Rugby

2019 Rugby World Cup team profiles

Kyodo

The following are profiles of each of the 20 participating teams in the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

POOL A

Ireland

  • Coach: Joe Schmidt
  • Key players: Jacob Stockdale, Jonathan Sexton, Rob Kearney
  • RWC record : has reached the quarterfinals in all but two tournaments, 1999 and 2007, but never further.

Summary: After winning the 2018 Six Nations Championship with a Grand Slam and dispatching New Zealand for only the second time ever, Ireland was riding a wave of momentum going into 2019. While several disappointing performances and injuries to key players, including prop Cian Healy, put its readiness for the World Cup into question, a pair of confidence-boosting wins over Wales may have signaled a return to form. With head coach Schmidt departing and captain Rory Best set to retire from professional rugby after the tournament, the world’s No. 1 ranked team will be gunning hard to reach their first semifinal or beyond.

Scotland

  • Coach: Gregor Townsend
  • Key players: Greig Laidlaw, Finn Russell
  • RWC record: Has played at every World Cup since the inaugural tournament in 1987, its highest finish was fourth in 1991. A regular at the quarterfinal stage, the team has only failed to reach the top eight once, in 2011.

Summary: Hooker Stuart McInally will captain the team, featuring 13 players with previous World Cup experience, including scrumhalf Laidlaw, whose versatile passing and accurate boot put him on the short-list for World Rugby’s Player of the Year award in 2015. Star flyhalf Russell and talisman fullback Stuart Hogg will be key if Townsend’s squad is to progress further than the previous World Cup when it lost a nail-biter 35-34 to Australia at the quarterfinal stage. However, in preparing for the World Cup the team has shown some inconsistency. It was routed by France 32-3 in August but orchestrated a come-from-behind 17-14 home win against the same opponent a week later.

Japan

  • Coach: Jamie Joseph
  • Key players: Michael Leitch, Kazuki Himeno, Kenki Fukuoka
  • RWC record: Has played in every edition of the tournament but failed to reach the knockout stage each time, including in 2015 when it won three pool games.

Summary: The host nation comes into the tournament with the weight of the nation on its shoulders. Three wins at the last World Cup have ensured nothing, but a place in the last eight this time around will be accepted. The recent Pacific Nations Cup triumph once again showed Japan is too good for the other Tier-2 sides, while the loss to South Africa in its final warm-up game highlighted the gap that still exists between the Brave Blossoms and the nations at the top of the sport. Staying injury-free will be essential if Japan is to have a chance of reaching the quarterfinals, as Joseph does not have the depth of pool rivals Ireland or Scotland, but key flanker Fukuoka is already under an injury cloud going into the first game, complicating the coach’s selection decision.

Russia

  • Coach: Lyn Jones
  • Key players: Yuri Kushnarev, Ramil Gaisin
  • RWC record: Has only qualified for one tournament, in 2011, and lost all four pool games on that occasion.

Summary: Russia, including eight players from the team’s 2011 debut tournament, will be gunning for its first World Cup win. After initially failing to qualify for the 2019 World Cup, the Bears were handed a ticket when Romania, which had initially won a place, as well as Spain and Belgium were sanctioned and docked qualification points for fielding ineligible players. Although inarguably huge underdogs, Russia will receive a lot of attention when it lines up in the tournament opener against host Japan in Tokyo on Sept. 20. In its previous encounter last November, Japan beat the Russians 32-27. In the run-up to the tournament, Welshman Jones’ side faced Italy for its only tune-up test on Aug. 17 and was thrashed 85-15.

Samoa

  • Coach: Steve Jackson
  • Key players: Tusi Pisi, Jack Lam, Tim Nanai-Williams
  • RWC record: Has appeared in eight straight World Cups since 1991. Reached the quarterfinals on its first attempt and again in 1995, then made the quarterfinal playoff in 1999, but never further.

Summary: Samoa’s lineup may not have a great wealth of experience but the Pacific Island nation is motivated to escape the pool stage for the first time since 1999. Among the eight who have previous Rugby World Cup experience on the squad, veteran flyhalf Pisi, who plays for Toyota Industries Shuttles in Japan’s Top League, will make his third consecutive tournament appearance at 37, while back Nanai-Williams is also a familiar face in Japan, having played with the Ricoh Black Rams. In the Pacific Nations Cup in August, Samoa finished with one win and two losses, prevailing over Tonga but losing to the United States and Fiji.


