Plus one

The World Cup: rugby’s biggest party. All the countries invited have been asked to put together a squad of 31 players. That number created on the premise that you be able to name two players in each position and an extra for the front row. Those are guidelines not rules. And whichever way you look, teams can’t chose who to take.

Tonga declared their 31 man squad yesterday, except they didn’t. Just the 30 names were submitted, many familiar to fans of England’s Premiership – Sione Kalamafoni, Soane Tonga’uiha, Elvis Tai’one and Steve Maafi to name a few. One short however of a full compliment. The inside line proposes that there is contention around the final addition. Australian media suggesting that Andrew Fifita, a man currently playing for the Cronulla Sharks in the NRL, is the mystery guest. They are saying he will quit his contract (there is still quite a way to go in their season) and join the Tongan tour party. It would be quite a story. He is not a man without controversy, he is currently serving a six week ban for confronting a match official. Tonga will announce the ultimate invitee in due course.

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Australia themselves seem to be agonising over who they should take to the ball. Half back partnerships haven’t been that fruitful of late and whether to include the likes of Will Genia and Quade Cooper will be on Head Coach Michael Chieka’s mind. Cooper represents the ultimate party guest; he’ll charm the pants off you or punch you in the face. Either way, people will be talking.

Ireland’s decisions lay in the back three. There is a huge amount of ability and not enough space on the Ryanair flight over to London; the Kearney brothers, Luke Fitzgerald, Simon Zebo, Tommy Bowe, Andrew Trimble, Keith Earls, with the likes of Fergus McFadden and Craig Gilroy also making serious claims. Trimble’s foot injury could stop him coming. There’ll be talent left at home that is for sure.

Wales’ plus one is in the front row. Since dismissing the experience of Adam Jones, Wales have been open about who they see as their next tight head beau. But Samson Lee’s body is having second thoughts. His Achilles’ tendon isn’t right. Exeter’s Tomas Francis could get asked the question. Other than that, Gatland’s selection problems do not lie in a first choice fifteen. With such an attritional group, Wales will need power in reserve. The men in red are in danger of becoming a supermodel at the RWC soirée. Lovely to look at, just not that deep.

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New Zealand are going with experience as their escort. The names in Steve Hansen’s squad will be as familiar as an old school sweater. Many with over 100 international caps, many going for one final swan song. Can the likes of McCaw and Carter, Nonu and Mealamu do enough to sweep us off our feet one more time? Know-how at these sort of shindigs does certainly help.

As for England, well, just which midfielder they give the corsage to is anyone’s guess. I feel Twelvetrees and Cipriani could miss out, the role of bridesmaid too difficult to shift. But who will join them on the reject pile is down to Lancaster. Burrell will be unlucky if unselected, but Burgess can get people going. And you need one of those at your party. England’s other area of dalliance surrounds Alex Corbisiero. Plagued by injury since impressing for the Lions in 2013, he has picked up another niggle. There are potentially five prop places; Cole, Marler, Wilson, Vunipola and Brookes look as though they may be handed their tickets with Corb’s lower back injury.

There is heartbreak at every turn; international rugby is trying to sort out its guest list. All eyes on the plus one.

Sam Roberts © 2015. (Text only). All Rights Reserved. 

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