Rugby World Cup: The Outsiders Canada may pose biggest threat to the big guns as Samoans fall victim to their own success and Italians attempt to halt decline

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ARGENTINA

Coach: Alex Wyllie

Captain: Pedro Sporleder

World Cup record: Failed to reach knock-out stage in 1987, 1991 and 1995

How qualified: Winners of American zone

Registered adult players: 10,000

Player rebellions, threatened boycotts, management summit meetings, coaching resignations: it has all been happening down Buenos Aires way as the Pumas wind themselves up for a daunting test of spirit and sinew in Cardiff on Friday afternoon. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that the recent upheavals over squad selection - or, rather, squad de-selection - will stiffen the Argentinians in their resolve, but it is more likely they will arrive in Wales fed up to the back teeth. The recent political fall-out has left New Zealander Alex "Grizz" Wyllie in sole charge. That may be no bad thing. It is difficult to imagine a side under Wyllie failing to give it socks on the field. For all the scrummaging humiliations his pack suffered at the hands of Wales during the summer, Wyllie will still enjoy mining a rich seam of raw material centred on the sheer physical strength of Roberto Grau, Omar Hassan, Mauricio Reggiardo, Martin Scelzo and the captain, Pedro Sporleder. And, if that famous "bajana" scrummage rediscovers its bearings, the class acts outside - Lisandro Arbizu, Diego Albanese and, most excitingly of all, Agustin Pichot - will cause some damage with their spikey, jagged running lines. The millennium experience may well prove too much for the South Americans in their current state of collective confusion, but that need not be the end of the story. The meeting with Western Samoa at Llanelli on Sunday week will be huge.

SQUAD: Ignacio Corleto, Manuel Contepomi, Juan Fernandez Miranda,

Gonzalo Camardon, Felipe Contepomi, Octavo Bartolucci, Diego Albanese, Eduardo Simone, Jose Orengo, Lisandro Arbizu, Jose Cilley, Gonzalo Quesada, Nicolas Fernandez Miranda, Agustin Pichot, Roberto Grau, Mauricio Reggiardo, F. Diaz Alberdi, Martin Scelzo, Omar Hasan, Mario Ledesma, Agustin Canalda, Ignacio Fernandez Lobbe, Raul Norberto Perez, Pedro Sporleder, Alejando Allub, Lucas Ostiglia, Santiago Phelan, Miguel Ruiz, Rolando Martin, Gonzalo Longa Elia.

MANU SAMOA

Coach: Bryan Williams

Captain: Pat Lam

World Cup record: 1987 - Not invited;

Quarter-finalists, 1991, 1995

How qualified: Third in Pacific zone.

Registered adult players: 4,600.

The element of surprise has long gone; whenever a Western Samoan attempts to sneak up on some unsuspecting Springbok or green-as-grass Welshman, the intended target yells at the top of his voice and disappears into the distance at a rate of knots. Yes, the islanders are victims of their own success. This time, they will have to earn their World Cup spurs against opponents who know exactly what to expect. We will discover all we need to know about the Samoans when they mix it with the All Black-impregnated Japanese at Wrexham on Sunday afternoon. Just over four months ago, Japan beat their rivals 37-34 in an Epson Cup match in Osaka. The suspicion then was that the Samoans were playing at a canter in the absence of some of their more accomplished personnel. If they turn the tables and put 40 past the Japanese this weekend, the message will not be lost on Wales and Argentina, the other ambitious wannabes in the World Cup's group of death. A glance at the Samoan squad suggests a quarter-final place for the taking: Va'aiga Tuigamala, George Leaupepe, Steve Bachop, Trevor Leota, Junior Paramore, Isaac Fea'unati and Pat Lam are the real deal. But the Pool D draw is unforgiving, with the runners-up off to Murrayfield for a possible play-off with the Scots. Which is why the Samoans will again tear into the Welsh when they meet them in Cardiff a week Thursday. To make a name for themselves in 1999, they need to revisit 1991.