POOL B

  • New Zealand
  • Coach: Steve Hansen
  • Key players: Sam Whitelock, Richie Mo’unga, Beauden Barrett, Rieko Ioane
  • RWC record: Three-time champions. Has only finished outside the top four once, when it was defeated by France in the quarterfinals in 2007.

Summary: It may have lost the world No. 1 ranking recently after a decade atop the sport, but New Zealand remains one of the favorites to hoist the Webb Ellis Cup for what would be the third consecutive tournament and fourth time ever. One of the world’s most successful head coaches, Hansen, is overseeing his second and final tournament in charge of the All Blacks but he will do so with some of his most tried and tested players, like Dan Carter and Richie McCaw, now in retirement. In their place, young players like flyhalf Mo’unga and flyer Ioane, and grizzled veterans like captain Kieran Read will need to step up if the men in all black are to maintain their historic run of world domination. A middling 1-1-1 Rugby Championship record in the lead-up to the World Cup shows that New Zealand is far from untouchable, but under the bright lights the All Blacks usually shine.

South Africa

  • Coach: Rassie Erasmus
  • Key players: Malcolm Marx, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Handre Pollard
  • RWC record: Two-time champion, its first World Cup appearance came in 1995. The team’s worst performances were in 2003 and 2011, when it was knocked out in the quarterfinals.

Summary: The Springboks come into the tournament as the Rugby Championship winners and having just avenged their infamous loss to Japan four years ago in England. Coach Erasmus has developed a side that can not only play the traditional South African power game but also an expansive brand of rugby that makes use of some superb finishers out wide such as Cheslin Kolbe and Makazole Mapimpi. Linking the forwards and backs are the likes of Faf de Klerk and Handre Pollard, and their kicking game gives the Springboks another attacking weapon, particularly early on in the tournament when it could still be relatively hot and humid.

Italy

  • Coach: Conor O’Shea.
  • Key players: Sergio Parisse, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Matteo Minozzi
  • RWC record: Has never advanced to the knockout stage despite competing in every tournament since the inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1987.

Summary: Parisse, who is set for a record-equaling fifth World Cup, will captain a youthful side, in which 23 of the 31 players have never competed at the sport’s showpiece event. As the clear third-best team in Pool B behind New Zealand and South Africa, the Azzurri will need to stage a shock repeat of their 20-18 victory over the Springboks in 2016 to reach the knockout stage for the first time. Thumpings at the hands of France, 47-19 in Paris, and England, 37-0 in Newcastle, see the Italians entering the tournament with low expectations of winning a quarterfinal berth.

Namibia

  • Coach: Phil Davies
  • Key players: Johan Deysel, Eugene Jantjies.
  • RWC record: Has played at every World Cup since 1999 but has yet to win a match.

Summary: The Welwitschias are looking to grab their first win in 19 attempts at the World Cup from a tough pool. Scrumhalf Jantjies is set to appear in his fourth World Cup, while Deysel, who scored a try against New Zealand at the 2015 tournament, will captain the squad. Their unenviable 0-19 win-loss record at the tournament demonstrates the mountain they have to climb and their most recent test match, a 20-0 Nations Cup loss to Russia, does not inspire much confidence that they will be able to muster a shock.

Canada

  • Coach: Kingsley Jones
  • Key players: Tyler Ardron, Phil Mack, DTH van der Merwe.
  • RWC record: Canada has played in every World Cup since the inaugural tournament in 1987. It has advanced past the pool stage once, reaching the quarterfinals in 1991.

Summary: The final nation to qualify for this year’s World Cup, Canada earned its spot by going unbeaten at a repechage tournament in Marseille, France. Facing New Zealand and South Africa in their pool, the Canucks have virtually no chance of emulating their best World Cup result, a quarterfinal berth in 1991. The 22nd-ranked North Americans, coached by former Wales international Jones, will have their best opportunity for a win at the tournament against Namibia on Oct. 13 in Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture. The Canucks are captained by Tyler Ardron, a versatile forward who can play in either the second or back row. The 28-year-old is the first Canadian to play in the Super Rugby competition after joining the New Zealand-based Chiefs in 2018. Longtime Japan rugby fans will remember the Brave Blossoms meeting Canada at successive World Cups in 2007 and 2011, with both matches ending in draws.


