ESPN name the best 25 players at the Rugby World Cup in Japan

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The 2019 Rugby World Cup kicks off in earnest on Friday in Tokyo, Japan.

New Zealand will be looking to clinch a third successive World Cup, whilst the likes of Australia, England and Wales will be out to release the All Blacks’ stranglehold on the Webb Ellis Cup.

Ahead of the tournament, here are the 25 best players at the tournament, according to ESPN.

25-21

The first of two Fijians Peceli Yato edges his way into the list on a count of his power and dynamism behind the first Home Nations player: Stuart Hogg, at 24.

At 23 and 22 is a pair of Australian flankers. David Pocock and Michael Hooper, the latter of which will surely earn his 100th cap at the tournament.

Finn Russell of Scotland misses the top 20, the highlight of his international career being the scintillating Six Nations comeback against England back in March.

20-16

Jonathan Davies scrapes into the top 20 and, the man of the series award winner in the Lions’ 2017 tour, will be hungry for success in Japan after missing out on the 2015 World Cup.

Antoine Dupont of France and Viliame Mata of Fiji make 19 and 18 respectively. At 17 is Irish winger Jacob Stockdale, who burst onto the international scene with seven tries in his first Six Nations tie.

Just missing out on the top 15 is Cheslin Kolbe of South Africa. Despite playing just one season in France, Kolbe was selected by the Springboks and is truly thrilling on the wing.

15-11

Scrambling for the top 10 is a sandwich of All Blacks and Springboks.

In for New Zealand at 15 and 13 respectively are fly-half Richie Mo’unga and winger Rieko Ioane. Mo’unga earned his inaugural cap last June with his sights on the number 10 jersey, whilst Rieko Ioane’s record of 23 tries in 26 internationals at just 22 years of age speaks for itself.

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Malcolm Marx at 14th and Handre Pollard in 12th, miss out on the top 10 for South Africa. Marx has been the Springboks’ first-choice hooker since 2017, whilst Polland, set for Montpellier, has an obvious magic touch with his feet.

Narrowly missing out on the top 10, is Johnny Sexton. The Leinster fly-half has scored almost 1,500 points in his two tenures at the club and 765 points for his country.

10-6

The first, but by no means the last, Englishman on the list is Billy Vunipola at 10th. The Saracens number 8 is joined by brother Mako in 8th, who should be fit for the opener against Tonga despite a troublesome hamstring injury.

A third Englishman is at 7, Maro Itoje, a potential future England captain and aged just 24. He already lays claim to four Premiership titles, three European Cups and two Six Nations titles.

Rounding off the bottom half of the top 10 is the peerless Irish prop Tadhg Furlong at 6, as well as the ever-versatile All Black Ardie Savea at 9.

Ireland v France - Guinness Six Nations

5-1

The top 5 kicks off with the downright aggressive in South African scrum-half Faf de Klerk, an absolute menace for Sale Sharks and fourth-placed Owen Farrell, whose country’s hopes rest on the fly-half’s kicks.

At 3 is a Welsh and Ospreys legend: Alun Wyn Jones. Jones will be appearing at his fourth World Cup and he’s earned three Grand Slams in 13 years.

The top 2 is rounded off by the as-to-be-expected All Blacks double act.

In second place is the Chiefs’ Brodie Retallick. The lock makes the list despite dislocating his shoulder in July, and his teammate in pole position is, inevitably, Beauden Barrett.

Richie Mo’unga, previously mentioned, might be chipping away at his number 10 jersey, but the 2016 and 2017 World Rugby Player of the Year will be vying for a second World Cup in Japan.

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