Fly-half Jonathan Sexton scores Ireland's second try during the Six Nations clash against France at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on March 10. Photo: AFP / Paul Faith

They all have that X-factor. The ability to light up a game with moments of magic.

From a Test match point-scoring stalwart to a World Cup winner, here are five players that could end up grabbing the headlines when the Rugby World Cup kicks off in Japan on September 20.

Johnny Sexton | Ireland

The reigning World Rugby Player of the Year heads to his third World Cup having featured in only one of four of Ireland’s warm-up matches because of injury.

Last week, the influential fly-half returned during the victory against Wales to win his 84th cap in the number 10 jersey. Sexton trails only the man he displaced at fly-half, Ronan O’Gara, as Ireland’s all-time points scorer, with 770. O’Gara scored 1,083 international points.

Sexton is joined by Munster’s Conor Murray in forming an experienced half-back partnership under head coach Joe Schmidt.

New Zealand’s fly-half Beauden Barrett has struggled with his kicking game. Photo: AFP / Juan Mabromata

Beauden Barrett | New Zealand

The 28-year-old was a world champion four years ago and travels to Japan along with brothers Scott and Jordie after a difficult few months.

Barrett, a former two-time World Rugby Player of the Year, has been moved to full-back by head coach Steve Hansen to accommodate Richie Mo’unga in the number 10 shirt and deal with an injury to Damian McKenzie.

Despite persistent doubts about the accuracy of his goal-kicking, Barrett’s talent and speed in open play, especially on the counter-attack, make him one of the most dangerous players in the world.

Leone Nakarawa is known as ‘The Octopus’ in the Fiji camp as he fends off a tackle. Photo: AFP / Thierry Breton

Leone Nakarawa | Fiji

Known as ‘The ‘Octopus,’ he is one of four Fiji squad members at the World Cup who won a gold medal at the Rio Olympics in 2016.

The Racing 92 second-row stands 1.98 meters (6 feet 5 inches) tall. His ability to use his long arms to off-load the ball can be almost undefendable. His reach also means he is dangerous disrupting opposition ball high in the air at lineouts as well as during driving mauls.

With 59 caps, the 31-year-old Nakarawa is one behind Campese Ma’afu as the Pacific Islanders most experienced player heading to Japan.

Siya Kolisi, right, stands out as a powerful ball carrier for a resurgent South Africa. Photo: AFP / Christiaan Kotze

Siya Kolisi | South Africa

South Africa’s first black Test captain will look to follow in the footsteps of Francois Pienaar and Jon Smit by guiding the Springboks to a World Cup title.

The Stormers flanker, who wears the same number six as Pienaar did in 1995, has been a key part of the Rassie Erasmus-led turnaround of the national team after pitiful defeats to Italy and Wales in the space of seven days in November 2016.

Kolisi missed the last-gasp draw with world champions New Zealand in June but was at his all-encompassing best in the victory against the All Blacks last September, a side they will face again in Japan in their opening pool match.

A lot of his most important work is done in the shadows but he stands out as a ball-carrier an abrasive forward pack.

Jordan Petaia, right, has a strong defensive game to go with his attacking flair as he wraps up flanker Michael Leitch. Photo: AFP / Martin Bureau

Jordan Petaia | Australia

The uncapped 19-year-old has had his Test debut delayed since early August because of continuing fitness problems but could become the Wallabies’ youngster World Cup player.

Although he is not a direct replacement, Petaia’s power and threatening running give Australia another option as he deals with the loss of sacked Israel Folau.

If he stays fit, he will compete with a wealth of quality for a starting spot in the Aussie backline. His international bow will most likely come against Uruguay or Georgia in the final two pool matches.


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