SQUAD: Silao Leaega, Mike Umaga, Tanner Vili, Brian Lima, Afato So'oalo, Va'aiga Tuigamala, Filipo Toala, To'o Vaega, George Leaupepe, Terry Fanolua, Stephen Bachop, Earl Va'a, Steven So'oialo, Jon Clarke, Pat Lam (capt), Junior Paramore, Sene Ta'ala, Kalolo Toleafoa, Craig Glendinning, Semo Sititi, Isaac Feaunati, Lio Falaniko, Lama Tone, Opeta Palepoi, Kepi Faivaai, Robbie Ale, Brendan Reidy, Mike Mika, Trevor Leota, Onehunga Matauiau.

CANADA

Coach: Pat Parfrey

Captain: Gareth Rees

World Cup record: Failed to reach knock-out stage in 1987, 1995

Quarter-finalists in1991

How qualified: Runners-up in American zone.

Registered adult players: 10,000.

Age shall not weary them; at least, not without a fearful scrap in a dark alley somewhere. Call them venerable, call them mature, call them arthritic if you don't mind getting your head bitten off by their coach; whatever ageist description you care to apply to Gareth Rees and his thirtysomething band of Canucks, it will cut no ice and butter no parsnips when the serious stuff begins in Beziers on Saturday. The Canadians fancy their chances of a second visit to the World Cup quarter-finals in the space of eight years and the side that denies them will know they have been in a contest. Their performances against Wales and England last month bore no resemblance to a shambolic Epson Cup campaign that left them bottom of the Pacific Rim pile earlier in the summer. In Cardiff and London, they were back to their cussed, bloody-minded best. England were fortunate to pass the 30-point mark, while Wales were lucky to win at all. The Canadians do not wield sufficient clout outside of Rees to undermine the acknowledged world order. Dave Lougheed is among the very best king-hit tacklers in the tournament and he has some gas, but that is about it. Still, they will be mighty effective up front and, if their opponents get on the referee's nerves, Rees will do the necessary with his booming right boot. To be sure of making the last eight, they will need to take advantage of the flakey French this weekend.

SQUAD: S Stewart, J Pagano, J Cordle, J Loveday, C Smith, W Stanley, S Bryan, D Lougheed, K Nichols, G Rees (capt), B Ross, M Williams, J Graf. Forwards: R Bice, D Major, D Penney, R Snow, J Thiel, M Cardinal, P Dunkley, M James, B McCarthy, J Tait, C Whittaker, R Banks, D Baugh, J Hutchinson, R Robson, A Charron, M Schmid.

FIJI

Coach: Brad Johnstone

Captain: Greg Smith

World Cup record: 1987 Quarter-finalists; 1991 Failed to reach knock- out; 1995 Failed to qualify

How qualified: Runners-up in Pacific zone

Registered adult players: 30,030.

It would be encouraging to think that Brad Johnstone's move from part- time coaching duties to full-time World Cup planning might be mirrored by the Fijian public's shift from seven-a-side obsession to 15-a-side acceptance. Do not hold your breath. The biggest Pacific island rugby community of them all remains the most difficult to persuade. Even when Fiji stick 60 on the neighbouring Western Samoans, as they did in 1996, the man in the Suva street reacts by confirming his flight to Hong Kong for the annual short game festivities Any seismic shift occurring on Fiji's rugby axis will have to be forced from the top down, rather than the bottom up. What Johnstone, a tough All Black prop of Graham Mourie and Andy Haden vintage, badly needs is a headline-grabbing World Cup victory to galvanise the 800,000 folks back home. A win over France in Toulouse a fortnight Saturday would be highly appropriate; after all, it was Fiji's failure to finish off the Tricolores when they had them on the quarter- final ropes in 1987 that was largely to blame for the long fallow period that followed. That they possess the right talent in the right places is beyond question. Yes, even up front. Simon Raiwalui has played enough in the English Premiership to know what is what in the second row, there is a born-and-bred New Zealand hooker Greg Smith, and with Ilie Tabua, capped 10 times by the Wallabies, joining the exciting Koli Sewabu in the back row, possession should not be impossible to obtain. This time, it is not all about Waisale Serevi and his juggling skills.

SQUAD: Daniel Rouse, Joeli Veitayaki, Niko Qoro, Epeli Naituivau, Greg Smith, (capt), Isaia Rasila, Simon Raiwalui, Apisai Naevo, Emori Katalau, Ifereimi Tawake, IIivasi Tabua, Setereki Tawake, Aliferati Mocelutu, Alifereti Doviverata, Koli Sewabu, Inoke Male, Jacob Rauluni, Mosese Rauluni, Nicky Little, Waisale Serevi, Waisaka Solutu, Meli Nakauta, Lawrence Little, Tabai Matson, Viliame Satala, Imanueli Tikomaimakogai, Fero Lasagavibau, Marika Vunibaka, Manasa Bari, Alfred Uluinayau.

