It’s one thing to marvel at the skills of Dan Carter or Quade Cooper, but another entirely to get behind a battling side that desperately need your support. And, should they somehow get it together and cause an upset, it will be one of the highlights of the tournament.
So, setting aside the southern hemisphere heavyweights and the usual Six Nations suspects, who are the lesser lights worth adopting as your second side?

Argentina: Something to prove
It seemed like forever that Los Pumas scrapped relentlessly against the odds, never really being taken seriously by the IRB. However, after beating the French to third place in 2007, the world took notice and now Argentina has been given more annual tests and inclusion in to the southern hemisphere’s expanded Four Nations. They bring a warrior instinct and are led by their main man, centre Felippe Conteponi, a qualified and practising doctor who speaks fluent English, French and Spanish.

Canada: Hard to hate Canadians
Considering the Canadian team don’t even have a permanent home ground, they do well to compete as fiercely as they do. They’re coached by former All Black fullback Kieran Crowley and captained by hooker Pat O’Riodan, who, when he’s not playing rugby, works as a carpenter. The Canucks won’t do well, but you can’t dislike Canada in the way you can the French or the English, so they’ll have plenty of support from the New Zealand crowds.

Fiji: Electric Islanders
The flying Fijians play an exhilarating, carefree brand of rugby and have traditionally been the strongest of the Pacific Island nations. Fiji is mad about its rugby, with 80,000 registered players among a population of about 900,000. They would be far more competitive if their players, like All Blacks Joe Rokocoko, Sitiveni Sivivatu and one-time Wallabies rep Lote Tuqiri, weren’t poached so regularly by Australia and New Zealand.

Georgia: The tractor factor
The Georgians’ peculiar nickname, the Lelos, comes from an old Georgian folk sport called lelo burti, which translates roughly to ‘field ball’. It was a brutal sport played between nearby villages without a set number of players per team. Sometimes, the field of play would have a stream running through it, playing havoc with sides’ kicking games. When a more standardised version of rugby was adopted, the Georgians practised with scrum machines made out of old Soviet tractors.

Italy: Il Bel Gioco – The Beautiful Game
Coached by former South African coach Nick Mallett, Italy come into the World Cup carrying the scalp of France, courtesy of a 22-21 win in Rome in March. But once their star, former Australian league player Craig Gower, was ruled out with injury, Italy lost any chance of causing an upset. Still, their attractive female fans in the stands provide a small reason to tune in to an Italian game.

Japan: The samurai spirit
Having changed their name from the Cherry Blossoms to the more macho (but still not very convincing) Brave Blossoms, the Japanese play a high-paced, exciting game. All Black great John Kirwan now coaches the Blossoms and his aim has been to get them to play with what he calls the
‘samurai spirit’. He also wants his charges to become the fittest team in world rugby and play a game “that big men don’t like”.

Namibia: Desert battlers
They definitely have the weirdest nickname of any of the side in the World Cup. The team is known as the Welwitschias – a desert plant – after their old nickname, Biltongboere, was phased out because of its racially dicey connotations. Namibia has produced some quality players, such as Springboks star Percy Montgomery, but their small player base has led to some frightful beltings in recent years.

Romania: A rugby revolution

The Oaks have participated at every World Cup and are considered the strongest side in Europe outside the Six Natons. When Romanian rugby was on the up in the Eighties, they notched wins over France, Wales and Scotland. But the fall of the Soviet Union devastated the sport – the two leading clubs, which represented the army and the police, both went under. And, in the 1989 revolution, several leading players lost their lives.

Russia: Where’s Ivan Drago when you need him?
The Russians, also known as the Bears, are playing in their first World Cup and are likely in for a rugged welcome – pool matches against Ireland and Australia loom as real blow-outs. The Bears have a couple of players running around in the French league and the Guinness Premiership, as well as Melbourne Rebels lock Adam Byrnes, who is eligible because of his Russian ancestry. The dressing-room chit-chat must be absolutely scintillating.

Samoa: Polynesian flair
The most exciting of the “minnows”, Manu Samoa, on their day, are giant-killers. This year, the hard-hitting, fast-running Polynesians will have their tails up against South Africa and Wales after their early-season win against Australia. Keep an eye out for number 10 Tasea Lavea, who played NRL for the Melbourne Storm and represented New Zealand at rugby league before switching back to union and playing for the Blues and Chiefs in New Zealand.

Tonga: Ready to rumble
The Tongans’ pride in belting opponents may worry rival coaches into resting their stars, thereby giving Tonga more room to throw the ball around and potentially notch an upset. Their star is the afro-wearing flanker Finau Maka, who was prevented from dying his hair green, the colour of team sponsor Paddy Power, by the IRB in 2007. Also, keep an eye out for the Kailao – the Tongan war-dance, which the team performs before each match.

US: Without a paddle
The Eagles are coached by Eddie O’Sullivan, Ireland’s most successful coach of the modern era. America are also bolstered by a stack of ring-ins and some handy players from American Samoa. However, they almost forfeited the support of the locals in Wanganui after initially shunning an invitation to be paddled down thelocal river in waka – traditional Maori canoes. After a period of bad publicity, they did backflip on their concerns about safety – but so much for the home of the brave.
One wonders how safe they’ll be with the likes of Australia’s 1.97m, 111kg forward Radike Samo bearing down on them in pool play.