The 2022 Autumn Internationals have proved to be as thrilling a spectacle of rugby union as fans around the world have now come to expect. From shock results like England’s 29-30 loss to Argentina and close thrillers like Ireland’s 13-10 victory over Australia, it’s certainly given us plenty to think about ahead of the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
However, while we can read into the varying form of the qualified nations and make assumptions about who might end up taking home the Webb Ellis Cup, what’s been interesting is analysing who the standout players have been that may well light up the tournament in France come September.
Here we’ve selected three such players that really caught our eye over the last few weeks:
Dalton Papalii (New Zealand)
Although he physically stood out for New Zealand with his bleached-blonde hair, Dalton Papalii has been in superb form for the All Blacks in the number seven jersey. He first made his international debut back in 2018 and at 25 certainly isn’t up-and-coming, but with injuries to captain – and usual number seven – Sam Cane, Papalii seized his chance and slotted in to the starting line-up with ease. As well as several commanding performances, a real highlight for him was ripping through England’s defence to score the opening try in the exhilarating 25-25 tie back in mid-November.
Mark Nawaqanitawase (Australia)
Another unmistakable character, Mark Nawaqanitawase, with his frizzy hair and giant stature, also left a big impression during the Autumn Internationals. The tests he featured in were the 22-year-old’s first games for the Wallabies and for some he was a surprise inclusion – perhaps for Nawaqanitawase himself as he almost pledged his allegiance to Fiji in recent times. It was his debut on the wing against Italy that stood out as one of the few positives Australia could take away from that game, as they surprisingly lost 28-27. After his impressive performances, we would expect Nawaqanitawase will almost certainly be taking to the field again for the Wallabies in September.
Josh van der Flier (Ireland)
The Ireland and Leinster forward has ended the year with some exceptional displays in the Autumn Internationals and the glory of being awarded the World Rugby Player of the Year. The 29-year-old has been instrumental in Ireland’s rise to the top of the World Rugby Rankings in recent years and he still has plenty to offer on the global stage. A notable highlight from the recent tests was scoring Ireland’s opening try in their impressive 19-16 victory over South Africa. We don’t doubt for a second his fine form will continue during the Rugby World Cup.