ITALY

Coach: Massimo Mascioletti

Captain: Massimo Giovanelli

World Cup record: Failed to reach knock-out stage 1987, 1991, 1995

How qualified: Runners-up in European Pool 2.

Registered adult players: 8,918.

The demise, if it is a demise rather than a blip, has come at the worst conceivable moment. Years of patient lobbying, of the correct words being dropped in the correct ears at the correct black-tie dinners, earned Italy their cherished place at the top table of European rugby. We are now a Six Nation continent. And what happened? The Azzurri went Awol. The high water mark of their last campaign was the narrow defeat by England in the World Cup qualifier at Huddersfield before Christmas. Everything else was gruesome, not least a 101-zip defeat in Durban. In the dark eyes of their piratical captain, Massimo Giovanelli, that Springbok slaughter was the last straw. He tore into his countrymen at the after-match post mortem, telling them in no uncertain terms that he, for one, could not accept being made to look a fool, and that the future of Italian rugby was in their hands and theirs alone. If Giovanelli was talking to the walls, if the lira failed to drop, England will cause all sorts of carnage when they resume unfinished business at Twickenham this weekend. Italy have a new coach in Massimo Mascioletti, the former L'Aquila threequarter, but a familiar squad. With the exception of the Cuttitta brothers, Massimo and Marcello, who are still in a strop over selection policy, the class acts are all on board: Paolo Vaccari and Christian Stoica out wide, Diego Dominguez and Alessandro Troncon at half-back, Mark Giacheri and Mauro Bergamasco up front. It will be brutally hard for them, though. Another downer, probably.

SQUAD: Franco Properzi, Carlo Checchinato, Alessandro Moscardi, Stefano Saviozzi, Orazio Arancio, Andrea Castellani, Carlo Caione, Paolo Pucciariello, Giampiero De Carli, Andrea Moretti, Mauro Bergamasco, Mark Giacheri, Massimo Giovanelli, Walter Cristofoletto, Laurent Travini. Alessandro Troncon, Giampiero Mazzi, Diego Dominguez, Alessandro Stoica, Matthew Pin, Paolo Vaccari, Sandro Ceppolino, Nicola Mazzuccato.

TONGA

Coach: Polutele Tu'ihalamaka

Captain: Fe'ao Vunipola

World Cup record: Failed to reach knock-out stage 1987, 1995; Failed to qualify1991

How they qualified: Repechage qualifier

Registered adult players: 784

Imagine this little lot running up your new Nike shorts: Jonah Lomu on the left wing, Pita Alatini and Johnny Ngauamo in the centre, Carl Hoeft in the front row, Charles Riechelmann driving the engine room and a very useful back row featuring Willie Ofahengaue, Isitola Maka and young Kupu Vanisi, the talk of New Zealand's National Provincial Championship. Not bad, eh? Well, now you know just how good Tonga might be if they could only hang on to their talent. Tongan rugby is a well-rehearsed sob story. Their best players, including those mentioned above, habitually follow the money and plump for the high life in New Zealand, Australia or, more occasionally, England and Wales. Who can blame them? On the one hand, they could hone their skills and maximise their physical capabilities in a structured professional environment. On the other, they could stay true to their ancestry, earn themselves a pittance and meet up 48 hours before every Test, be it a Pacific Rim tie or a World Cup qualifier. Why does the phrase "no contest" suddenly spring to mind? At least they will contest their pool matches in this World Cup, despite some heartbreaking setbacks over player release. No Tongan side in history has ever given less than everything, and, if their technical mastery of the set-piece phases remains suspect - their scrummaging tends to be on the dodgy side of hopeless - they will make a few pampered eyes water in the tackling department. Let's hope they win a match. They deserve an even break.

