Rugby World Cup 2019: Star players to watch out for in Japan
By Sky Sports Rugby Union
Last Updated: 20/09/19 7:39pm
The Rugby World Cup brings together the top nations on the planet as they battle it out for supremacy.
The big guns from the Northern and Southern Hemispheres have plenty of star names, and they will be looking for those players to shine in Japan if they are to go on and lift the Webb Ellis Cup.
Here, we take a look at some of the ones to watch who could be key to their nation's chances of glory in Japan...
Samu Kerevi (Australia)
The 25-year-old blockbusting centre is one of the go-to men for Australia in attack, busting through tackles and making huge metres for the Wallabies to give the rest of the back-line plenty to play off.
Kerevi has come to be regarded at among the most feared midfielders in world rugby since making his Test bow three years ago and is undoubtedly one of the key men Australia's opponents will have to be wary of.
He is one of several Australian players who will be joining a Japanese club after the World Cup, having agreed a three-year contract with Suntory, so this may be the last chance to watch Kerevi at his rampaging best on the international stage for some time.
Maro Itoje (England)
The Saracens forward has become a huge asset to England since making his debut three years ago and could well be one of their star men as Eddie Jones' men aim to underline their status as one of the World Cup favourites.
Itoje's versatility in being able to play in the second row or as a flanker gives head coach Jones plenty of options, with the 24-year-old a towering presence in the line-out and a menace for opponents at the breakdown and in the tackle.
It is not just on the defensive side where Itoje prospers either, with his skill and athleticism making him an attacking threat with the ball in hand. His only real weakness is the occasional disciplinary lapse.
Louis Picamoles (France)
Set for his third World Cup, the No 8 is still one of France's most important players and his experience of being part of the team which reached the final in 2011 will be invaluable for Jacques Brunel's squad.
Whether it's foraging for turnovers at the breakdown or taking on opposition defenders with the ball in hand, Picamoles is a presence in the team which cannot be ignored.
With the Montpellier back row widely expected to call time on his international career once this year's tournament is over, it may be the last chance to savour Picamoles in action on rugby's biggest stage.
Jonathan Sexton (Ireland)
Named World Rugby's player of the year in 2018, the Leinster fly-half is arguably the heartbeat of the Ireland team and will be one of their most important players as they bid for World Cup glory.
An injury scare disrupted Sexton's build-up to the tournament, but he returned to action for the 19-10 win over Wales in Dublin at the start of September which put Ireland top of the world rankings.
A threat both running with the ball in hand and from his accurate goal-kicking, Sexton is set for his third World Cup and will aim to better his two previous quarter-final appearances.
Sonny Bill Williams (New Zealand)
A star in both rugby union and rugby league, not to mention a former New Zealand heavyweight boxing champion, the back is aiming to make it a hat-trick of World Cup triumphs for both himself and the All Blacks.
Knee surgery, along with wrist and shoulder injuries have seen the 34-year-old endure a disrupted past two seasons, but he has overcome those setbacks to earn a place in Steve Hansen's squad for the tournament in Japan.
Always a running threat whenever he has the ball in hand, SBW is one of New Zealand's most eye-catching players and could well light up the tournament if he is back to his best.
Greig Laidlaw (Scotland)
One of those players who you would hate to play against but love to have on your team, scrum-half Laidlaw is firmly established as a key component of Scotland's line-up.
His terrier-like approach makes him a nightmare for opponents to deal with and his half-back partnership with Finn Russell has burgeoned as well.
A prolific goal-kicker and capable of switching to fly-half as well if needed, the 33-year-old will again be set to lead the way for Scotland in Japan.
Faf de Klerk (South Africa)
Regarded by many observers as the best scrum-half in the world at the moment, De Klerk enjoyed a stellar season for both club and country in 2018/19.
Sale Sharks supporters will know all to well what the dynamic No. 9 can do from watching him week in, week out in the Gallagher Premiership and he has taken that form onto the international stage since being recalled to the South Africa team last year.
Very much the prototypical modern scrum-half who can dart through the line and provide a running threat, De Klerk could well be one of the stars of the tournament and help the Springboks build on their first Rugby Championship triumph for 10 years.
Alun Wyn Jones (Wales)
Wales' most-capped player has been part of the side for so long that he is the only member of the current squad who has played under a head coach pre-Warren Gatland.
That longevity says much about the impact the second row has made since winning his first cap in 2006 - and continues to have in the team which he now captains.
This year's tournament in Japan will be his fourth World Cup. The question is, can Jones and Wales finally realise their dreams of going all the way after completing a Six Nations Grand Slam earlier this year?