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Picking the Rugby World Cup 2021 team of the tournament

By Matt Merritt
Claudia MacDonald of England celebrates after scoring a try during the Pool C Rugby World Cup 2021 New Zealand match between Fiji and England at Eden Park on October 08, 2022, in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

The Rugby World Cup is over. Six weeks of rugby, a month and a half of waking up in the early hours of the morning so as not to miss a minute. New Zealand won, but there were some fantastic team performances, and a whole host of stand-out individuals across the games. So, without further ado, here is the RugbyPass team of the tournament.

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1. Olivia De Merchant
We’ll kick off in the pack with De Merchant, who was a key piece in Canada’s impressive pack. The Exeter Chiefs loosehead showed her set-piece skill and was defensively strong too, beating out the likes of England’s Vickii Cornborough and Hope Rogers of USA to seal her spot here.

2. Amy Cokayne
Bagging a hat-trick in the final, even for the losing team, is probably enough to be considered for this spot. That Cokayne has been scoring throughout the tournament, has been throwing at the line-out like it’s the easiest job in the world and has still found time to be an absolute menace in the loose is why she finds herself in this spot. Emily Tuttosi of Canada deserves a shout out too, for being a similar troublemaker for her opposition.

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New Zealand vs England | Match Highlights | Rugby World Cup 2021 Final
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New Zealand vs England | Match Highlights | Rugby World Cup 2021 Final

3. Siteri Rasolea
Tighthead props aren’t supposed to play 80 minutes in the modern game. They’re certainly not supposed to be breaking through the gain line with barely a couple of minutes left on the clock when they do. Nobody seems to have told Rasolea who was superb for Fijiana in their maiden tournament, perfectly encapsulating their “never say die” attitude. Clara Joyeux has also excelled in the tight for France and Daleaka Menin excelled as the third piece in Canada’s impressive front row.

4. Madoussou Fall
Fall is a towering presence on the pitch, an enforcer in the pack who can also play the ball well, using her size to great effect and never afraid to stand in the way of a rampaging opponent.

5. Abbie Ward
A master at the line-out, whether picking the calls for her team or disrupting the opposition, Ward has been key to the Red Roses setting up their nearly unstoppable rolling maul. Like Fall she is also a big presence defensively. Other locks who impressed throughout the tournament included Zoe Aldcroft, Chelsea Bremner and Wales’ Gwen Crabb.

6. Alex Matthews
Can a player be underrated when we keep talking about how underrated they are? Probably not, but nonetheless Matthews has done so much more than she is given credit for throughout this tournament. She’s not a flashy player but her work rate is formidable and she has the complete trust of her team. Never stops battling for every ball and is very rarely penalised, a rare quality indeed. Scotland’s captain Rachel Malcolm also impressed with a similar approach and skillset, almost willing her team to victory despite the odds.

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7. Alex Callender
When Alisha Butchers was injured in round one of the World Cup it was greeted with despair by Welsh fans, but Callender stepped into the seven shirt and absolutely stole the show, racking up an impressive 80 tackles to top the tournament tables. Honourable mentions for Marlie Packer and Sarah Hirini too, both of whom were inspirations to their teams.

8. Sophie de Goede
A rampaging back row, who captains her country while carrying them to success. It’s not a new story, but Canada’s de Goede certainly added a few twists. Sitting atop the runs (carries) table with 101, 28 carries clear of second place, she also sits joint fourth in conversions slotted! Romana Menager impressed for France, and in another tournament might have made our team… but de Goede mastered every trade.

9. Justine Pelletier
Ask a coach what they want from their scrum-half and more often than not quick ball will top the list. There aren’t many players who get the ball out of a ruck or off the base of the scrum as quick as Pelletier, who has a bullet of a throw. She combined brilliantly with de Goede to capitalise on Canada’s scrum dominance throughout the tournament. Kendra Cocksedge, bowing out of international rugby at the end of the tournament also shone for the Black Ferns.

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10. Ruahei Demant
Top of the offloads chart (with 18, fifty per cent more than the next highest player), ranking top five for conversions, points and runs, Demant is the fulcrum of the Black ferns attack and is breaking the mold for fly halves in the women’s game with her strong mix of running and kicking, allied to some top-drawer game management. Shout out too for Zoe Harrison who has grown into the England 10 shirt and really made the role her own.

11. Claudia MacDonald
Ostensibly selected as a scrum half, MacDonald has excelled out wide throughout the tournament, scoring four tries while being an absolute handful for opposition defences with her speed, mazy runs and ability to ride out the tackles. That she kept tournament top try scorer Portia Woodman out of our team says it all for how impressive she has been.

12. Gabrielle Vernier
Vernier has been superb all tournament for France. Providing grit and grace in equal measure with crunching tackles, silky offloads and a determination that seemed to influence any blue-shirted player stood close by. That consistency sees her make our team ahead of Beatrice Rigoni who was, as always, a class apart in an Italy team who look poised to take a step forward.

13. Stacey Fluhler
This might have been the toughest pick of the whole team. It was always going to come down to Fluhler’s sublime play-making against Emily Scarratt’s metronomic points scoring (44 in total to make her top points scorer for the tournament. In the end consistency won out, with Fluhler making a big impact with every appearance while Scarratt was, kicking aside, underwhelming in the group stage.

14. Ruby Tui
Tui probably deserves a spot in this list on sheer personality. If Rugby Wolrd Cup 2021 had a poster player it was Ruby, whose interviews, social media posts and sheer presence have lit up every weekend. That she’s also been a dangerous player on the pitch, scoring five tries and repeatedly drawing in enough players to make space for her teammates. If Tui has been on fire from the off, the growth of Abby Dow through the tournament, returning from horrendous injury to score four tries and cement her starting spot has provided growing excitement with every week.

15. Renee Holmes
In a tournament full of running rugby Holmes stood out as the silkiest of full backs, floating into space and repeatedly loosing Woodman and Tui to wreak havoc. She was defensively responsible, and racked up plenty of points for the Black Ferns with her kicking too. Had she played more games in the 15 shirt Helena Rowland might have made a case for herself, but alongside Ellie Kildunne she provided England with almost too much choice.

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