Rugby World Cup 2019: Who to follow on Twitter, Instagram in Japan

With an online generation finding new ways to follow current events, social media looms as an important tool to track the 2019 Rugby World Cup. 

Sports stars have been quick to embrace the worldwide web to promote their own brands, and often the best and quickest way of digesting news is straight from the horse's mouth.

Twitter and Instagram have become popular outlets for the world's top rugby players, who provide their own personal take on events, as well as providing insights into their behind-the-scenes preparations for the Japan tournament.

Many have transcended into the realms of 'online influencers', offering more than just commentary on rugby events, so you can be sure newsrooms around the planet will be monitoring their every tweet and post with interest.

Some of the most popular are current players, while others are retired, but maintain their profile through media roles. There's even a referee among our top 20. 

Three of the top 10 are All Blacks - including the top two - but while they command impressive fanbases, their online communities pale by comparison with the world's most prolific poster - Portugese football star Cristiano Ronaldo has more than 200 million followers.

10. Sam Warburton (Wales) 541,700

Twitter (@samwarburton): 413,700
Instagram (@samwarbs): 128,000

The former Wales and Lions captain played 74 times for his country and retired last year. Warburton is now a rugby columnist and commentator, and has just released an autobiography, which will no doubt feature prominently over coming weeks.

Sam Warburton leads the Lions onto the field
Sam Warburton leads the Lions onto the field. Photo credit: Getty

His red card against France in the 2011 semi-finals probably cost Wales a title shot against the All Blacks.

9. Beauden Barrett (New Zealand) 553,000

Twitter (@heaudenbarrett): 97,000
Instagram (@beaudenbarrett): 456,000

Despite an anemic Twitter following - only Nick 'Honey Badger' Cummins' is smaller among the top 30 - the All Blacks first-five has been a big improver over recent months, as the World Cup approaches. 

His Instagram account undoubtedly got a boost from his January wedding and worldwide honeymoon tour with new bride Hannah Laity, and his relationship with Red Bull.

8. Tommy Bowe (Ireland) 581,500

Twitter (@tommybowe): 423,500
Instagram (@tommybowe): 158,000 

The former 69-cap Ireland winger retired in 2017, after scoring 30 tries, and attending the 2011 and 2015 World Cups.    

Irish wing Tommy Bowe
Former Irish wing Tommy Bowe. Photo credit: Reuters.

These days, he's a rugby presenter on EirSport, while driving his own clothing (XVKings) and shoe (Lloyd&Pryce) labels.

7. Bryan Habana (South Africa) 605,600

Twitter (@bryanhabana): 457,600
Instagram (@bryanhabana): 148,000

The former Springboks wing played 124 tests, scoring 67 tries, before retiring in 2016. He attended three World Cups, culminating in the loss to New Zealand in the 2015 semis.

Springboks wing Bryan Habana
Former Springboks wing Bryan Habana. Photo credit: Getty

Habana is an ambassador for the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, adidas and FoodForward.

6. George North (Wales) 630,800

Twitter (@george_north): 436,800
Instagram (@george_north): 194,000

North will attend his third Rugby World Cup, after helping Wales to the 2011 semis. He's played 86 times for his country, but tore a hamstring and was sent home early from the 2017 Lions tour of New Zealand.

Wales wing George North rises high
Wales wing George North rises high. Photo credit: Reuters.

He's an ambassador for adidas, Land Rover, and MaxiMuscle and Nocco sports nutrition. 

5. Leigh Halfpenny (Wales) 678,100

Twitter (@leighhalfpenny1): 442,100
Instagram (@leighhalfpenny): 236,000

Wales matches New Zealand's contingent inside the top 10, with Halfpenny topping their representation. He's played 82 times for his country and missed a 47m penalty that would have carried them into the 2011 World Cup final against the All Blacks.

Leigh Halfpenny kicks for goal for Wales
Leigh Halfpenny kicks for goal for Wales. Photo credit: Reuters.

An ambassador for Under Armour and Land Rover, and a patron for breast cancer and sick-children charities.

4. Quade Cooper (Australia) 773,200

Twitter (@QuadeCooper): 350,200
Instagram (@QuadeCooper): 424,000

The NZ-born Aussie that Kiwis love to hate, Cooper couldn't quite make the Wallabies again, after playing the last two World Cups. He's in Japan though, so he's bound to have his own perspective on events.

quade cooper
Former Wallabies first-five Quade Cooper. Photo credit: AAP

Has the most balanced social-media portfolio across Twitter and Instagram accounts.

3. Brian O'Driscoll (Ireland) 1,279,400

Twitter (@brianodriscoll): 972,400
Instagram (@brianodriscoll): 307,000

Revered former Ireland and Lions captain played 133 times for his country, including at three World Cups. He was notoriously inured out of the 2005 Lions tour of New Zealand, after a spear tackle dislocated his shoulder.

Former Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll
Former Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll. Photo credit: Reuters.

O'Driscoll is now a rugby commentator and owns his own rugby app, Ultimate Rugby. Has more Twitter followers than any other rugby player.

2. Dan Carter (New Zealand) 1,545,600

Twitter (@dancarter): 624,600
Instagram (@dancarter): 921,000

The former All Blacks first-five played 112 times for his country, including three World Cups, and is the leading pointscorer in test rugby. Nearing the end of his career with Kobelco Steelers in Japan.

Carter is the nearest thing to a rugby rock star, with a diverse range of celebrity friends, and has just released an autobiographical movie A Perfect 10. He leads rugby players in Instagram followers.

dan carter
Former All Blacks first-five Dan Carter. Photo credit: Getty

1. Sonny Bill Williams (New Zealand) 1,622,300

Twitter (@sonnybwilliams): 851,000
Instagram (@sonnybillwilliams): 771,000

Plays to a cross-code audience - rugby, league and boxing - while also winning followers with the religion card. He's been the biggest improver among rugby's elite social media stars, after supporting the Christchurch mosque shooting victims. 

SBW is attending his third Rugby World Cup and the world will be waiting with bated breath for news of his next career move after the tournament.  

Next best…

Nick Cummins (Australia) 532,500
Twitter (@nckcmmns): 65,800
Instagram (@nickbadger): 467,000

Rob Kearney (Ireland) 525,800
Twitter (@kearneyrob): 343,800
Instagram (@robkearney): 182,000

Israel Folau (Australia) 496,000
Twitter (@izzyfolau): 135,500
Instagram (@izzyfolau): 361,000

Wallabies wing Israel Folau
Former Wallabies wing Israel Folau. Photo credit: AAP

James Haskell (England) 485,000
Twitter (@jameshaskell): 179,000
Instagram (@jameshask): 306,000

Paul O'Connell (Ireland) 473,000
Twitter (@paul_oconnell): 350,000
Instagram (@paul_o_connell5): 123,000

Jamie Roberts (Wales) 471,200
Twitter (@jamiehusroberts): 361,200
Instagram (@jamiehusroberts): 110,000

Cian Healy (Ireland) 464,000
Twitter (@properchurch): 322,000
Instagram (@properchurch): 142,000 

Welsh referee Nigel Owens.
Welsh referee Nigel Owens. Photo credit: AAP

Nigel Owens (Wales) 454,400
Twitter (@nigelrefowens): 358,600
Instagram (@nigelrefowens): 95,800

Owen Farrell (England) 450,600
Twitter (@owen_faz): 190,600
Instagram (@owen_faz): 260,000

James Heaslip (Ireland) 429,100
Twitter (@jamieheaslip): 280,100
Instagram (@jamieheaslip): 149,000

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