Kicked into touch: the Rugby World Cup rejects

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World Cup hopefuls all around the globe no doubt had the date 22 August pencilled into their diaries months in advance. Monday was the deadline for head coaches of the twenty international sides featuring in the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand to announce their final 30-man squads for the tournament. Tough decisions had to be made and, inevitably, there were a number of winners and losers. Here we take a closer look at those players who didn’t make the final cut.

World Cup rejects XV: The Independent's line-up of class acts you won't be seeing at the big tournament next month. Click here or click the image to launch our team.

The most talked about absentee from the England camp is Riki Flutey. The British and Irish Lion failed to find a place in Martin Johnson’s squad as just one specialist inside-centre was selected; London Irish’s Shontayne Hape. Johnson also selected just five dedicated back-row forwards, meaning Sale flanker Hendre Fourie missed out. Unfortunately, Danny Care was ruled out of the World Cup two weeks ago as the Harlequins’ scrum-half sustained a toe injury during England’s 19-9 defeat to Wales.

Welsh coach Warren Gatland delivered a hammer-blow to Martyn Williams shortly after the veteran flanker captained Wales to a 28-13 victory over Argentina as he did not include the thirty-five-year-old in his squad. That omission leaves Williams stuck on ninety-nine caps as Gatland opted for just one open-side flanker, Sam Warburton. Dwayne Peel also failed to make the cut after the Sale scrum-half’s participation in training was limited due to injury. Perhaps inevitably, Wales have suffered a number of injuries during their World Cup preparations; hookers Matthew Rees and Richard Hibbard missed out with neck and ankle problems respectively, while Morgan Stoddart broke his leg and Gavin Henson suffered a wrist injury in the games against England.

Declan Kidney’s decision to include scrum-half Conor Murray in his Ireland squad means that Tomas O'Leary, who helped Ireland win the Six Nations Grand Slam in 2009, misses out, as does British and Irish Lion Luke Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald’s form has slumped in the last year, while veteran props John Hayes and Marcus Horan also miss out as Kidney opted for younger front-row options.

Johnnie Beattie is the most notable exclusion from Andy Robinson’s 30-man squad. The back-rower was ousted by fellow Glasgow Warriors’ star Richie Vernon and Edinburgh flanker Ross Rennie. Winger Nikki Walker will not be on the plane to New Zealand either after sustaining an injury in the World Cup warm-up game against Italy last weekend, while Hugo Southwell also misses out due to injury.

Marc Lievremont has not included experienced props Sylvain Marconnet and Thomas Domingo in his French squad. Domingo has been plagued by a knee injury, which no doubt encouraged Lievremont to select Fabien Barcella instead. The French coach has also opted to omit Sebastien Chabal, Yannick Jauzion, Clement Poitrenaud and Mathieu Bastareaud. Chabal, Jauzion and Poitrenaud miss out due to their poor form in 2011, while Bastareaud has been dropped after arguing with Lievremont earlier in the year.

Turning our attention to the southern hemisphere sides, we find that the head coaches of the Tri Nations’ teams have adopted quite strikingly different selection policies. Pieter de Villiers has chosen his 30-man squad based on experience, rather than youthful exuberance, whilst Graham Henry and the All Blacks have attempted to find a balance between young and old.

South Africa have retained the majority of their 2007 World Cup-winning side by calling back eighteen members of the squad which won in France four years ago. Unfortunately, however, Juan Smith ruled himself out last week after failing to recover from an Achilles injury in time. There were, at least, a few surprises in the front-row. Northampton Saints’ Zimbabwean-born Brian Mujati was not included after failing to secure a South African passport in time, while Schalk Brits, whom many Saracens fans thought deserved a spot in de Villiers’ squad, also missed out.

It was no surprise that a few star names were left out of the All Blacks’ World Cup squad due to the number of world-class players available to New Zealand coach Graham Henry. Henry demonstrated his desire to pick young, in-form players by omitting the likes of Sitiveni Sivivatu, Hosea Gear, Liam Messam and Wyatt Crockett. The good form of Zac Guildford and Cory Jane ensured that they were selected ahead of the more experienced Sivivatu. Likewise, Messam, considered too lightweight during the Tri-Nations, has been replaced by Victor Vito. Loosehead prop Crockett also loses out in the front row to the more dynamic and versatile John Afoa. The final major omission from the All Blacks’ squad was Luke McAlister who suffered a poor run of form during the second half of the domestic season.

Matt Giteau was the shock exclusion from Australia’s 30-man squad. The utility back had been overlooked on a number of occasions by Robbie Deans during the recent Tri Nations tournament, but is still considered to be one of the Wallabies’ most talented players. The 28-year-old, capped ninety-two times by Australia, has since now retired from international duty. As was largely expected, former Wallaby skipper Stirling Mortlock also failed to make the cut after featuring relatively little in recent games.

It is also worth noting that Juan Martin Hernandez, who starred in Argentina’s impressive third-place finish in 2007, will not be on the plane to New Zealand. Unfortunately, the skilful back is still completing his rehabilitation after undergoing an operation on his knee in March.

With the glitter and trauma of the squad announcements now out of the way, the eyes of the world turn to New Zealand where the hosts kick off against Tonga on 9 September. The countdown to the 2011 Rugby World Cup is well and truly on.

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