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Capsules of teams contesting the 2011 World Cup

Capsules of teams contesting the 2011 World Cup

A capsule look at the 20 teams contesting the Sept. 9-Oct. 23 2011 Rugby World Cup:
POOL A
CANADA
Best World Cup performance: 1991, eliminated in quarterfinals by New Zealand.
Last World Cup: lost to Australia, Fiji, Wales; drew with Japan.
World ranking: 14.
Captain: Pat Riordan.
Coach: Kieran Crowley.
World Cup win-loss record: 6-14, 1 draw.
Key Player: Jamie Cudmore
Strengths: Strong forward pack, a high-quality coaching team headed by New Zealander Crowley and competitive results against second-tier nations, including runs to last 2 Churchill Cup finals.
Weaknesses: Lack of big name players and exposure to top-flight competition.
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FRANCE
Best World Cup performance: Finalists 1987, 1999, have advanced to quarterfinals in all six tournaments.
Last World Cup: Lost to England in semifinals; lost match for 3rd place to Argentina.
World ranking: 4.
Captain: Thierry Dusautoir.
Coach: Marc Lievremont.
World Cup win-loss record: 26-9, 1 draw.
Key Player: Francois Trinh-Duc
Strengths: The French have a long tradition of playing with passion and, usually, with flair; a never-say-die attitude has helped France produce two of the biggest comeback wins in the Cup's history, both against Pool A rival New Zealand: in the 1999 semifinals and in the quarterfinals in 2007.
Weaknesses: Freewheeling and unpredictable style can come undone under pressure; combined with some unsettling selection decisions, Lievremont's pre-tournament retirement announcement could cause confusion over the direction of the team.
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JAPAN
Best World Cup performance: One victory in six tournaments, over Zimbabwe in 1991; drew with Canada in 2007.
Last World Cup: Pool stage, lost to Fiji, Australia, Wales, drew with Canada.
World ranking: 13.
Captain: Takashi Kikutani.
Coach: John Kirwan (from New Zealand).
World Cup win-loss record: 1-14, 1 draw.
Key Player: Takashi Kikutani
Strengths: Speed, agility and cohesion; having All Blacks great John Kirwan as coach adds a degree of hometown advantage.
Weaknesses: Japan has a healthy professional league, but too much reliance on foreign-born players and a lack of size from the homegrown players can hurt against the top-tier teams.
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NEW ZEALAND
Best World Cup performance: Champions 1987.
Last World Cup: Lost in quarterfinals to France.
World ranking: 1.
Captain: Richie McCaw.
Coach: Graham Henry.
World Cup win-loss record: 30-6.
Key Player: Dan Carter
Strengths: Undoubtedly the No. 1-ranked team in the world between World Cups, with depth in almost every position; in McCaw and Carter, the All Blacks have two of the best players in the game; home advantage could be key.
Weaknesses: A tendency to lose at precisely the wrong time, evidenced by its inability to win a second World Cup ever since 1987, when it won the inaugural edition on home soil.
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TONGA
Best World Cup performance: Pool stage.
Last World Cup: 2-2, finished third in pool stage; beat Samoa, United States; lost to England, South Africa.
World ranking: 12.
Captain: Finau Maka.
Coach: Isitolo Maka.
World Cup win-loss record: 4-13.
Key Player: Finau Maka
Strengths: Big and powerful across the field, the Tongans can intimidate the lower-ranked teams and, on their day, muscle up against the best. The Tongans have a big fan base in Auckland.
Weaknesses: Political upheaval in the national union has been unsettling; players are spread all over the world, making it difficult to build cohesion.
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POOL B
ARGENTINA
Best World Cup performance: 3rd place, 2007.
Last World Cup: won match for 3rd place over France.
World ranking: 9.
Captain: Felipe Contepomi.
Coach: Santiago Phelan.
World Cup win-loss record: 12-13.
Key Player: Felipe Contepomi
Strengths: The Pumas rely on a powerful scrum and speedy wings, plus an ability to lift for the World Cup when all their best players are available.
Weaknesses: The absence of flyhalf and goalkicker Juan Martin Hernandez is a setback; the element of surprise is gone.
