With only days until Women's Rugby World Cup 2010 kicks off
on Friday, we select a player to watch for each of the 12
participating teams, starting with the Pool A sides - defending
champions New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Wales.
AUSTRALIA: DEBBY HODGKINSON
Debby Hodgkinson has a long way to go to better the year she enjoyed in 2009, having collected every major honour in Women's Rugby, including the IRB Women's Personality of the Year award she was presented with on the day Australia qualified for Women's Rugby World Cup 2010 by beating Samoa 87-0.
The inspirational number 8 had already caught the eye at the inaugural Women's Rugby World Cup Sevens in Dubai, starting all matches and scoring seven tries, including one in a dramatic sudden-death extra-time defeat of New Zealand in the final. She was duly named Player of the Tournament and later added the Australian Women's and Sevens Player - man or woman - of the Year awards at the John Eales Medal dinner.
Labelled a 'special character' by her teammate Cheryl Soon, Hodgkinson is one of a select band of Wallaroos hoping to create another piece of history by uniting the 15-a-side and Sevens World Cups for the first time.
The 29-year-old, who was born in the north of England before moving to Western Australia as a child, began her career on the wing before moving to anchor the scrum, where her blistering runs and strong offloading enable her to unlock defences.
A Wallaroo since 2002, Hodgkinson carries an unusual nickname of Zon, which she earned after being shortlisted on the TV show Gladiators.
NEW ZEALAND: CARLA HOHEPA
A proven try scorer with deceptively quick feet and exceptional vision, Carla Hohepa was one of the stars of last year's inaugural Women's Rugby World Cup Sevens competition in the Dubai desert.
The flying wing helped New Zealand reach the final, where they suffered a heartbreaking sudden death extra time loss to Australia, and ended the tournament as the leading try scorer with nine. She was later nominated for the New Zealand's Sevens Player of the Year accolade.
Hohepa's try scoring exploits are not only limited to Sevens, the just turned 25-year-old having also played touch and 15-a-side rugby for New Zealand, making her Black Ferns debut in the latter against Australia back in 2007.
A teacher by trade, Hohepa was a member of the Black Ferns squad who travelled to England for a three-match tour last November, the wing scoring two tries against England A in a 48-3 victory and also starting both tests, including the 10-3 loss at Twickenham.
SOUTH AFRICA: MANDISA WILLIAMS
With a rugby loving father it was perhaps inevitable that Mandisa Williams would develop his passion for the game, having been taken to matches by him from the age of 10 and started playing when he formed a women's team five years later.
Her talent quickly spotted by the Border provincial team, Williams has been on an upward curve ever since and made the inevitable step up to the national side, representing South Africa on their Women's Rugby World Cup debut in Canada in 2006 and at last year's RWC Sevens in Dubai.
A powerful flanker, Williams has grown as a player and captain over the last few months, leading South Africa to their first away test wins. The 25-year-old takes her rugby very seriously, never putting in a bad performance and proving an inspirational figure to her teammates as she invariably walks away with player of the match accolades.
South Africa coach Denver Wannies is under no illusions as to importance of his captain, admitting "she brings calmness to the players that is making it easier for them to play their game. She is the direct opposite of what I am coming with and that is why I believe we are such a good combination."
WALES: NON EVANS
Most players would be content just to represent their country at the Women's Rugby World Cup this autumn, but not Non Evans who just three weeks after the tournament ends will be heading to India as Wales' wrestling team captain for the Commonwealth Games.
Evans only took up wrestling after the Six Nations when invited to give it a try by her former judo coach, but with her judo background has proven a natural and will compete in the Under 55kg Olympic freestyle category in Delhi to set another milestone, having already become the first to compete in two different sports - judo and weightlifting - at the same Games back in 2002.
The 36-year-old is no slouch on the rugby pitch either, having amassed 84 caps since making her Wales debut in 1996. With her diminutive but powerful frame, the full back is a deadly finisher with ball in hand and has scored 64 test tries to equal David Campese's mark and sit only five behind world record holder Daisuke Ohata of Japan.
A bubbly character who is also an accurate goal kicker, Evans has overcome a recent knee ligament injury to play in her second World Cup after missing the 2002 tournament to focus on her Commonwealth Games double.
Look out for the Players to Watch from Pools B and C over the next two days.
- Non Evans: Wales Women in best shape ever »
- Black Ferns star Rule to miss World Cup »
- Cheryl Soon: Chomping at bit for World Cup »
- Kristy Giteau: Wallaroos inspired by Sevens »
- Denver Wannies: SA hungry and ready to go »
- Steely Wallaroos eye rare World Cup double »
- Black Ferns name experienced World Cup squad »