RUGBY: Injuries, suspensions lead to early test of World Cup squad depth

RUGBY: Injuries, suspensions lead to early test of World Cup squad depth

The world’s top teams have paid a dear price for fielding their best players and combinations over the course of the World Cup warm-ups. The injury toll – and indeed the rate of long-term suspensions – will continue to climb over the next four weeks, and over the course of the global tournament itself.

No team will emerge unscathed. Although the form of frontrunners such as Ireland, France, New Zealand and South Africa has shaped most pre-tournament predictions, it’s fair to say that squad depth may determine who lifts the Webb Ellis Cup at Stade de France on 28 October.

Counting the cost

Scotland wing Duhan van der Merwe and scrumhalf Ben White are still recovering from what appear to be serious injuries sustained in the warm-ups. But both should play at the World Cup. (Photo: Stu Forster / Getty Images)

England’s slim chances of winning the title took a knock after star scrumhalf Jack van Poortvliet was ruled out of the tournament because of a serious knee injury sustained in the recent win against Wales in London.

The more pressing concern, however, is the availability of captain and flyhalf Owen Farrell, who might miss England’s key pool match against Argentina on 9 September in Marseille owing to suspension, if World Rugby’s appeal against the decision to rescind his red card is successful.

Will England have the quality in depth to replace their first-choice halfback combination, and secure a win that could determine the winner of Pool D?

What is patently clear is that they are better stocked than most, especially the so-called tier-two nations.

Tonga have made a number of key recruitments since World Rugby changed its eligibility laws, with several former All Blacks and Wallabies joining the Pacific island side ahead of the 2023 World Cup campaign. On the eve of the tournament, however, they were dealt a major setback when centre George Moala – who previously represented the All Blacks – was suspended for 10 weeks.

Moala was red-carded for a tip tackle in the friendly match against Canada, and later handed a heavy ban. This prompted an outcry from the Pacific island community – and from critics and fans around the globe.

Many felt that Moala’s punishment was harsh and that the treatment of Farrell, the England captain, far too lenient.

Tonga don’t boast the depth or resources of England or other tier-one nations, and they may miss Moala more than tier-one nations missing key players. The Pacific Islanders have been drawn in the same pool as the Boks and will meet Jacques Nie­naber’s men on 1 October in Marseille.

Bok personnel challenges

The Boks, of course, have their own problems. Though they recorded a convincing 24–13 win in their first World Cup warm-up against Argentina in Buenos Aires, that result came at a cost.

Star centre Lukhanyo Am was helped from the field with what was later confirmed to be a serious knee injury. It was subsequently revealed that the “illness” that led to Lood de Jager’s late withdrawal was a heart condition, which is worrying.

Both were omitted from the 33-man Wo

…. to be continued
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