Mixing it with the big boys
November 25, 2010
Namibia's Jacques Burger puts boot to ball against Romania at the IRB Nations Cup in 2007 © Getty Images
With Fiji and Samoa currently ruffling feathers up north we've taken time out to compile a list of some of our favourite players from outside of rugby's top table in our latest Scrum Seven.
Jacques Burger - Namibia
Saracens flanker Burger is every bit as rugged as the landscape that he plans to call home once his playing days are over. The owner of a 14,000 acre farm in Stampriet, southern Namibia, Burger has his eyes on a life of graft in an unspoilt wilderness. For now however his food and drink is the Premiership, where he has been head and shoulders above almost every other back-row operator so far this season. Quick, ruthless and fearless on the floor, he is a terrifying prospect at openside and bristles with enough physicality to cause plenty of damage when handed the No.6 jersey. To date the former Griquas and Bulls flank has 25 caps for Namibia and led them to a surprise triumph in the IRB Nations Cup back in June. He will be right in the firing line in New Zealand in 10 months time and his boss at Saracens, Brendan Venter, thinks he will do just fine. "I cannot tell you how brilliant the guy is," he said. "If I had 15 of him, rugby would be the easiest game in the world."
Takudzwa Ngwenya - United States of America
A darling of YouTube, Ngwenya announced his talents to the world by leaving the rapid Bryan Habana trailing in his wake during the USA's heavy loss to South Africa at the 2007 Rugby World Cup. Born in Harare, Zimbabwe, Ngwenya graduated through the High School ranks in the States after learning his trade with the Mashonaland Club. He eventually came to the attention of the national selectors at Sevens level following time in a Texan selection. Timed at 10.5 seconds for the 100 metres, his try against the Boks, whom he has supported since his youth, helped win a contract with Top 14 giants Biarritz. He added another notable scalp to his collection in 2010 - searing his way past the Ospreys' Shane Williams to score in a Heineken Cup quarter-final.
Tim Visser - Netherlands
Edinburgh's 'Flying Dutchman', Visser had a major impact on the Magners League after heading further north from Newcastle in 2009. The rangy wing scored 10 tries in his debut season in the Scottish capital and is listed as the Netherlands' sole professional rugby player. His father, Marc, captained the country's national side for 15 years on his way to 67 caps but his son has his heart set on pulling on a blue Scotland jersey in the future after setting his sights on qualifying through residency.
Seilala Mapusua - Samoa
A midfield maestro, Mapusua has termed his decision to declare for Samoa as the best of his rugby career. Born in Moto'otua, he progressed through the New Zealand age grades with such luminaries as Richie McCaw and Mils Muliaina, also turning out for Otago and the Highlanders. The chance to play at a Rugby World Cup in 2007 drew his eye and he has since played 23 Tests, also winning the prestigious award as the Premiership's Player of the Season after signing for London Irish. On his country's recent tour to the northern hemisphere he has been a vocal advocate for further support, challenging tier one nations to take on the Islanders in their own back yard.
Napolioni Nalaga - Fiji
Nalaga has become known across Europe as one of the game's most dangerous finishers during his time with French heavyweights Clermont Auvergne. A giant figure, he boasts the classic Fijian combination of pace and power and has consistently produced the goods for Les Jaunards, if not for his country. A player apparently beset by the difficulties facing Fiji in terms of scheduling, or perhaps their embarrassment of riches in terms of big, fast wings, he has won only three caps since making his debut in 2008. His most recent cap came against France but his in-goal howler following a missed penalty attempt gifted five points to the home side and saw him dropped. Fiji would do well to look again as he could make serious inroads at the World Cup next year and is playing at the sharp end both domestically and in Europe.
Jamie Cudmore - Canada
We make no bones about it here at ESPNscrum. We love Jamie Cudmore. A brawling, dangerous player, he perfectly captures the rugged nature of the best Canadian forwards and has been mixing it with some nefarious characters in the Top 14 for some time. After escaping a life of crime back home (he was described in one newspaper profile as 'a collection agent working for drug dealers during his trouble-filled youth in Squamish, B.C') Cudmore has enjoyed success on the domestic stage with Clermont, helping them to the Top 14 title, as well as winning 19 caps for Canada, his last in 2007. "When things could've gone really bad, rugby caught my interest and I really stuck with it," Cudmore told the Toronto Star prior to the last World Cup. "The sport brought me, maybe off the streets where we'd be fighting, into putting in a good effort in the rugby field where you're kind of rewarded for that rough behaviour instead of in trouble with the law." He may have avoided the law, but the citing commissioners have been kept pretty busy over the years.
Stan Wright - Cook Islands
Born on the most populous of the Cook Islands, Rarotonga, the Leinster prop has become a crowd favourite in Dublin. Adept on either side of the scrummage, the former Northland and Blues representative has won four Test caps for his country but upped sticks for Ireland for the 2006-07 season, making his debut against Agen in the Heineken Cup. A rampaging presence in the loose, his absence from the Leinster team in 2010-11 due to a ruptured Achilles was greeted with dismay and prompted a scramble to find adequate cover.
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