SA Rugby magazine identifies the players to watch at the global showpiece in France.
Eben Etzebeth (South Africa)
As a result of Lood de Jager’s withdrawal from the World Cup there will be a heavier reliance on his regular second-row partner Etzebeth in France. Etzebeth became the seventh and youngest player to notch up 100 caps for the Springboks when he ran out at his old stomping ground in Cape Town in 2022. The 31-year-old is one of the most feared enforcers in international rugby, but is also a respected leader within South Africa’s dressing room, putting aside the death of his father to captain the Boks in the 2023 Rugby Championship match against the All Blacks in Auckland. Etzebeth will have a new lock partner at the World Cup, and will have to shoulder more responsibility at the set piece.
Josh van der Flier (Ireland)
A star-studded Ireland side has plenty of players to watch, but all eyes will be on the 2022 World Rugby Player of the Year, Van der Flier, to see if he can carry his spectacular form into the World Cup. The Leinster loose forward was a key part of Ireland’s series win in New Zealand and home victory over the Springboks last year. A tenacious tackler and ferocious ball-carrier with seemingly endless reserves of energy, Van der Flier will be at the heart of things as Ireland push for a semi-final place.
Finn Russell (Scotland)
Heading into his third World Cup, the flashy Russell will be Scotland’s most experienced back, following Stuart Hogg’s retirement. At his best the 30-year-old is a game-changer for his country, but he has been in and out of the squad after failing to see eye-to-eye with head coach Townsend. Having been dropped twice from the squad in 2020 and 2022, Russell insists that his relationship with Townsend is better than ever, especially as the playmaker has had to mature after becoming a father for the first time.
– Read the full Pool B team previews in the 164-page World Cup special edition of SA Rugby magazine