The so called ‘Tier Two’ nations of rugby made serious strides this World Cup, showing the importance of holding a structure and being well organised. Japan and Georgia showed this in overcoming Pacific Island nations. However, these teams did rely on some moments of magic from individual talent to get them over the line in some games. So how far have the weaker nations come on? How would the pick of the Tier Two nations fare against the big guns of World Rugby? We decided to compile a team and find out.
15 Ayumu Goromaru (Japan)
The Japanese fullback’s impressive showing at the Rugby World Cup has earned him a Super Rugby contract with the Queensland Reds. He scored 24 points in Japan’s famous win over South Africa, and backed up that performance in the subsequent wins over Samoa and USA.
14 DTH Van der Merwe (Canada)
Four tries in as many games for Canada in this World Cup showed that the winger is genuinely of an international standard. The Llanelli Scarlets flyer has been cutting defences apart in the Pro 12, and is improving week by week.
13 George Pisi (Samoa)
Samoa had a disappointing World Cup, losing to Scotland, South Africa, and Japan. Nonetheless, George Pisi is a real talent, who would be in contention to start for any side. The Northampton centre grew up in New Zealand but represents Samoa, showing the flair of an All-Blacks centre honed during his time playing for the Blues.
12 Nemani Nadolo (Fiji)
Nadolo made a name for himself at this World Cup as a winger, but his preferred position is inside centre. The 27 year-old adds huge physicality and pace to an attack. He showed in the opening game against England just what he can do to teams.
11 Vasily Artemyev (Russia)
Russia did not qualify for the World Cup, and this deprived a talent like Artemyev to showcase his talents on a world stage once again. The winger, schooled in Ireland, played with the Northampton Saints for a period, before returning to Russia. During his time in England, he showed he is a top class winger.
10 Ben Volavola (Fiji)
The Fijian out-half put in a solid shift at the World Cup, and now moves to the Crusaders charged with the impossible task filling the void left by Dan Carter. However, he showed in the last month that he is more than capable of running a back line, and would not be taking the kicks on this selection with Goromaru’s excellence from the tee.
9 Fumiaki Tanaka (Japan)
The Japanese scrum-half was the smallest player at the World Cup, but played with heart and determination to more than make up for his lack of stature. Established in Super Rugby as a quality 9 with the Highlanders, Tanaka showed again this past month what he is made of.
1 Mikheil Nariashvili (Georgia)
A consistent starter for an improving Montpellier side, Nariashvili typifies Georgian rugby; raw muscle combined with a rugby brain. Georgia are a rugby nation revered for their front row players, and the loose-head is one who is more than capable of competing with the best.
2 Jaba Bregvadze (Georgia)
A former Toulouse player, Bregvadze impressed throughout the World Cup, and now plays for Worcester Warriors. A solid scrummager and lineout thrower to boot, he has shown that he is more than just a solid option at hooker.
3 Davit Zirakashvili (Georgia)
Georgia have 14 players who play top level professional rugby, 12 of which are forwards. The French Top 14 is littered with top class props from Georgia, non more skillful at the art than Clermont’s Davit Zirakashvili. The tight-head prop is one of the best scrummagers in the game.
4 Leone Nakarawa (Fiji)
The Fijian second row is an all-round footballer, in the mould of Brodie Retallick. He showed this World Cup that he is not only your traditional lock for lineout picks, etc., but also can mix it up around the park. Offloads are the name of the game and the Glasgow Warriors lock is a beast.
5 Jamie Cudmore (Canada)
Another Clermont player represented, Cudmore led a brave Canadian effort in England, where they failed to pick up a win. He has consistently shown for the French side in Europe that he can mix it with the best.
6 Michael Leitch (Japan)
The Japanese captain led the Brave Blossoms to a record breaking tournament, as they agonisingly missed out on the quarter-finals, becoming the first team to do so after winning three games. Returning to the Chiefs, Leitch is a serious back row player, and adds a blend of experience and leadership to the Japanese.
7 Mamuka Gorgodze (Georgia)
In Georgia’s four World Cup games, Gorgodze scored two tries and picked up two man of the match awards. This is before his breakdown work is mentioned, in which is was second only to David Pocock at the tournament. The Toulon back-rower is one of the best back-row players in the game, exemplified by his man of the match display against New Zealand.
8 Samu Manoa (USA)
USA finished their campaign rooted to the bottom of Pool C, but Manoa is still a quality number 8. The Californian left Northampton after four impressive years at the club to move on to Toulon. The American is likely to start in what is a hugely competitive area for the French giants, and is the star of US rugby at present.
How would this team fare against the leading nations? Would they be good enough to challenge for the World Cup? As always, let us know on our Facebook page.
Brian Barry, Pundit Arena.