The 2019 Rugby World Cup has been a triumph for World Rugby and the people of Japan, and we have put together our XV of the tournament from an exhilarating month and a half of rugby.
South Africa lifted their 3rd title and are understandably well-represented, as are losing finalists England, who had looked like the form team in the competition prior to being handed a lesson in knockout rugby by the Springboks in Yokohama.
Hosts Japan and fellow tier two nation Fiji are also among those who feature in this selection, as tier one’s stranglehold on the knockout rounds was relinquished thanks to the Brave Blossoms’ inspiring wins over Scotland and Ireland. Take a look at the XV below.
- Beauden Barrett, New Zealand
People were understandably sceptical when Barrett was moved to full-back so close to the Rugby World Cup, although Steve Hansen was rewarded with a number of standout displays from the former fly-half. You could have tossed a coin between him and Wales’ Liam Williams, whilst Ryohei Yamanaka also had his moments, but it was the New Zealander who got our vote. It will be interesting to see how the All Blacks use Barrett moving forward, particularly when Damian McKenzie returns to fitness.
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- Kotaro Matsushima, Japan
Honourable mentions here for Anthony Watson and Cheslin Kolbe, but we’ve gone for one of the genuine x-factor players in the hosts’ side. Matsushima lit up the pool stage from day one against Russia and was the perfect threat on the outside to make the most of Japan’s high tempo and desire to play with width. At just 26 years of age, he should be an integral member of the team over the next cycle and at the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
- Semi Radradra, Fiji
The Fijian was a silver lining in a tournament that didn’t quite go to plan for the islanders, as they fell to defeat to Australia, Wales and even Uruguay, in what was one of the more memorable games over the last month and a half. Radradra’s attacking impact was felt by every team he went up against and there was little they could do to contain it. That was enough to keep him out in front of Manu Tuilagi, Lukhanyo Am and Timothy Lafaele.
- Owen Farrell, England
After a relatively slow start to the tournament against Tonga and the USA, Farrell came into his own in the higher-pressure games against Argentina, Australia and New Zealand. Even against South Africa, when England struggled as a team, he was still executing and making the right decisions, despite being given very little from his half-backs. Jones, or potentially Jones’ successor in a couple of years’ time, needs to make a call on whether he is the team’s fly-half or inside centre, but either way he is front and centre of their development towards the 2023 Rugby World Cup. Australia’s Samu Kerevi and South Africa’s Damian de Allende were also influential.
- Josh Adams, Wales
There are plenty of reasons this spot could go to Jonny May, Makazole Mapimpi or Kenki Fukuoka, but tries win matches and no one scored more tries than Adams. Outside of a horror first 30 minutes against Fiji, the Welsh wing was in excellent form throughout the tournament and has cemented himself into Wayne Pivac’s back three moving forward. Having previously been discarded by the regions and rebuilt his career at Worcester Warriors in England, Adams is a great example for late developers in the game and for them not to give up on their dreams.
- Handré Pollard, South Africa
One of a few contests that came down to the final and the players’ performances in it. Both Pollard and George Ford had good tournaments, though it was the Springbok’s clinical play in the final that edged him ahead of the Leicester Tiger, who struggled to influence the game positively. Pollard didn’t set the tournament alight with expansive play, but he did execute South Africa’s strategy efficiently. One other player worthy of mention is Japan’s Yu Tamura.
- Aaron Smith, New Zealand
Faf de Klerk’s execution of South Africa’s game plan was impressive, as was Ben Youngs’ of England outside of the final, but it was Smith who turned the clock back two or three years in Japan. It was a relatively disappointing tournament for the All Blacks, though Smith’s control, tempo and incision from half-back was close to somewhere near his very best. He was ruthless in the pool and in New Zealand’s quarter-final win over Ireland.
- Tendai Mtawarira, South Africa
This spot was Keita Inagaki’s right up until the final, but there was no denying Mtawarira after the masterclass of scrummaging that he put on in that game. Whilst scrummaging alone is rarely a decisive factor in matches these days, the final definitely bucked that trend and were it not for that early foothold in the game, who knows how the game might have played out. A word, too, for Mako Vunipola, who fought his way back from injury to add plenty in the previous knockout rounds, but this was always a two-horse race between the Beast and Inagaki.
- Mbongeni Mbonambi, South Africa
Another close one, with England’s Jamie George having helped set the bar alongside the South African, a bar which Japan’s Shota Horie also buzzed around. The Springbok was ultra-consistent at the lineout, though, and gave his team the set-piece foundation that they needed to make it all the way to the final and lift the cup. To keep the gargantuan Malcolm Marx on the bench is an extremely impressive feat in itself, too.
- Kyle Sinckler, England
It was a cruel way for Sinckler’s tournament to end, as he left the Yokohama pitch after just two minutes, having seemingly lost consciousness in a tackle. That disappointment aside, though, he was the pick of tighthead props at the tournament. His influence in the loose was colossal at times and his scrummaging, once an area of criticism, improved to the point he was able to achieve parity and even put the New Zealand and Australian scrums under pressure. A word for Frans Malherbe and Tadhg Furlong, too, but it was Sinckler at a canter.
- Maro Itoje, England
Arguably England’s most impressive performer through the group stage, quarter-finals and semi-finals, Itoje didn’t have the final he would have hoped to, but his influence on England’s overall campaign goes beyond question. He has become one of, if not the most potent defensive player on the planet, thanks to his physical tackling, breakdown expertise and ability to disrupt opposition lineouts. James Ryan held up well in a disappointing tournament for Ireland, whilst winning finalist Eben Etzebeth also deserves praise.
- Alun Wyn Jones, Wales
Not just a romantic pick, Jones was a tone-setter and the heartbeat of the Welsh pack in their trip to the 3rd/4th playoff game. It was a game too far for Wales, though their inspirational captain had a strong tournament overall, just nudging him ahead of the likes of Lood de Jager, James Moore and Courtney Lawes. This is almost certainly Jones’ last Rugby World Cup and the veteran lock’s contribution to Welsh rugby will never be able to be overstated.
- Pieter-Steph du Toit, South Africa
After a few years of traditional blindside flankers seeming to go out of vogue in international rugby, there was a lovely riposte from the position at this year’s tournament. We have du Toit leading the way and the Stormer is a strong candidate to lift the World Rugby Player of the Year award, although Tom Curry, Aaron Wainwright and Kazuki Himeno were all also in the mix. The precision and physicality of du Toit was too much to ignore, however, and, excitingly, all four should be back in 2023.
- Sam Underhill, England
Siya Kolisi lifting the Webb Ellis Cup will be the iconic image of this Rugby World Cup and whilst the flanker was superb, we had Underhill just pipping him, based on individual performances. Wales’ Justin Tipuric came close, though it was Underhill’s brutish tackling, strength over the ball and unrelenting chase and support work which set him apart this year. He and Curry, England’s Kamikaze Twins, now need to build on their early success and consolidate.
- Duane Vermeulen, South Africa
Like Aaron Smith, Vermeulen was resurgent at this year’s tournament and if this is his final farewell to international rugby, he couldn’t have dreamed of going out on a bigger high than this. He was a leader, defensive communicator, lineout option and consistent source of gain-line success in attack for the Springboks and he was as vital to their title as anyone. Japan’s Michael Leitch was also impressive, as was Kieran Read, in his All Blacks swansong.
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