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ENGLAND
Best World Cup performance: Champions 2003.
Last World Cup: Lost in final to South Africa.
World ranking: 5.
Captain: Lewis Moody.
Coach: Martin Johnson.
World Cup win-loss record: 25-10.
Key Player: Jonny Wilkinson
Strengths: The English come in as Six Nations champions and, as usual, have a huge pack of hardnosed forwards; Wilkinson is coming back into form and, in Chris Ashton, the English have one of the best finishers in the game; the 2003 champions tend to peak for the World Cup, including a run to the final in '07 when its pre-Cup form was poor.
Weaknesses: A lack of creativity in the midfield dulls the attacking options and has contributed to some hot-and-cold results in warmup matches.
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GEORGIA
Best World Cup performance: pool stage in two previous tournaments.
Last World Cup: 1-3 in pool stage, beat Namibia.
World ranking: 16.
Captain: Irakli Abuseridze.
Coach: Richie Dixon (from Scotland).
World Cup win-loss record: 1-7.
Key Player: Mamuka Gorgodze
Strengths: Growing in confidence, having notched their first RWC win in 2007 against Namibia and going down narrowly 14-10 to Ireland. Squad contains a number of professional players contracted to top French clubs.
Weaknesses: Lack of depth and infrequent matches against top-level countries.
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ROMANIA
Best World Cup performance: pool stage in all six previous tournaments.
Last World Cup: 1-3 in pool stage, beat Portugal.
World ranking: 17.
Captain: Marius Tincu.
Coach: Romeo Gontineac.
World Cup win-loss record: 5-15.
Key Player: Ovidiu Tonita
Strengths: Romania has experience at all previous World Cup tournaments and a system that is rebuilding.
Weaknesses: Was the last team to qualify for the 2011 edition and has had some issues inside the squad, including the late loss of 22-try veteran winger Catalin Fercu.
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SCOTLAND
Best World Cup performance: 4th place, 1991.
Last World Cup: 2nd place in pool play, 3-1. Lost to Argentina in quarterfinals.
World ranking: 7.
Captain: Alistair Kellock.
Coach: Andy Robinson.
World Cup win-loss record: 17-11, 1 draw.
Key Player: Dan Parks
Strengths: Scotland has never missed the quarterfinals and has a no-fuss playing style which suits tournament format.
Weaknesses: Patchy form in the buildup and a lack of depth in key positions.
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POOL C
AUSTRALIA
Best World Cup performance: Champions 1991, 1999.
Last World Cup: lost to England in quarterfinals.
World ranking: 2.
Captain: James Horwill.
Coach: Robbie Deans (from New Zealand).
World Cup win-loss record: 28-6.
Key Player: Will Genia
Strengths: Coming into the tournament on back-to-back wins over defending World Cup champion South Africa and No. 1-ranked New Zealand to claim its first Tri-Nations title since 2001. Has a very attacking backline and a forward pack that is developing a harder edge.
Weaknesses: Is the youngest squad on average age at the tournament and lacks experience at the World Cup.
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IRELAND
Best World Cup performance: Quarterfinals 1987, 1991, 1995, 2003.
Last World Cup: 2-2 in pool play, beat Namibia, Georgia, lost to Argentina, France. Poorest performance in six tournaments.
World ranking: 8.
Captain: Brian O'Driscoll.
Coach: Declan Kidney.
World Cup win-loss record: 13-12.
Key Player: Brian O'Driscoll
Strengths: A strong set piece and one of the best midfielders in the world will anchor the Irish campaign.
Weaknesses: Poor form in warmup matches resulted in confidence-denting losses to Scotland, France and England and a drop in its world ranking ahead of the tournament.
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ITALY
Best World Cup performance: pool stage in six previous appearances.
Last World Cup: 2-2 in pool play, lost to New Zealand, Scotland, beat Romania, Portugal.
World ranking: 11.
Captain: Sergio Parisse.
Coach: Nick Mallett (England-born South African).
World Cup win-loss record: 7-13.
Key Player: Sergio Parisse
Strengths: A renowned scrummaging unit starring a fearsome front-row and world-class No. 8 Sergio Parisse leads a capable lineout.
