Five Fullbacks to Watch This World Cup
CAPOUOZOOOOOOO! That is how many will remember the young Italian whippet being introduced to the rugby world just over a year and a half ago as the fullback carved through the Welsh defence to set up Padovani for a last gasp. This moment would secure Italy's first Six Nations win since 2015. The Italian fullback has since become the face of Italian rugby. Alongside Antoine Dupont, Capuozzo has one of the largest profiles in the game now. At the end of that season he joined Dupont at Toulouse.
Capuozzo's game time has been hampered with injuries since that magical moment in Cardiff. He's now back fit and this World Cup should be the perfect chance for this young Italian side to come together as a squad and continue to build on their recent success which includes wins over Wales and Australia. Capuozzo and co are probably wishing they are in Pool C alongside those two teams, unfortunately Capuozzo will have to ply his trade against the very best from New Zealand and France. Capuozzo will face many of his team mates from Toulouse this when he faces France including an expected club head-to-head battle with Thomas Ramos.
If you follow tier 2 rugby or the Top 14, Davit Niniashvili will probably be on your radar already. The Georgian fullback is ferocious in attack as well as defence. Last season he made the 13th most metres per game in the world for his club Lyon. This was backed up with the second most metres made overall in Europe's second tier international competition for Georgia. His mantra is to just attack, attack and attack even more. He'll run it from anywhere. Niniashvili had his own Capuozzo moment when he broke down the right wing in Georgia's win against Italy last year to set his team up for a try after an incredible step straight from a box kick.
However, it's not just his attacking prowess that has defined him. A clip of Niniashvili went viral after he dump tackled Eben Etzebeth last year. Niniashvili was only 19 years of age at the time. Now aged 21, Niniashvili has a huge future ahead of him and this World Cup is his opportunity to potentially become a global star. Georgia have always been known for their front three, but at this World Cup it's their back three which could attract the interest of the rugby world if he links up well with the prolific Akaki Tabutsadze on the wing.
Willie Le Roux
Willie Le Roux has always seemed to have faced a lot of questions during his time at the Springboks. It always felt as though South African fans were always trying to find someone else, however Le Roux has always stepped up when it matters. He is the crucial lynchpin who can act as a second playmaker in an attacking set up. You will frequently see Le Roux running an arc to get into the attack line and throwing the crucial final pass which has led to him being nicknamed the 'King of the Assist'.
Le Roux's crucial role for the Springboks has even seen other teams beginning to try and emulate South Africa's attacking structure due to Le Roux's fine form this summer. England have looking at putting Marcus Smith at fullback to attack another dimension to their attack. Willie Le Roux is leading the way right now and all eyes will be on whether he continues to top the assist tables with his crucial link plays.
The young English fullback burst onto the international scene with the opportunity provided by the 2021 Lions Tour. Elliot Daly was away in South Africa which meant Steward was given his chance against the US and Canada. Freddie Steward hasn't looked back since. He has started all 26 matches since his debut. At the age of just 22, he should pass 30 caps at this tournament. Steward's career to date has been all about taking his chance. When COVID hit and the season resumed with no threat of relegation, Borthwick tested out his young fullback for Leicester. The then-Leicester Director of Rugby and now England Head Coach had seen enough, Steward was to be his starting fullback for the next season. The rest is history.
Freddie Steward is imperious under the high ball. You would be tempted to put your mortgage on him claiming a high ball. At 6ft 5in and weighing in at just under 110kg, Steward is a sizeable force in any backline and controls the space in the air. Whilst not the fastest of players, he is a difficult player to bring down which has resulted in suggestions that he should make a switch to inside centre just as Jordie Barrett has done for the All Blacks. However, for now, Freddie Steward is very much Borthwick's man at the back.
Everyone wants to see the best players featuring at the World Cup. Therefore when Charles Piuatu found himself out of the New Zealand fold due to his decision to move to Bristol, many were gutted to not see him on the greatest rugby stage in 2019. However, with the changes to the international eligibility laws, Charles Piutau has been able to switch his allegiances to Tonga, the nation which his elder brother used to captain. Piutau will be considered one of the talisman players for Tonga where he'll link up with Malakai Fekitoa who is another former All Black.
Piutau is one of the most dangerous attacking players in the sport. Last season he made the most carries and offloads per game of any back three player in the top leagues. For offloads, he is third out of all players in the world, after teammate Semi Radradra and Edinburgh's Hamish Watson. Piutau loves running the ball back at his opponents and will always look to set his team mates free if they are running on his shoulder. The Tongan fullback is also known for this incredible sidesteps and he was in the top 20 back three players for defenders beaten. Expect Piutau to entertain at the World Cup!