Ireland's Johnny Sexton won the Six Nations Grand Slam and a European Champions Cup to help him claim the World Rugby Player of the Year award
Paris (AFP) - From a Test match point-scoring stalwart to a World Cup winner, from an Olympic champion to an emblematic leaders who transcends sport as well as a fresh-faced rookie, AFP Sports looks at five players who could turn out to be the headline grabbing names of the Rugby World Cup starting in Japan on September 20:
Johnny Sexton, Ireland
The reigning World Rugby Player of the Year heads to his third World Cup having featured in only one of four of Ireland’s warm-up matches due to injury.
The influential fly-half returned during the victory over Wales in early September to win his 84th cap in the number 10 jersey. Sexton trails only the man he displaced at fly half, Ronan O’Gara, as Ireland’s all-time points scorer, with 770. O’Gara scored 1,083 international points.
Sexton is joined by Munster’s Conor Murray in forming an experienced half-back partnership under head coach Joe Schmidt.
Beauden Barrett, New Zealand
New Zealand's Beauden Barrett has scored 33 tries in 78 Tests since making his debut in 2012
The 28-year-old, a world champion four years ago, travels to Japan along with brothers Scott and Jordie, after a difficult few months.
Barrett, a former two-time World Rugby Player of the Year, has been moved to full-back by head coach Steve Hansen to accomodate for Richie Mo’unga in the number 10 shirt and deal with an injury to Damian McKenzie.
Despite persistent doubts about the accuracy of his goal-kicking, Barrett’s talent and speed in open play, especially on the counter attack, make him one of the most dangerous players with ball in hand.
Leone Nakarawa, Fiji
Fiji's Leone Nakarawa won a gold medal at the 2016 Olympic Games before joining French club Racing 92
The ‘Octopus’, as he is called by team-mate Jale Vatubua, is among four Fiji squad members at the World Cup who also won a gold medal at the Rio Olympics in 2016.
The Racing 92 second-row stands 1.98m tall. His ability to use his long arms to off-load the ball can be almost undefendable. His reach also means he is dangerous disrupting opposition ball high in the air at lineouts as well as during driving mauls.
With 59 caps, the 31-year-old Nakarawa is one behind Campese Ma’afu as the Pacific Islanders most experienced player heading to Japan.
Siya Kolisi, South Africa
South Africa's Siya Kolisi became the Springboks's first black captain in 2018
South Africa’s first black Test captain will look to follow in the footsteps of Francois Pienaar and Jon Smit by guiding the Springboks to a World Cup title.
The Stormers flanker, who wears the same number six as Pienaar did in 1995, has been a key part of the Rassie Erasmus-led turnaround of the national team after pitiful defeats to Italy and Wales in the space of seven days in November 2016.
Kolisi missed the last-gasp draw with New Zealand in June but was at his all-encompassing best in the victory over the All Blacks last September, a side they will face again in Japan in their opening pool match.
A lot of his most important work is done in the shadows but he stands out as a ball-carrier an abrasive forward pack.
Jordan Petaia, Australia
Australia's Jordan Petaia has only played 22 senior Super Rugby matches for the Queensland Reds
The uncapped 19-year-old has had his Test debut delayed since early August because of continuing fitness problems but could become the Wallabies’ youngster ever World Cup player.
Although he is not a direct replacement, Petaia’s power and threatening running gives for head coach Michael Cheika another option as he deals with the loss of sacked Israel Folau.
If he stays fit he will compete with a wealth of quality for a starting spot in the Aussie backline. His international bow will most likely come against Uruguay or Georgia in the final two pool matches.