SQUAD: S Faka'osifolau, S Finau (capt), S Marten, E Taione, I Tapu-eluelu, T Taufahema, S Taumalolo, S Taupeaafe, F Tatafu, T Tiueti, S Tu'ipulotu, S M Tu'ipulotu, E Vunipola, B Wooley, D Edwards, T Fainga'anuku, K Faletau, P Faletau, I Fatani, B Kivalu, S Kloi, F Mafi, L Maka, T Penisini, N Ta'u, T Taumoepeau, M Te Pou, V Toloke, K Tu'ipulotu, F Vunipola .

THE ALSO-RANS United States have best chance of making breakthrough

JAPAN

Coach: Seiji Hirao

Captain: Andrew McCormick

World Cup record: Failed to reach knock-out stage 1987, 1991, 1995

How qualified: Winners of Asian zone

Registered adult players: 84,590

Well, they are Japanese in a sense. Andrew McCormick, Graeme Bachop, Greg Smith, Robert Gordon and dear old Jamie Joseph, the shadowy villain in the Strange Case of Kyran Bracken's Ankle, have long been playing their rugby for Toyota, Sunnix and Toshiba Fuchu rather than Canterbury and Otago. That degree of imported New Zealand know-how should spare Japan the kind of three-figure trauma they suffered at the hands of the All Blacks in Bloemfontein four years ago, but they are in a horribly difficult pool.

SQUAD: Shin Hasegawa, Toshikazu Nakamichi, Masahiro Kunda, Masaaki Sakata, Naoto Nakamura, Kohei Oguchi, Rob Gordon, Naoya Okubo, Yoshihiko Sakuraba, Hiroyuki Tanuma, Greg Smith, Yasunori Watanabe, Hajime Kiso, Ryuji Ishi, Jamie Joseph, Takeomi Ito, Graeme Bachop, Wataru Murata, Keiji Hirose, Kensuke Iwabuchi, Andrew McCormick, Yukio Motoki, Akira Yoshida, Atsushi Koga, Terunori Masuho, Daisuke Ohata, Patiliai Tuidraki, Ryohei Miki, Tsutomu Matsuda, Takafumi Hirao.

ROMANIA

Coach: Mircea Paraschiv

Captain: Constantin Tudor

World Cup record: Failed to reach knock-out stage 1987,1991, 1995

How qualified: Runners-up in Europe Pool 1.

Registered adult players: 1,152.

Eleven years ago, Romania marched into Cardiff and beat the Welsh, Jonathan Davies and all, by the most celebrated six-point margin in the history of East European rugby. Then came two revolutions: the December Revolution of 1989, which accounted for a sprinkling of Romania's finest players as well as the hated Ceaucescu, and rugby's professional revolution of 1995, which accounted for the fabric of the domestic game in Bucharest and its environs. There are green shoots of recovery, true, but Australia and Ireland are mighty oaks.

SQUAD: Nicolae Dragos, Constantin Stan, Laurentiu Rotaru, Bogdan Dima, Florin Marioara, Petre Balan, Stefan Demci, Daniel Chiriac, Constantin Tudor, Tiberiu Brinza, Ovidiu Tonita, Erdinci Septar, Florin Corodeanu, Marius Tincu, Alin Petrache, Catalin Draguceanu, Petre Mitu, Lucian Sirbu, Marius Iacob, Roland Vusec, Ionut Tofan, Romeo Gontineac, Cristian Lupu, Mihai Ciolacu, Cristian Sauan, Radu Fugigi, Cristian Haldan, Gheorghe Solomie, Mihai Vioreanu.

NAMIBIA

Coach: Rudy Joubert

Captain: Quinn Hough

World Cup record: First appearance in finals

How qualified: Winners of African zone

Registered adult players: 950

With one senior player for every 250 square miles of land, Namibia is not short of training space; the problem has been getting the 30-man squad within telephone range of each other. All those Van Wyks and Van Rensbergs and Van der Merwes will be a handful if things get a little warm in the bearpits of Beziers and Bordeaux and the qualifying victories over Morocco and Zimbabwe suggested a certain resourcefulness under pressure. But pride in the blue shirt will take them so far and no further. An early flight back to Windhoek.

