It’s not just the Tier 1 Nations that have global superstars playing for them at this Rugby World Cup. The Tier 2 Nations also have some household names of their own that, one or two of you may recognise and not even realise play for a certain country.
Here’s a brief guide to some players that play for the smaller rugby playing nations to look out for in Japan.
DTH van der Merwe – Canada
As his name suggests, Daniel Tailliferre Haumen van der Merwe was born in South Africa but his family emigrated to Canada in 2003.
There is no other way to describe Van der Merwe than as a try scoring machine.
The Canadian flyer has spent much of his career playing in the Pro14 or earlier versions of the same competition.
He is in his second stint with Glasgow Warriors at the moment where he has scored 52 tries in 116 games. His short time at the Scarlets saw 20 tries in 41 games but his record for Canada is incredibly impressive.
38 tries in just 58 games means he is one man not to be let of your peripheral vision when on the wing.
Leone Nakarawe – Fiji
There is nothing that this behemoth second row can’t do.
The Racing92 giant at full flight, ball in one hand, dummying his way to the try line is one the greatest sights in World Rugby.
The last four years of Nakarawa’s playing career have been a complete whirlwind.
Selected for Fiji at the 2015 Rugby World Cup, he was picked in the World Cup Dream Team at the end of the tournament despite Fiji not even making it out of the group stages.
A year later, he had signed a lucrative contract with Racing92 in Paris and was having an Olympic Gold Medal hung around his neck after sealing the Men’s Sevens titles with Fiji.
The former Glasgow Warrior is pure box office and if any game opens up just a fraction, expect Nakarawa to be demanding the loose ball.
Mamuka Gorgodze – Georgia
Gorgodzilla is this man’s nickname. That’s probably all you need to know!
The giant back rower is a cult figure not just in Georgian Rugby but also across the world.
In May 2017 he actually announced his retirement from international rugby but he has been coaxed out of it for this World Cup.
Gorgodze plies his trade in France with Toulon after beginning his time in France with Montpellier.
Destructive with ball in hand and also at the breakdown, Gorgodze may well be seen with people hanging off his back whilst they try and bring him to ground.
The former second row does unfortunately have a penchant for picking up yellow cards and loves to have a scrap or two if anyone else is up for one.
We love a bit of that though don’t we?
Fumiaki Tanaka – Japan
Tanaka was the smallest man at the 2011 Rugby World Cup and rumour has it, the smallest man to ever play Super Rugby whilst becoming the first Japanese player to do so when he signed for the Highlanders in 2013.
The diminutive scrum half only stands at 5′ 5″ but it enables him to hold a low centre of gravity, which makes him a menace at the side of the breakdown. He ducks and weaves through gaps but he also has a snappy and accurate service.
His greatest performance came in the 2015 Rugby World Cup though. He was named Man of the Match in a game that has hardly been talked about in the last four years.
Japan beat some team that wear Green and Gold in an epic match played in Brighton but we don’t want to open up old wounds now do we?
Maybe they should make a film about it……
Johan Deysel – Namibia
Deysel is Namibia’s captain and inside centre.
He has played all of this career in South Africa until last year when he signed for Colomiers in France’s D2.
Deysel is a big ball carrier on the gainline but also has the ability to put people through gaps and into space with his subtle range of passing.
Although the former Varsity Cup finalist doesn’t have the same domestic pedigree as most other Rugby World Cup players, he does save his best form for when he is in the blue of his home country.
Nine tries in his first 22 matches for his country included one against New Zealand in the 2015 World Cup.
Andrei Ostrikov – Russia
Sale Sharks fans will find this name very familiar to their ears as Ostrikov has spent the past eight years of his career in the North West of England.
The big Russian is loved by the Sharks faithful because of his high level work ethic and combative style in defence.
The Moscow-born second row, who can also operate in the back row, was plucked from French D2 obscurity by Steve Diamond, who had previously coached him when he was Head Coach of the Russian National Team.
Formerly of Agen and Aurillac, the over two-metre frame of the Russian is not one you want you to be cleared out by in a ruck or even want to get in a one on one tackle with. I can guarantee you that it will hurt.
Tim Nanai-Williams – Samoa
Nanai-Williams has an intriguing back story and history that has seen him represent New Zealand at Sevens before pledging his allegiance to Samoa, playing for their Sevens team and also full international XV.
Cousin of Sonny Bill, the former Chief’s versatility is what makes him one of the most attractive players to watch at times.
Packed with electric speed and agility, Nanai-Williams can operate any where from fly-half to full-back.
He now plays in France for Clermont Auvergne and has been showcasing his ability to make opposition players look very silly with a step that most of us can only dream of possessing.
Telusa Veainu – Tonga
New Zealand born Veainu is a former All Black U20 who spent a lot of his early career struggling to settle in at numerous clubs in the Southern Hemisphere before finally settling at Leicester in 2015.
Since then, the Full Back has created a highlight reel that mainly shows people grasping at thin air trying to tackle him or him gliding into holes and under the posts.
Half backs will need to be wary of where they kick to him because his counter attacking is what really sets him apart.
His 2019 stats don’t quite match up to 2018 where he averaged nearly 25m per carry, scored 10 tries and played a hand in 28 others, but some of that can be put down to Leicester, as a team, struggling in the league.
Titi Lamositele – USA
The Saracens Loosehead prop has had an unusual journey to international rugby but his sporting past has stood him in good stead for the challenges of the professional game.
Lamositele was a starting running back in High School American Football before moving over to rugby with the humorously named, Chuckanut Bay RFC in Washington.
By the end of last season, the number 3 shirt at Saracens was his own as they charged to domestic and European glory. Keeping Springbok Vincent Koch on the side lines highlights the giant’s prowess as a scrummager but also as a ball carrier and destructive nature at the breakdown.
Watching him make a clean break and power down the middle of the field is a magnificent sight to behold.
Alejandro Nieto – Uruguay
The powerful Number 8 has become one of the first names on Uruguay’s team sheet since his debut in 2012.
Going to his second World Cup, Nieto signed professional papers with the Houston SaberCats in America’s Major League Rugby competition at the beginning of the year.
His experience will be key to Uruguay gaining any success at all during this World Cup but let’s hope that we see his power and fearless attitude reap some rewards.