POOL C

  • England
  • Coach: Eddie Jones
  • Key players: Maro Itoje, Owen Farrell, Ben Youngs
  • RWC record: Rugby World Cup champion in 2003, England suffered a disastrous pool stage exit as host at the 2015 tournament. Twice runner-up, in 1991 and 2007, and finished fourth in 1995.

Summary: Experienced and respected England boss Jones returns to Japan having shocked some by picking a relatively inexperienced World Cup squad. Hoping for no repeat of the team’s embarrassing 2015 Rugby World Cup 2-2 pool stage capitulation as tournament host, the 2019 Six Nations runner-up will rely on captain and flyhalf Farrell and his halfback partner Youngs to guide the team around the park. A strong contender for the trophy, which it got its hands on with a 20-17 win over host Australia in the 2003 final, much will depend on how the team clears the first hurdle of pool rivals Argentina and France if a return to the final is on the cards. In the lead-up to the tournament, England traded wins with Wales and blew current world No. 1 Ireland off the Twickenham park 57-15 before closing its pre-Japan games with a healthy win over Italy, confirming itself as cup contender.

France

  • Coach: Jacques Brunel
  • Key players: Guilhem Guirado, Louis Picamoles, Gael Fickou
  • RWC record: Three-time runner-up, in 1987, 1999 and 2011. Has reached at least the quarterfinals at every tournament.

Summary: Perhaps the most successful team to have never won a World Cup, eighth-ranked France goes into this tournament in patchy shape, demolishing Scotland 32-3 last month in the first game of a double-header test but squandering an early lead to lose 17-14 in the second leg. After controversially dropping veterans Mathieu Bastareaud and Morgan Parra from the squad, head coach Brunel will be counting on young talent such as scrumhalf Antoine Dupont and prop Demba Bamba to make an impact on the field. Les Bleus face tough competition in Pool C against England, Argentina, the United States and Tonga, but as 2023 World Cup hosts they will be looking to put on a convincing performance.

Argentina

  • Coach: Mario Ledesma
  • Key players: Agustin Creevy, Nicolas Sanchez, Joaquin Tuculet
  • RWC record: Two-time semifinalists. Finished third in 2007 but lost to South Africa in the bronze medal match in 2015. Has advanced to the knockout stage four times.

Summary: While the country is best known for producing some of the world’s best soccer players, rugby also has deep roots in Argentina. The Jaguares have competed in Super Rugby since 2016, and finished runners-up this year, their best-ever finish. Los Pumas head coach Ledesma, a four-time representative of Argentina at the World Cup and for a long time the lynchpin of the fearsome Argentine scrum, named a squad comprised largely of members of the Jaguares, while also calling up France-based flyhalf Sanchez, Argentina’s record point scorer. The team enters the tournament on a losing streak, however, with four straight defeats — albeit against top teams New Zealand, South Africa and Australia — in 2019, a worrying sign.

United States

  • Coach: Gary Gold
  • Key players: AJ MacGinty, Joseph Taufete’e, Paul Lasike
  • RWC record: Has played at every World Cup except 1995, but has never advanced past the pool stage. Has yet to win more than one game in a single campaign.

Summary: The Americans are still a work in progress with just three wins at a World Cup, two of them against Japan, under their belt. And while Gold’s side is a long shot to break out of a tough Pool C, the Eagles are brimming with potential. New Zealand-born NFL fullback-turned-center, Lasike boasts both quick feet and passing ability, while hooker Taufete’e has the power to bulldoze his way to the try line. MacGinty can control the pace of the game with precision kicks, though the Dublin-born flyhalf is coming off of an injury sustained last month.

Tonga

  • Coach: Toutai Kefu
  • Key players: Siale Piutau, Sonatane Takulua
  • RWC record: Has been knocked out at the pool stage in all seven appearances.

Summary: Despite amassing eight wins over 21 test matches since the conclusion of the previous World Cup in 2015, the “Ikale Tahi” aim to make team history by advancing to the knockout stage for the first time. Head coach Kefu, a Tonga-born Wallabies legend, said he has named a 31-man squad consisting of “exciting” players, all but one of whom are based abroad, including at clubs in New Zealand, Australia, England and France.


