35-12 to Fiji in what was their second loss in the last three games, making for less than ideal preparation going into the Rugby World Cup. Jamie Joseph will be hoping his men can find form in their last warm-up match against Italy before heading to France.

Winless Wallabies: The start of Eddie Jones’ second stint in charge hasn’t quite gone to plan, with Australia now on a four-game losing streak. To make matters worse, this weekend, they were in their best position to end that run against their trans-Tasman rivals too. Jones’ charges raced into a 17-3 lead in Dunedin but scored just three points and leaked 23 in the second 40 minutes to fall to a crushing defeat. It was a remarkable comeback from a largely changed All Blacks side, but one cannot help but feel that was the one that got away for Australia.

Tough times for Tonga: The Pacific Islanders have been boosted by the change in eligibility laws, with the likes of Charles Piutau, Pita Ahki, Vaea Fifita, Israel Folau and George Moala all switching their international allegiances. However, the boosting in player stocks hasn’t translated onto the pitch as of yet after they were hammered 34-9 by Samoa this past weekend. That final round result saw Tonga finish the Pacific Nations Cup winless, with a five-point loss to Japan being their most positive result. Lots of work to be done ahead of the World Cup.

Officiating inconsistency: In the Scotland v France match at Murrayfield, Darcy Graham got an arm onto the ball and after watching television replays TMO Ben Whitehouse is uncertain whether a try was scored but referee Ben O’Keeffe overrules him and the score stands. Meanwhile in Cardiff, Wales’ Louis Rees-Zammit finds himself in a similar situation in his side’s clash against England and TMO Joy Neville initially ruled that Rees-Zammit’s try should be allowed. However, referee Nic Berry sees it differently and disallows it. Two similar scenarios but different outcomes and with the 2023 World Cup set to start just over a month from now, let’s hope there are not more incidents like this.

READ MORE: Winning sides rewarded in our Rugby World Cup warm-ups Team of the Week