SQUAD: Lean van Dyk, Deon Mouton, Glovin van Wyk, Dirk Farmer, Arthur Samuelson, Rudie Jansen van Vuuren, Lukas Holtzhausen, Cliff Loubsher, Francois van Rensburg, Johan Zaayman, Ronaldo Pedro, Riaan Janjies, Sarel Janse van Rensburg,Sybrand de Beer, Mathys van Rooyen, Jaco Olivier, Schalk van der Merwe, Quinn Hough (capt), Sean Furter, Herman Lintvelt, Heino Senekal, Eben Izaacs, Pieter Steyn, Johannes Theron, Gerhard Opperman, Mario Jacobs, Eben Smith, Andries Blaauw, Hugo Horn, Frans Fisch.

UNITED STATES

Coach: Jack Clark

Captain: Dan Lyle

World Cup record: Failed to reach knock-out stage 1987, 1991; Failed to qualify 1995

How qualified: Third place in American zone.

Registered adult players: 29,225

You get the feeling that the Eagles are a single step, albeit one of the quantum variety, from a breakthrough that would lift rugby out of the backwaters and into the mainstream of American sporting life. They are in a position of great delicacy: victory over the Irish would change everything, a Pool E whitewash might set them back years. The likelihood is that Dan Lyle's enthusiastic part-timers will live with the Romanians, but lose out elsewhere. In which case, the Stateside game will remain in limbo.

SQUAD: Tom Billups, Joe Clayton, Luke Gross, Dave Hodges, Kirk Khasigian, Marc L'Huillier, Ray Lehner, Rob Lumkong, Dan Lyle (capt), Fifita Mo'unga, Shaun Paga, Alec Parker, Eric Reed, George Sucher, Richard Tardits, Vaea Anitoni, Andre Blom, Jesse Coulson, Kevin Dalzell, Juan Grobler, Brian Hightower, David Niu, Alatini Saulala, Mark Scharrenberg, Rich Schurfeld, Kurt Shuman, Dave Stroble, Tomasi Takau, Sinapati Uiagalelei, Mark Williams.

SPAIN

SPAIN

Coach: Alfonso Feijo

Captain: Alberto Malo

World Cup record: First appearance in finals.

How qualified: Runners-up Europe Pool 3.

Registered adult players: 7,643.

The game with Uruguay in the great rugby metropolis of Galashiels on Saturday is a World Cup final in miniature. Forget the cricket scores certain for South Africa and Scotland in other pool matches; victory over the South Americans would ensure rugby's momentum in a hugely unpropitious domestic environment. It will not earn Spain a Nou Camp ground-share, but it might keep them somewhere near the back pages.

SQUAD: Ferran Velazco, Francisco Puertas, Oriol Ripol, Antonio Socias, Jose Ingnacio Inchausti, Miguel Angel Frechilla, Alvar Enciso, Fernando Diez, Rafael Bastide,

Alberto Socias, Sebastien Loubsens, Andrei Kovalenco, Aitor Etxeberria, Aratz Gallastegui, Jaime Alonso, Jordi Camps, Jose Ignacio Zapatero, Victor Torres, Luis Javier Martinez, Fernando de la Calle, Diego Zarzosa, Jose Miguel Villau, Steve Tuineau, Sergio Souto, Alberto Malo (capt), Carlos Souto, Oscar Astarloa, Jose Diaz , Agustin Malet, Alfonso Mata.

URUGUAY

URUGUAY

Coach: Daniel Herrera

Captain: Diego Ormaechea

World Cup record: First appearance in finals.

How qualified: Repechage qualifiers.

Registered adult players: 896.

Judging by their style of football - hack 'em across the knees first, ask questions later - the Uruguayans should take to World Cup rugby like ducks to water. In fact, the team management are deeply concerned for the physical well-being of their charges, particularly when they run into the unforgiving and unapologetic Springboks. "We are ambassadors for our country and I don't want anyone hurt," says the coach, Daniel Herrera. Negative thinking? Perhaps. But look what happened to poor Max Brito in the last tournament.

SQUAD: D Aguirre, S Aguirre, A Cardoso, M Cervino, P Costabile, M Ferres, J M Marques, J Menchaca, M Mendaro, F Paullier, F Sciarra, F Sosa Diaz, P Vecino, J Viana,.J Alzueta, J C Bado, E Berruti, N Brignoni, F de los Santos, L de Olivera, N Grille, G Laffite, M Lame, D Lamelas, P Lemoine, D Ormaechea (capt), M Panizza, A Ponce de Leon, G Storace.

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