ECC Pool A: Key Players

Published on: November 11, 2015

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Oyonnax

Valentin Ursarche

Age: 30

Position: Flanker / Second Row

Nationality: Romania (63 Caps)

The 6ft 4 forward has been an influential figure for Oyonnax since he joined them in 2012 when they were promoted from the Pro D2 to the Top14. He’s been to the last 3 World Cups with Romania and would have played every game this year if he was banned for a dangerous tackle vs. France (he also bagged a try in that game! )

Pedrie Wannenburg

Age: 34

Position: Number 8 / Flanker

Nationality: South Africa (20 Caps)

The former Blue Bulls man was influential in Oyonnax’s surprise playoff finish last season, and their qualification for the ECC this year. The South African, who has also played at second row, brings a lot of experience to  the French side, and has previous experience playing in the ECC (formerly the Heineken Cup) reaching the final with Ulster in 2012.

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Piri Weepu

Age: 32

Position: Scrum-half / Fly-half

Nationality: New Zealand (71 Caps)

Former All-black and leader of the haka, Weepu was a vital player for New Zealand in their 2011 World Cup success, especially in the quarter-final match vs. Argentina, in which he was named man of the match, kicking 7/8 of his kicks.

After recovering from his stroke, and an unsuccessful year in England he’s moved to Oyonnax, and has hit the ground running for them this season. Another seasoned international with plenty of experience for Oyonnax, and will be vital for them in Pool A, considering their opposition.

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Nicky Robinson:

Age: 33

Position: Fly Half

Nationality: Wales (13 Caps)

Another one of Oyonnax’s new recruits this campaign; Robinson traded the beautiful city of Bristol for life on the French side on the border of Switzerland. The pragmatic fly-half, who is known for his creativity, attacking running and long boot will be key for sparking the Oyonnax backline into life. Whilst he has a big kick, his reliability off the boot isn’t always 100%, and is prone to the odd off day.

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Honorable Mentions

Soane Tonga’uhia (Prop), George Robson (Second Row), Eamonn Sheridan (Centre), Fetu’u Vainikolo (Centre)


Saracens:

Owen Farrell

Age: 24

Position: Fly-half, Inside Centre

Nationality: England (35 caps)

Whilst his selection at fly-half for England may be seen as controversial by some, he has his skill and ability proved time and time again for his club. Whilst often criticised for being a “less attacking” fly-half than some, he is more than capable of creating that spark to win a match, and stays calm under pressure. Nowhere is this more obvious than when he’s kicking for goal (although he does look like he’s about to murder someone while he’s giving the posts ‘the look’). Often plays as 12 for club with Charlie Hodgson slotting in at 10, he is defensively assured in both positions and is not afraid of getting stuck in, and wins a surprisingly large number of turnovers for a player in his position.

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Billy Vunipola

Age: 23

Position: Number 8, Blindside Flanker

Nationality: England (21 Caps)

One of the few players to come out of England’s World Cup campaign with his head held high. The number 8 showed some of his best form to date for both club and country last year, after Ben Morgan looked to have secured the number 8 jersey for the RWC. At just over 20 stone, is a huge ball carrier and is a force to be reckoned with. Still at the young age of 23, he is another one of Saracens’ ever increasing English contingent, as the team moves away from the days of having more South Africans than their Super 15 sides.

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Marcelo Bosch

Age: 31

Position: Centre, full back, fly-half

Nationality: Argentinia (39 Caps)

Whilst Bosch is known mainly for the huge boot that famously got Saracens into the semi-finals after beating Racing 92 with the last kick of the game, he is much much more than a long range kicker. A physical centre, who is also capable of producing beautiful offloads. Bosch has announced that he does not intend to move back to Argentina, and therefore ruled himself out of international selection, but in doing so he’s made it clear he wants to be a key man for Saracens forward in the years to come. Could be decisive towards the end of games, especially being able to kick penalties from 50+ metres.

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Maro Itoje

Age: 21

Position: Second-row, Blindside Flanker

Nationaity: England

Maro “Future England Captain” Itoje at the age of 21 is a player you would imagine will be included in England’s 6 Nations Squad next year, after training with the RWC squad in the extended group this year. Having captained the England U20 to victory in the U20 World Cup in 2014 and captaining the Saracens Storm (A team) to the trophy earlier this year, Itoje was promptly promoted to the senior squad, and played for them in the ECC semi-final game and the Aviva Premiership final. He didn’t look out of place once. Can play at both 6 and second row, is a name to look out for in the future.