Weaknesses: Finds it difficult to win outside of Italy, not helped by an inability to score more than the odd try in matches.
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RUSSIA
Best World Cup performance: 2011 is first appearance.
Last World Cup: did not qualify.
World ranking: 19.
Captain: Vladislav Korshunov.
Coach: Nikolay Nerush.
World Cup win-loss record: 0-0.
Key Player: Vasily Artemyev.
Strengths: Introducing a new style of expansive and counterattacking rugby, led by backs coach and former England center Henry Paul.
Weaknesses: Debut performance at World Cup and the 75-3 thrashing by Japan last November shows the team still has a long way to go.
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UNITED STATES
Best World Cup performance: pool stage.
Last World Cup: lost all four matches in pool play.
World ranking: 18.
Captain: Todd Clever.
Coach: Eddie O'Sullivan (from Ireland).
World Cup win-loss record: 2-15.
Key Player: Takudzwa Ngwenya
Strengths: Spirited forwards led by flanker Todd Clever will be complemented by the jet-heeled speed of winger Takudzwa Ngwenya.
Weaknesses: Lack of quality in the halves and drawn in a difficult group with the Tri-Nations champions and two Six Nations teams.
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POOL D
FIJI
Best World Cup performance: Quarterfinals 1987, 2007.
Last World Cup: lost in quarterfinals to eventual winners South Africa.
World ranking: 15.
Captain: Deacon Manu.
Coach: Sam Domoni.
World Cup win-loss record: 8-12.
Key Player: Nicky Little
Strengths: Practise a free-flowing style of rugby in which tries can be scored from anyway but guided by the steady Nicky Little at flyhalf.
Weaknesses: Standards at the set-piece are unlikely to be good enough to challenge the rugby powers, while errors often abound due to the team's expansive style.
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NAMIBIA
Best World Cup performance: pool stage in three previous appearances.
Last World Cup: lost all four pool matches, including 87-10 to France and 63-3 to Argentina.
World ranking: 20.
Captain: Jacques Burger.
Coach: Johan Diergaardt.
World Cup win-loss record: 0-11.
Key Player: Jacques Burger.
Strengths: Rugged and whole-hearted style best exemplified by the team's narrow loss to Ireland at the 2007 World Cup.
Weaknesses: Three World Cups and yet to win a match indicates the gulf between the lowest-ranked team at the tournament and the rest.
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SAMOA
Best World Cup performance: Quarterfinals, 1991, 1995.
Last World Cup: 1-3 in pool play, beat United States.
World ranking: 10.
Captain: Seilala Mapusua.
Coach: Tuimaono Tafua.
World Cup win-loss record: 9-11.
Key Player: Alesana Tuilagi
Strengths: Proficient at playing the power game and has largely cut out the ill discipline. Player depth much improved, as shown by the historic win over the Wallabies.
Weaknesses: Has previously been lacking in composure, self belief and fitness when in winning positions against more fancied teams.
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SOUTH AFRICA
Best World Cup performance: Champions 1995, 2007.
Last World Cup: Beat England in final.
World ranking: 3.
Captain: John Smit.
Coach: Peter de Villiers.
World Cup win-loss record: 21-3.
Key Player: Fourie du Preez
Strengths: Aggressive, hard-bitten group of forwards who won't be bullied in a team that is always thereabouts at World Cup time. World-class No. 9 Fourie du Preez and goal-kicker Morne Steyn are a formidable halves pairing and will supply a hard-running set of backs.
Weaknesses: Aging squad that has recently been struck by numerous injuries and is coached by a maverick character in Pieter de Villiers.
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WALES
Best World Cup performance: 3rd place, 1987.
Last World Cup: Pool stage, beat Canada, Japan, lost to Australia, Fiji.
World ranking: 6.
Captain: Sam Warburton.
Coach: Warren Gatland (from New Zealand).
Key Player: James Hook
Strengths: Talented squad spread evenly across the forwards and backs and possessing two quality playmakers in James Hook and Stephen Jones.
Weaknesses: Struggled at previous World Cups apart from in 1987 and drawn in a difficult group along with South Africa, Samoa and Fiji.