Bigger, faster, more brutal - the shapes and sizes of Rugby World Cup 2019

Bigger, faster, more brutal - the shapes and sizes of Rugby World Cup 2019
Billy Vunipola is in the running to be crowned the Most Ferocious player at the World Cup

Peter Jackson looks at the shapes and sizes of World Cup 2019.


Ireland’s unashamed venture into the contentious practice of wrapping green jerseys around nomadic South Africans has paved the way for a new skyscraper on the global block.

Rory Arnold, a fair dinkum Aussie from Wagga Wagga, will take over in Japan where Devin Toner left off in London at the last World Cup.

His sacrifice, in favour of the newly-qualified Jean Kleyn from the Celtic quarter of Johannesburg, means that the 6ft 10in Dubliner will be superseded by a Wallaby tall enough to be mistaken for a kangaroo.

Arnold, whose twin brother Richie can match him inch for inch, looks down on the rest although the Springbok locks, RG Snyman and Eben Etzebeth, are almost able to stare him in the eye without needing a step-ladder.

They are all some way short of measuring up to the tallest player of the professional era, Scotland’s 7-foot second row Richard Metcalfe, a lofty presence in between the last World Cup of the 20th century and the first of the 21st without appearing in either.


The Karl Marx trophy for keeping the red card flying high over Japan could turn out to be a French one-two-three.

Current form points to a three-horse race between Jerome Garces, Pascal Gauzere and Mathieu Raynal.

Ten players from Tier One countries have been sent off in Tests during the four years since the last World Cup, all but two by the aforementioned Gallic trio.

Intriguingly, Garces takes charge of the biggest match of the entire pool competition, New Zealand v South Africa tomorrow.

Neither will need reminding that the eagle-eyed French official is never one to duck a tough decision, least of all when it comes to dispatching an offender clothed in All Black.

Garces sent Sonny Bill Williams off halfway through the Lions series two years ago and Scott Barrett during Australia’s thumping Bledisloe Cup win in Perth last month.

A few high-profile former players out of tune with World Rugby’s zero-tolerance policy on dangerous tackles to reduce concussion criticised Barrett’s dismissal, overlooking the fact that the Kiwi second row left Garces no option.

All ten red cards in Tests since 2015 have been issued by non-British or Irish referees: Gauzere with 4, Garces 3, Raynal, Jaco Peyper (South Africa) and Angus Gardner (Australia) one each.


Some serious speed merchants have flashed across various World Cups only to disappear like meteors passing in the night.

A few, or so it would seem, could have given Usain Boult the hurry-up, assuming their stories are even half-true.

Joeli Vidiri is the most striking example. Capped by Fiji and New Zealand in the 90's when eligibility laws were almost as loose as President Trump’s grasp of sincerity, Vidiri is said to have a personal best for 100 metres of 10.18 seconds.

Rory Arnold is the tallest player at the tournament.
Rory Arnold is the tallest player at the tournament.

It sounds far-fetched, farther still considering that Allan Wells took seven hundredth of a second longer to win Olympic gold at Moscow in 1980 when the Americans stayed at home.

Tonderai Chavanga, the Springbok who came and went in such a blur that it’s hard to remember him, supposedly covered the same distance in 10.27 seconds, at the age of 16.

Fiji’s Rupeni Caucaunibuca, undisputed record holder as the most unfullfiled talent of modern times, has been credited with 10.70 as a schoolboy.

Of all the fliers on the starting blocks in Japan, Jonny May will take some beating. Word has it that England’s technical team clocked him over 50 metres at a maximum speed of 10.49 metres per second.

On that basis they calculated his time over 100 metres at 9.53 seconds, inside Boult’s world record.

The hypothesis, of course, does not bear scrutiny if only because May would take some distance to go through the gears but it’s mighty impressive all the same.


There are never any certainties in sport and yet one of the 620-strong on-field cast in Japan is more of a ‘cert’ than the rest to win the Most Ferocious Sight category: Billy Vunipola, blasting off the back of the England scrum.

Unleashing an exocet missile of unlimited range from the set-piece may be a potent weapon but it is apt to suffer from the human form of metal fatigue.

The younger Vunipola has a track record of breaking more than any number of tackles.

England’s Johnny May will take some beating when it comes to speed.
England’s Johnny May will take some beating when it comes to speed.

Two broken arms, as well as an assortment of finger and thumb fractures, reinforce the argument that he can be too destructive for his own good.

Try telling that to those standing in harm’s way along his path towards the ultimate destination: Yokohama on November 2.

Louis Picamoles is another out of the same ‘don’t-get-in-my-way’ school.

At times during the Six Nations last winter the hard yards he repeatedly made were all the more laudable given the impression that he did so while carrying the whole of France on his shoulders.


The heavy mob will be more lethal at this World Cup than any other because the time when all they did was grunt their way from scrum to scrum has long gone.

The modern prop has to be able to get around, not easy when it requires shifting 26 stone from ruck to ruck as Bill Cavubati did for ten years from 1995.

Nobody in a World Cup context now comes close. France tighthead Uini (repeat Uini) Atonio made a massive attempt but fell short at almost 23 stone before falling out of favour.

In a muscle-bound sport where size seems to be everything, wings are almost as huge and infinitely faster, none more so than Nemani Nadolo.

As a sign that Jonah Lomu didn’t know what he was starting, the Fijian weighs 21 stone 4lbs.

Nadolo’s retirement from Test rugby to save his energy for Montpellier will save Welsh, Australian, Georgian and Uruguayan opponents from losing sleep at the prospect of being run over in the pool matches.


Luke Thompson, Japan’s Kiwi lock, and South Africa’s irrepressible hooker Schalk Brits, are the Grand Old Men of the tournament.

Each is into his 39th year which probably makes Rory Best feel a bit damp behind the ears at only 37.

World Cup 2019 oldest XV drawn from 11 countries:

  • Rob Kearney (Ireland) 33
  • Adam Ashley-Cooper (Australia) 35
  • Sonny Bill Williams (New Zealand) 33
  • Ray Lee-Lo (Samoa) 33
  • Vereniki Goneva (Fiji) 35
  • Tusi Pisi (Samoa) 37
  • Fumiaki Tanaka (Japan) 34
  • Hubert Buydens (Canada) 37
  • Schalk Brits (South Africa) 38
  • Campese Ma’afu (Tonga) 34
  • Luke Thompson (Japan) 38
  • Alessandro Zanni (Italy) 35
  • Juan-Manuel Leguizamon (Argentina) 36
  • Francois Louw (South Africa) 34
  • Sergio Parisse (Italy) 36.

This article appears in Friday's 40-page Irish Examiner Rugby World Cup preview magazine.

Bigger, faster, more brutal - the shapes and sizes of Rugby World Cup 2019

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