The penultimate week of the Rugby World Cup (RWC) is upon us and if there is one inarguable truth that can be taken out of the 2015 tournament and that is the closing of the gap. The gap between the tier 1 nations (10 teams) and the chasing tier 2 nations (13 teams).
Since round one, Japan’s performances have been the story of the RWC, Fiji have overcome some poor form in recent years, Georgia have improved by leaps and bounds and the days of 100+ point wins are evidently over.
World Rugby has made it clear that lifting the level of the tier 2 nations is a priority, pumping funds into the 13 tier 2 nations, however more and more players from these minnow nations are starting to ply their trade in traditional powerhouse competitions.
There is no better example of this than the Top 14 in France, which is filled with Eastern European and Pacific Nation players. The Aviva Premiership is also fast becoming a 2nd and 3rd tier training paddock, with 52 players representing countries like Moldova, Namibia and Russia and just about anywhere else that plays rugby. If you would like to see the sheer number of these players and what they are up to, check out this article: Tier 2 and the Premiership.
With a large amount of Super Rugby squads unannounced for the 2016 season, I thought I would take a look at which minnows held squad spots in 2015 and which players actually received time on the paddock.
ACT Brumbies (1)
Ita Vaea (Tonga) – Loose Forward- Regular starter
Melbourne Rebels (3)
Safanaia Naivalu (Fiji) – Winger/Centre – Regular starter apart from injury
Telusa Veainu (Tonga) – Winger – Occasional bench player
Keita Inagaki (Japan) – Prop – Rare bench player
NSW Waratahs (1)
Ben Volavola (Fiji) – Fullback/Flyhalf – Occasional starts and bench in recent years
Queensland Reds (2)
Jamie-Jerry Tuilagi (Tonga) – Fullback – Occasional bench player
Hendrik Tui (Japan) – No. 8 – Occasional bench player
Western Force (2)
Steve Mafi (Tonga) – Second Row – Regular starter
Akihito Yamada (Japan) – Winger – No game time
New Zealand Conference:
Airi Hunt (Samoa) – No. 8 –Rare bench player
Melani Nanai (Samoa) – Winger – Regular starter
Jack Ram (Tonga) – Flanker – Occasional bench player
Siate Tokolahi (Tonga) – Prop – Regular bench player
Michael Leitch (Japan Captain) – Back Row – Regular starter
Setu Tamanivalu (Fiji) – Outside Center – Regular starter
Tim Nanai-Williams (Samoa) – Outside back – Regular starter
Toni Pulu (USA born, Niuean heritage) – Winger – Uncapped
Nemani Nadolo (Fiji) – Winger – Regular starter
Jone Macilai-Tori (Fiji) – Winger – Rare bench player
Patrick Osborne (Fiji) – Winger –Regular starter
Ma’afu Fia (Tonga) – Prop – Occasional bench player
Pingi Tala’apitaga (Samoa) – Prop – Occasional bench player
Fumiaka Tanaka (Japan) – Half Back – Regular bench player
Motu Matu’u (Samoa) – Hooker – Regular starter/ bench player
Ray Lee-Lo (Samoa) – Centre – Regular bench player
South African Conference:
Lions, Bulls & Stormers (0)
Torsten van Jaarsveld (Namibia) – Hooker – Regular starter
Danie Dames (Namibia) – Winger – 1 cap off the bench
Renaldo Bothma (on loan – Namibia) – No. 8 – Regular starter
Paul Perez (Samoa) – Wing – Uncapped
Southern Kings (2) – Last played in the 2013 season, returning in 2016
Jaco Engels (Namibia) – Prop – Occasional bench player
Daniel Adongo (Kenya) – Second Row/ Flanker – Occasional bench player
With the introduction of the Japenese Sunwolves and the Argentinian Super Rugby side, in conjunction with the return of the Southern Kings, the quantity of 2nd tier players in arguably the worlds toughest competition are set to sky rocket.
The northern hemisphere competitions seem to be the major drawing card for these players in recent years. A number of players have featured in the first two rounds of the Aviva Premiership, check out their results and participations here.
Watch this space for more southern hemisphere and tier 2 news as I will try to keep you up to date.
Written by Nelson Dale