Ten to watch: The con­tact of Lawes, the speed of Fo­fana

Toronto Star - - SPORTS - MOR­GAN CAMP­BELL SPORTS RE­PORTER

By no means a de­fin­i­tive list — and if there are other stand­outs we haven’t men­tioned, feel free to tweet me your sug­ges­tions (@mor­ganp camp­bell) — but here are 10 play­ers worth watch­ing at the Rugby World Cup.

SONNY BILL WIL­LIAMS

Team: New Zealand All Blacks Po­si­tion: Cen­tre Height: 6-foot-4 Weight: 237 pounds What does Wil­liams have in com­mon with Cana­dian box­ing leg­end Len­nox Lewis? Frans Botha. Lewis knocked out Botha in a 2000 ti­tle fight while Wil­liams de­ci­sioned Botha in 2013 in to win a mi­nor cham­pi­onship. The long­time All Blacks stand­out has gone 7-0 in six years moon­light­ing as a fighter.

COURT­NEY LAWES

Team: Eng­land Po­si­tion: Lock/Flanker Height: 6-foot-7 Weight: 260 pounds Lawes is known for seek­ing out big col­li­sions, and find­ing them. Of­ten. In March he made head­lines for flat­ten­ing France’s Jules Pils­son a frac­tion of a sec­ond af­ter Pils­son had re­leased the ball. Was the hit le­gal? Tech­ni­cally, yes. Was it sports­man­like? Prob­a­bly not. Can we ex­pect Lawes to throt­tle back? Nope.

ALAFOTI FAOSILIVA

Team: Samoa Po­si­tion: Flanker Height: 6-foot-1 Weight: 246 pounds It’s like hav­ing Kam Chan­cel­lor and Mar­shawn Lynch in the same body. Three years ago his bone-crunch­ing tackle and equally bruis­ing try against Fiji made the rounds on the In­ter­net. In 2008 he be­came the first Samoan to score two tries against New Zealand in the same match.

VERENIKI GEN­OVA

Team: Fiji Po­si­tion: Wing/Cen­tre/Full­back Height: 5-foot-10 Weight: 213 pounds Widely ac­knowl­edged as Fiji’s best player, in 2014 he was named player of the year by the Rugby Play­ers As­so­ci­a­tion in Eng­land. In 2012 he torched Namibia for four tries, and ear­lier this month helped Fiji rout Canada 47-18.

IS­RAEL FO­LAU

Team: Aus­tralia Po­si­tion: Wing/Cen­tre Height: 6-foot-4 Weight: 227 pounds He pulls triple-duty in his na­tive Aus­tralia, bounc­ing be­tween rugby league, rugby union and Aus­tralian rules football. And he said train­ing for the AFL boosted his rugby per­for­mance. Prep­ping for an AFL sea­son meant tak­ing nutri­tion se­ri­ously for the first time, cut­ting carbs in favour of greens, step­ping up his work­outs and shed­ding more than 20 pounds.

EBEN ETZE­BETH

Team: South Africa Po­si­tion: Lock Height: 6-foot-8 Weight: 270 Raised in North Amer­ica, Etze­beth might have be­come a J.J. Watt-style NFL pass rusher. But in South Africa he’s be­come a pun­ish­ing and cere- bral two-way rugby player. He’s in­jury-free this sea­son and re­ports out of New Zealand, where he plays pro­fes­sion­ally, say he’s on the brink of re­al­iz­ing his mas­sive po­ten­tial.

GE­ORGE NORTH

Team: Wales Po­si­tion: Wing/Cen­tre Height: 6-foot-4 Weight: 240 pounds He’s elec­tri­fy­ing, as his 24 tries in in­ter­na­tional play il­lus­trate. But is he healthy? In a five-month span that ended last April the 23-year-old suf­fered four con­cus­sions, the fi­nal one sidelin­ing him for the fi­nal 10 weeks of his club sea­son. He played in Wales’ pre-World Cup matches.

SAMU MANOA

Team: United States Po­si­tion: Lock Height: 6-foot-7 Weight: 268 pounds Want to know how this 30-year-old Cal­i­for­nian plays rugby? Check the ti­tle of one of the YouTube high­light videos ded­i­cated to him: “The Col­li­sion King.” He told Agence FrancePresse he’s ready to dish out hits on the sport’s big­gest stage. “Ev­ery­body just wants to run over some­body or get the big hits in,” Manoa said.

JUAN IMHOFF

Team: Ar­gentina Po­si­tion: Full­back/Wing Height: 6-feet Weight: 185 pounds A bona fide rugby star in a soc­cer­mad coun­try. Has stun­ning speed to go with his te­len­ov­ela-star good looks. Imhoff scored four tries in his in­ter­na­tional de­but against Chile in 2009, and three more last month against Aus­tralia.

WES­LEY FO­FANA

Team: France Po­si­tion: Cen­tre/Wing Height: 5-foot-11 Weight: 205 pounds Is this Rus­sell Wil­son look-alike the fastest player in this tour­na­ment? His nick­name, The Chee­tah, and a se­ries of high­light-reel tries sug­gest he is. But five years ago he was over­weight and un­mo­ti­vated, and trans­formed him­self into a chis­eled, tryscor­ing dy­namo by go­ing on long runs with his dog, Lazer.

AFP/THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

France’s Wes­ley Fo­fana, left, and Aus­tr­lia’s Is­real Fo­lau are both no­tice­ably leaner than in years past.

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