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Honorable Mentions:

Jamie George (Hooker), George Kruis (Second Row), Jacques Burger (Flanker), Charlie Hodgson (Fly Half), Chris Wyles (Utility Back), Chris Ashton (Winger)


 

Toulouse

Luke McAlister

Age: 32

Position: Fly-half / inside centre

Nationality: New Zealand (30 Caps)

The former All-black was one of the first higher profile kiwis to move up north to ply their trade, and he’s had a big impact with both Sale and Toulouse. McAlister has played mostly at 10 this year for Toulouse, with ex-Leicester man Toby Flood playing 12, but he is equally comfortable at inside centre. A long range boot capable of kicking well over 50m, a strong offload game and not afraid of being physical, McAlister is a key man for Toulouse if they are to go far in this year’s tournament.

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Thierry Dusatoir

Age: 33

Position: Flanker

Nationality: France (80 Caps)

The France captain and 2011 IRB player of the year has been an ever present for the French national side over the last 8 years, and has been crucial to Toulouse’s 3 Top14 titles since his arrival at the club. He frequently tops the tackle and turnover counts when he plays.

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Gaël Fickou

Age: 21

Position: Centre

Nationality: France (15 Caps)

The young French centre started playing for Toulouse when he was just 18 and made his international debut at 19 years old. Mainly used as an impact sub by Philippe Saint-Andre in the national side, Fickou is comfortable in both centre positions. At 6ft3 he’s not a small centre, and with a power fend and strong running game he has all the attributes to become a key figure for Toulouse and France in the coming years.

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Louis Picamoles

Age: 29

Position: Number 8, flanker

Nationality: France (51 Caps)

The behemoth at number 8 has recently announced that he’s moving to Northampton Saints in 2016, so will be looking to end his time at Toulouse on a high. A powerful and destructive ball carrier, he’s not afraid to get his hands dirty. Picamoles was a frequent figure in the France side till last year when Saint-Andre dropped him after a dip in form. However he was recalled and showed some of his best form at this years World Cup.

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Honorable Mentions:

Yoann Maestri (Second Row), Imanol Hariordoquy (Flanker/No.8), Toby Flood (Fly Half), Vincent Clerc (Winger), Clément Poitrenaud (Fullback)


 

Ulster Rugby

Rory Best

Age: 33

Position: Hooker

Nationality: Ireland (89 Caps)

Ulster’s captain and Ireland’s first choice hooker for the last few years, Best’s leadership skills and his reliability in the set piece will be crucial to Ulster’s chances in Pool A. His workrate in games is huge, and is often near the top of the tackle counts and is industrious at ruck and maul times.

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Iain Henderson

Age: 23

Position: Second Row / Blindside Flanker

Nationality: Ireland (20 Caps)

After playing phenomenally in the warm up games in the build up to the rugby world cup, Henderson rightly earned his place as partner to Paul O’Connell. Equally adept at playing 6, with a number of his teammates suggesting he’s stronger at blindside flanker, is a workhorse who’s work at the breakdown shouldn’t go unnoticed.

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Ruan Pienaar

Age: 31

Position: Scrum half / fly half

Nationality: South Africa (88 Caps)

Whilst he is often criticised at international level for not being up to the standard at scrum-half, Pienaar has been very influential in the resurgence of Ulster since signing for them in 2010. Very accurate and reliable from the kicking tee, Pienaar has helped Ulster reach the Heineken Cup semi-final in 2012 and numerous playoff appearances in the Pro12.

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Andrew Trimble

Age: 31

Position: Wing / Centre

Nationality: Ireland (58 Caps)

Last season for Trimble was disrupted by injury, and was one of the controversial calls after being left out of Ireland’s RWC squad for this year’s tournament. A skillful winger who is capable of moving into the centres has been very reliable for club and country.

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Honorable Mentions:

Dan Tuohy (Second Row), Chris Henry (Flanker), Paddy Jackson (Fly Half), Darren Cave (Centre), Jared Payne (Centre), Tommy Bowe (Winger), Craig Gilroy (Winger)

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