Six players who can thrill the world

RUGBY WORLD CUP 1995
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Ivan Francescato

ITALY

was the scrum-half who scored one of the dazzling tries of the 1991 World Cup against the USA at Otley; his half-back partnership for the Azzurri with Diego Dominguez for club (Milan) and country is one good reason Italian rugby has made the strides it has. Then, Alessandro Troncon was preferred at scrum-half and Francescato became a makeshift wing - but one good enough to continue scoring tries, such as the one he got against Wales last season. In the World Cup squad Francescato is picked as a scrum-half but if Troncon remains the choice, we can expect to see him on out the wing again.

Brian Lima

WESTERN SAMOA

When Brian Lima said he was about to sign for North Sydney rugby league club, Bryan Williams, Western Samoa's rugby's technical adviser, groaned: "There go our World Cup hopes." Peter Schuster, the coach, said he was going out to get drunk. Such is the status of the free-scoring wing in his own country, and though Lima swiftly rescinded the decision, no one in the islands holds out much of hope that he will resist the lure of lucre after the World Cup. He has scored 15 tries in his past 17 Tests and even before Murdoch's millions started washing around Samoans had become irresistible targets for league.

George Gregan

AUSTRALIA

The one gap Australia thought they could not plug after winning the 1991 World Cup was that left by Nick Farr-Jones. OK, they never will: more than a scrum-half and captain, Farr-Jones was one of the greatest tacticians. When Peter Slattery found this succession too hard, it passed to George Gregan, a young man from nowhere (Zambia, originally) who performed the tackle from nowhere - on Jeff Wilson as he was about to score the winning try in last August's Bledisloe Cup match against New Zealand. Now he needs to be only half as good as the publicity that has ensued.

Pieter du Randt

SOUTH AFRICA

Piet du Randt has come a long way in a short space of time, since as recently as last year he was not in the Free State side who played England. By the end of the domestic season Du Randt, known as Os (Ox) after his wrestling exploits as a youngster, had appeared in the Currie Cup final and won two caps against Argentina, augmenting the size and strength provided by his 6ft 3in and 18st with unlikely mobility and ball-handling skill. He was a major success of the Springboks' autumn tour of Wales and Scotland and is not only the model of a modern prop-forward but at 23 has years of Test rugby ahead.

Andrew Mehrtens

NEW ZEALAND

Unbeknown to those of us who saw Canterbury on the autumn tour that took them from Camborne to Hartlepool and places in between, we had witnessed the All Blacks' World Cup outside-half in Andrew Mehrtens, a callow 20- year-old who could not make the provincial team when the Lions were in Christchurch in 1993. Two years on, he has developed into such an exciting talent that his looks like being the responsibility for filling the Grant Fox role of points-gatherer and master tactician. Mehrtens scored 28 on his Test debut against Canada but - praise be - is a far freer runner than Fox ever was.

Abdelatif Benazzi

FRANCE

So many seasons have passed in which this potentially great forward has failed to live up to his advance billing that it would be idle to predict outright that this will be the stage for Morocco's finest to inspire the French. But it should be. Abdel Benazzi has curbed his wayward temperament while expanding his talent, and if he does not succeed in South African conditions perfectly tailored for outstanding athleticism one wonders if he ever will. But if he does, the benefit this will give France's forward play will be immeasurable, so much so that he could even drive them all the way to the Webb Ellis trophy.

Profiles: Steve Bale

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