POOL D

Australia

  • Coach: Michael Cheika
  • Key players: Michael Hooper, David Pocock, Marika Koroibete
  • RWC record: Australia is the second-most successful nation in World Cup history alongside South Africa. The Wallabies won the tournament in 1991 and 1999, while finishing runners-up in 2003 and 2015.

Summary: Despite living in the shadow of their neighbors across the Tasman Sea, the Wallabies have a knack for stepping things up at the World Cup, becoming the first multiple winners in 1999 and reaching the final twice since then. Following a morale-boosting 47-26 win against New Zealand in Perth last month, Cheika’s men were crushed 36-0 by the All Blacks the following week in Auckland. But the world No. 6 team arrives in Japan knowing it can match up with the reigning champions. Captained by flanker Hooper, Australia will battle world No. 5 Wales for supremacy in Pool D, with top spot likely to be determined when the two teams meet in Tokyo on Sept. 29. If they are to lift the Webb Ellis trophy for a record-tying third time, the Wallabies will need big performances from their talented backline including wingers Reece Hodge and Koroibete, as well as resurgent flyhalf Christian Lealiifano.

Wales

  • Coach: Warren Gatland
  • Key players: Alun Wyn Jones, Dan Biggar, George North.
  • RWC record: Third in 1987 and fourth in 2011, Wales has appeared in every World Cup.

Summary: Injuries to Gareth Anscombe and Taulupe Faletau have deprived Wales of the first choice flyhalf and No. 8, respectively, but Gatland has plenty of depth and the Six Nations champion remains one of the sides favored to go all the way. However, much will depend on which Wales turns up, the side that earlier this year completed a 14-game winning streak or the team that lost three of its four warm-up games to England and Ireland. That recent inconsistency was reflected in Wales’ roller-coaster ride in the world rankings, with the men in red having risen to No. 1 spot only to fall to fifth after two losses to Ireland.

Georgia

  • Coach: Milton Haig
  • Key players: Mamuka Gorgodze, Vasil Lobzhanidze
  • RWC record: Never advanced past the pool stage in four attempts. Did not get a win in its tournament debut in 2003, got one in 2007, one in 2011 and two in 2015.

Summary: The Lelos have gone from Rugby World Cup also-rans to a legitimate second-tier force in the game on the back of a fearsome reputation as strong scrummagers. Traditionally, the bulk of their forward pack plied their trade in France, allowing them to develop in one of the world’s best competitions. The team’s Kiwi coach Haig brought Gorgodze back into the fold for his fourth World Cup and, as the team’s all-time leading try-scorer and spiritual leader, he will boost their chances. But in a tough pool, the Georgians may struggle to match or better their two-win record from the 2015 World Cup.

Fiji

  • Coach: John McKee
  • Key players: Ben Volavola, Dominiko Waqaniburotu
  • RWC record: Reached the quarterfinals twice, in 1987 and 2007. Qualified for the quarterfinal playoffs in 1999. Has failed to emerge from its group at the two most recent tournaments.

Summary: Known to move the ball and their bodies perhaps better than any team in World Rugby, the Flying Fijians have been quickly building their profile as more than just showmen. Fiji’s bevy of Europe-based stars has allowed them to consolidate themselves in the top-10 in the world. Fiji showed what it can do in the seven-a-side game at the 2016 Olympics, winning the first men’s gold in the sport, now the question is whether they can harness their undoubted flair and skill on the biggest stage. The Fijians demonstrated their potential when they secured perhaps their most significant ever victory, a 21-14 win over France in Paris in November 2018, but in a pool with Australia and Wales, their path to the quarterfinals will be steep.

Uruguay

  • Coach: Esteban Meneses
  • Key players: Juan Manuel Gaminara, Juan Manuel Cat, Felipe Berchesi
  • RWC record: In three World Cup appearances, it has two wins to its name, one each in 1999 and 2003.

Summary: Los Teros reached the tournament as Americas 2 after beating Canada twice in a home-and-away qualifier, and have targeted their first two games against Fiji and Georgia as the most important. Meneses has picked a squad that contains a good mix of youth and experience, and given the nature of the group Uruguay is in with heavyweights Australia and Wales, has opted for players who he hopes can match the physicality of the opposition, not to mention a tough schedule that sees the team play its first three games in 11 days. The first of those is in Kamaishi, a game that is expected to be of huge media interest given the venue’s location in the area so badly devastated by the 2011 earthquake-tsunami disaster.