What is clear from the opening round of the Final Qualification Tournament is that all four teams would add something unique to next year’s Rugby World Cup in France.
As things stand, USA and Portugal hold the advantage after picking up bonus-points over Hong Kong and Kenya respectively.
Both matches featured some outstanding individual displays from players who deserve to test themselves against the elite on the game’s greatest stage, even if it’s not next year but at some point in the future.
Here, we throw the spotlight on some of the players to have caught our eye.
RAPHAELE STORTI (PORTUGAL)
Where else to start?
The Beziers winger has been carving it up ever since he first made his mark on the World Rugby U20 Trophy 2019.
Composed, lightning quick and with a powerful fend and an eye for a gap, Storti ran rampant on the wing for Portugal in their run to the final that year.
That form has since been translated to senior rugby and the 21-year-old has seamlessly taken to test rugby, scoring 12 tries in 16 caps.
In last weekend’s 42-14 win over Hong Kong, Storti ran in two tries and set up another in a man-of-the-match display.
Had he not been replaced at 58 minutes, you’d have banked on him getting a hat-trick.
NUNO SOUSA GUEDES (PORTUGAL)
To be fair, you could easily have picked any of the Portuguese backline. But we’ve gone for full-back Guedes to complement Storti if only because he possesses arguably the best right-foot step in the business.
Guedes was at the heart of everything good about Portugal’s attack last Sunday, creating holes in the Hong Kong defence that didn’t appear to be there.
The only thing missing from his performance was a deserved try.
CHRISTIAN DYER (USA)
It takes something special for a back to stand out in a USA team that relies heavily on its forward pack as an attacking weapon.
But Dyer showed exactly what he is capable of in the Eagles’ 68-14 win over Kenya last Sunday.
Cool at the back and with a booming kick to boot – he managed a brilliant 50:22 – Dyer managed to increasingly get into the game with ball in hand as the match wore on.
Demonstrating the athleticism that saw him appear for the USA on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2021, Dyer crossed for a 13-minute hat-trick and the Californian now has eight tries from nine test appearances.
JAMASON FA’ANANA-SCHULTZ (USA)
A physical force of nature who gives the USA real go-forward at the base of the scrum. Has had disciplinary issues in the past but seems to have learnt from his mistakes and has added a bit more composure to go with his combustible style of play.
Having been denied a try for a double movement earlier in the match, Fa’anana-Schultz got the score his efforts deserved against Kenya when he muscled his way over the line just before half-time.
Originally from Brisbane in Australia, Fa’anana-Schultz plays his club rugby for Old Glory DC in Major League Rugby.
JOSHUA WERU (KENYA)
Weru recently left English side Northampton Saints to further his international ambitions and Sunday’s try-scoring debut for the Simbas suggests the fleet-footed back-rower has made a sound decision.
Weru was passed the ball 60 metres out and quickly ate up the ground with his pace and long strides, before stepping inside the USA full-back to score.
It may have only been a consolation try at the end of the game but it served notice to professional clubs elsewhere that he is definitely one to watch.
ANDREW SIMINYU (KENYA)
While it was a brilliant day for Kenya in the set-piece, replacement prop Andrew Siminyu provided one of his team’s few highlights when he bumped off David Ainu’u with a barnstorming run that led to the first of Kenya’s two tries.
At 120 kgs, Ainu’u is normally an unmovable object but he was no match for Siminyu who went into full-on beast mode when receiving the ball just inside the USA’s 22. The converted number eight followed up his dynamic run with a try-scoring pass to Brian Juma.
MATTHEW WORLEY (HONG KONG)
With Portugal running riot with ball in hand, winger Matt Worley and the remainder of the Hong Kong back-three were firmly put in the shade.
However, the Bedford Blues flyer is a talented player who can make something happen out of nothing with his ability to see space and exploit it, either through his footwork – on the ground and with boot to ball – or his pace.
With a try on debut against Korea and two scintillating scores in his second cap against Tonga in the Asia-Pacific Qualifier, the 25-year-old has three test tries in as many caps but seemingly with many more to come.
Story courtesy/World Rugby