Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (not pictured) points to the Webb Ellis Cup during a courtesy call by World Rugby officials as part of the trophy tour ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, at Abe's official residence in Tokyo, Japan, on September 12, 2019. Picture: REUTERS/ISSEI KATO
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (not pictured) points to the Webb Ellis Cup during a courtesy call by World Rugby officials as part of the trophy tour ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, at Abe's official residence in Tokyo, Japan, on September 12, 2019. Picture: REUTERS/ISSEI KATO

The Rugby World Cup has long been a stage for young talent to impose itself on the international stage, but it also remains the ultimate theatre for the great actors of the game to lap up the plaudits of the audience and take their final curtain call.

The 2019 edition will be no different as a number of great players of the recent past and present take their leave.

Here is a look at five of the very best.

Rory Best: Age 37. Debut: v New Zealand at Lansdowne Road, November 12, 2005 Caps/tries (as of September 12): 119/10

Rory Best. Picture: AFP/PAUL FAITH
Rory Best. Picture: AFP/PAUL FAITH

It is almost inconceivable to think of an Ireland side without Best. The Ulsterman made his debut as a replacement against the All Blacks back in 2005 and has been at the forefront with coach Joe Schmidt, who is also stepping down after the tournament, of the Celtic Revival.

The 37-year-old Best has always been an all-action hooker in the mould of the great Keith Wood and he has helped to drive Ireland to the top of the world rankings.

Career highlight: Captaining Ireland to two wins over the All Blacks would be enough to check most players into a Hall of Fame, but Best reserves his finest moment for leading the Irish to the Six Nations Grand Slam in 2018.

“To win something as captain in that special green jersey, it’s something that dreams are made of,” he said.

Tendai Mtawarira. Age: 34. Debut: v Wales, Pretoria, June 14, 2008. Caps/tries: 111/2

Tendai Mtawarira. Picture: GAVIN BARKER/ BACKPAGEPIX
Tendai Mtawarira. Picture: GAVIN BARKER/ BACKPAGEPIX

It is not official yet but this is certain to be the last time that the world sees The Beast wearing a Springbok jersey. Since making his debut in 2008, the Zimbabwe-born prop, weighing in around the 120kg mark, has become a fixture in the Springbok front row and a symbol for the changing nature of the game within SA.

He has been hit by injury of late and may be used off the bench but, as one of the world’s top scrummagers, he will be a key component in SA’s bid for a third World Cup triumph.

Career highlight: Some might suggest the first Test against the British and Irish Lions in 2009 when he dominated Phil Vickery to such an extent that the experienced Englishman was substituted after 45 minutes.

The Beast, though, has his sights set higher. “Winning the World Cup will be a highlight of my career and being part of a successful World Cup-winning team will mean everything,” he says.

Sergio Parisse. Age: 36. Debut: vs New Zealand, Hamilton, June 8, 2002. Caps/tries (as of September 9): 140/16

Sergio Parisse. File photo: AFP/VINCENZO PINTO
Sergio Parisse. File photo: AFP/VINCENZO PINTO

Heading into his fifth World Cup, the Argentina-born Parisse made his debut as an 18-year-old and has been an integral part of every Italy side since then.

Almost 2m tall, Parisse set up shop at Stade Francais, leaving in the summer after 14 years with the Parisians. He had all the physical attributes for a top No 8 but his handling and passing skills elevated him to the top tier in the game.

Career highlight: Playing for Italy has not been a bed of roses but the quality of his performances has been recognised with two nominations as World Player of the Year, missing out in 2008 to Shane Williams and in 2013 to Kieran Read.

David Pocock. Age: 31. Debut: v New Zealand, Hong Kong, November 1, 2008. Caps/tries: 77/9

David Pocock. File photo: AFP/MIGUEL MEDINA
David Pocock. File photo: AFP/MIGUEL MEDINA

Pocock’s season has been hampered by a torn calf muscle that restricted his appearances for the Brumbies. Whether that played a part in his decision to call time on his international career remains to be seen but certainly the Wallaby captain will be looking to go out on a high.

A ranging flanker with a nose for loose ball, Pocock played an important role in the 2015 campaign and has offered the Australians true leadership on and off the field.

Career highlight: The Zimbabwe-born Pocock has enjoyed some great moments on the field but he might argue that the tougher battles have been conducted off the field.

A committed environment and civil rights activist, Pocock has campaigned against homophobia and was arrested in 2014 for chaining himself to a digger in a protest against a coal mine being opened in a forest in New South Wales.

Kieran Read. Age: 33. Debut: v Scotland, Murrayfield, November 8, 2008 Caps/tries: 121/25

Kieran Read. Picture: AFP/GREG BOWKER
Kieran Read. Picture: AFP/GREG BOWKER

There are not too many men in the world who can show off a World Cup winners medal. Fewer still is the number that have two — just 20 in fact, 14 of them New Zealanders.

Read was a member of Richie McCaw’s side that won the title in 2011, was named World Player of the Year in 2013 and then captained the All Blacks to a second successive World Cup victory in 2015.

At the peak of his game, he was the best No 8 in the world, never flashy but always inspiring and always in the right place.

Career highlight: Lifting the Webb Ellis trophy at Twickenham after his side held off an Australian fightback in the 2015 final. AFP

The 2019 Rugby World Cup begins on Friday, September 20 2019, in Japan. The Boks have been training relentlessly towards this World Cup and arrived in Japan with high hopes. SA will be battling it out with New Zealand in their first game on September 21 2019 with their second game against fellow African team Namibia on September 28 2019.