No player ever forgets their first cap for their country, let alone when it comes on the game’s greatest stage – at a Rugby World Cup.
For those rookies fortunate enough to get picked for a Rugby World Cup squad while still uncapped, there is no blooding in period, it is straight into the cauldron.
More than 200 players have made their test bows in such circumstances since the first Rugby World Cup in 1987, with over half of them spanning the three tournaments that came during the amateur era.
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When you look back in time, some of rugby’s legends have begun their stellar careers at this level, including a number of Rugby World Cup winners.
From New Zealand, there are the likes of back-row forwards Michael Jones and Zinzan Brooke, members of the first squad to lift the Webb Ellis Cup, while Australian fans first saw the sight of winger Joe Roff in gold and green in South Africa in 1995, four years before he went on to collect a winner’s medal.
England’s 2003 champion Joe Worsley is another who first got to know what it feels like to play test rugby at a Rugby World Cup when he faced Tonga in 1999.
Legends of the game began at the top
Other notable Rugby World Cup rookies include Va’inga Tuigamala, who made his debut for New Zealand in 1991 before going on to play for Samoa, fellow All Blacks Frank Bunce, Richard Loe, John Gallagher and Norm Hewitt, while from the Home Nations, some of the standouts include Wales duo, Gareth Thomas and Ken Owens, Ireland’s long-serving centre Gordon D’Arcy and Scotland points machine, Chris Paterson.
Most debuts were handed out in the pool phase but for some, they came in the biggest of matches.
Wales’ no-nonsense flanker, Richard Webster won his first cap in the bronze final against Australia in 1987, for example. But no one can touch France’s Jean-Marc Doussain for the grandest of entries.
Doussain, one of those typically versatile French half-backs, was brought into Les Bleus’ squad during RWC 2011 – only months after playing in the World Rugby U20 Championship in Italy – once David Skrela suffered a tournament-ending injury.
Having quietly bided his time for an opportunity, Doussain finally got the nod with five minutes of the tournament remaining as Les Bleus vainly attempted to overturn a one-point deficit in the nerve-jangling final against the All Blacks.
Since professionalism, Rugby World Cup debutants have become few and far between as the proliferation of warm-up matches and increased preparation time allow coaches more opportunities to look at players before the big event begins.
Select bad of debutants in Japan
As such, only four players were handed their first caps at the last tournament in Japan – Australia’s Jordan Petaia (Australia) and Joaquin Jaunsolo (Uruguay), when the sides met in Ōita in Pool D, and France’s Pierre-Louis Barassi (v Tonga) and Namibia’s PJ Walters (v Italy).
Tonga are the least afraid of all the 25 nations to have competed at a Rugby World Cup to give uncapped players their big moment, the ‘Ikale Tahi accounting for roughly 10 per cent of the overall figure, while the numbers are inflated somewhat by Zimbabwe giving a glut of players their test debuts during their two tournament appearances in 1987 and 1991. New Zealand and Wales, too, are high up on the list.
The ‘Ikale Tahi look set to add to their large contingent of Rugby World Cup debutants following the inclusion of former Wallaby second-row Adam Coleman in their 33-man squad for France 2023.
The full list of uncapped players who’ve made it to RWC 2023 is as follows: Oela Blaauw (Namibia), Adam Coleman (Tonga), Sione Halasili (Japan), Max Jorgensen (Australia), Ben Lam (Samoa) and Benjamín Videla (Chile).
Wallabies bolter Jorgensen, just 18 years of age, has recovered from a knee injury just in time to make the cut. The full-back is the son of Peter Jorgensen, a team-mate of Eddie Jones at Randwick, who won two Wallaby caps – eight months after they won Rugby World Cup 1991.
Our Rugby World Cup Rookie Dream Team: John Gallagher (NZL); Gareth Thomas (WAL), Frank Bunce (NZL), Gordon D’Arcy (IRE), Va’inga Tuigamala (NZL); Chris Paterson (SCO), Jean-Marc Doussain (FRA); Paul Wallace (IRE), Norm Hewitt (NZL), Richard Loe (NZL), Willie Los'e (TGA), Bob Casey (IRE), Schalk Burger (RSA), Michael Jones (NZL), Zinzan Brooke (NZL)