Rugby World Cup 2019 Team of the Tournament
05 November 2019, by: Quintin van Jaarsveld
Rugby World Cup 2019 Team of the Tournament
The triumphant Springboks provide the bulk of our Rugby World Cup Team of the Tournament, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
Seven South African stars cracked the nod for the pivotal roles they played in South Africa securing rugby’s Holy Grail for the third time in Japan. Three members of the England team who were blown away 32-12 by Rassie Erasmus’ charges in last Saturday’s final at International Stadium Yokohama have also been included. Two Brave Blossoms made the cut, while semi-finalists New Zealand and Wales, along with Fiji, have one representative each.
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Simply brilliant. Barrett lit up the Land of the Rising Sun, showcasing why he’s a two-time World Rugby Player of the Year. Just as instrumental at fullback as he is in his preferred flyhalf role, he was in a class of his own as strike runner extraordinaire. The All Blacks virtuoso’s unrivalled eye for the gap and speed and grace to dissect defences were a joy to watch.
The 28-year-old game-breaker led the tournament in runs with 86, 12 more than Ireland’s CJ Stander and England’s Billy Vunipola, was joint-second in clean breaks with brother Jordie, South Africa’s Makazole Mapimpi and Australia’s Marika Koroibete with 12 and scored three tries.
It feels criminal omitting the outstanding Kotaro Matsushima, who became a national hero after becoming the first Japanese player in history to score a World Cup hat-trick (and only the third from a Tier 2 country) in his electrifying Man of the Match performance in the 30-10 tournament-opening win over Russia.
South African-born “Ferrari”, who scored five five-pointers in all, didn’t put a foot wrong all tournament, but the same can be said for Kolbe. The 25-year-old fire-starter cemented himself as the biggest little man in the game today and the best pound for pound player at the World Cup with his mesmerising footwork, predatory finishing, brave defence, impeccable workrate and awesome aerial skills.
The diminutive dynamo was South Africa’s standout player against the All Blacks, was named Man of the Match after bagging a brace in a scintillating showing in the 49-3 win over Italy and scored one of the best World Cup final tries ever to sew up the Webb Ellis Cup for the Springboks.
An athletic anvil of a man, Tuilagi was a force to be reckoned with. He hit the ground running by scoring a double in England’s tournament-opening 35-3 win over Tonga and maintained that momentum for the duration of the tournament. One of the stars of the semi-final showdown against the All Blacks, Tuilagi scored the opening try inside the first two minutes that set England on course for their famous 17-9 upset and was strong defensively as well. He made 24 dominant carries in all and acted as a ninth forward by hitting 80 rucks, the most by a back.
His vital, barnstorming solo try against Wales in the semi-finals encapsulated what a dominant run he had. If you’re going to use the cliché “big in Japan,” no-one is more fitting than De Allende, as the Springboks’ midfield monster left a trail of bodies in his wake with his bulldozing runs.
Arguably the most consistently excellent performer of the tournament, he was unstoppable at the gainline, steamrolling all comers with his 1.89m, 101kg frame and powerful leg drives. He was South Africa’s go-to man, making 65 carries, the third-most of the tournament, and 235 metres. He was rock solid on defence as well and a true workhorse, playing in all seven of the Springboks’ matches.
Wales flyer Josh Adams scored a tournament-high seven tries, but we went with the red-hot Radradra. The embodiment of Fijian flair, he picked up two Man of the Match awards – for his sterling efforts in the 45-10 win over Georgia and 29-17 loss to Wales – and was showered with praise, with the likes of ex-England flyhalf Stuart Barnes and former Wallaby fullback Greg Martin hailing him as the Player of the Tournament at the conclusion of the pool stages.
His performance against Wales, which saw him run for 140 metres, beat seven defenders and spark two line breaks from 19 carries, was so exceptional that many, including Springbok legend Schalk Burger, called it the greatest individual performance in World Cup history. Against Georgia, “Semi-Trailer” scored a double, racked up a tournament match-high 177 metres, made five clean breaks and set-up two tries. Despite Fiji featuring in just four fixtures, Radradra beat a tournament-record 29 defenders.
The Springbok pivot was uncharacteristically quiet during the pool stages but came to the fore when it mattered most to see off the likes England’s George Ford for the flyhalf berth. His big match temperament shone brightly in the nail-biting 19-16 semi-final win over Wales, as he slotted five-from-five off the tee for a flawless 14-point haul to boot the Springboks into their third final.
He followed up this Man of the Match effort with another pivotal performance in the pressure-cooker decider. The 25-year-old’s 22 points against England was a World Cup final record and saw him finish as the tournament’s top point-scorer with 69, while he also made a match-high 67 metres.
The mental strength De Klerk displayed in Japan was without peer. Bombarded with criticism and insults by a large portion of South African supporters as the key man in the Springboks’ kick-heavy game plan, De Klerk rose above the memes, stuck to his guns and came out smelling like roses after playing an integral role in the Boks’ triumph.
In the play-offs, in particular, the No.9 with the blonde locks stepped up to the plate, producing a try-scoring Man of the Match performance in the 26-3 quarter-final win over hosts Japan, outplaying red-hot Welsh scrumhalf Gareth Davies in the semi-finals and delivering his most clinical tactical performance in the decider, all whilst showcasing his tenacity and proving why he’s known as a giant-slayer on defence.
Kazuki Himeno and South African-born Stander made strong cases after starring for quarter-finalists Japan and Ireland respectively, however, Vermeulen was colossal in the Green and Gold No.8 jersey. The veteran became more and more talismanic as the tournament progressed, standing up as senior player and leading the Springboks’ physical charge with punishing carries (37) and brutal defence (28), on top of winning crucial turnovers.
The 33-year-old was excellent in the semi-final win over Wales and even better in the final against England, producing a career-defining Man of the Match performance at the International Stadium Yokohama to cement his legacy as one of the all-time great Springboks.
Strong, physical, athletic and tireless, Du Toit is the total package and was Terminator-like all tournament, putting in one freakishly sublime showing after another. Already an outstanding lock, his move to blindside flank was a masterstroke that unlocked the Springbok superstar’s full potential.
As close to irreplaceable as they come, the 27-year-old’s made the No.7 jersey his own and is one of the first names Erasmus dots down come selection time. His otherworldly well-roundedness is the key to the Springboks’ balanced loose trio and he hardly ever makes a mistake.
He was South Africa’s top tackler and seventh overall at the World Cup with 61. A big-match player, the ever-determined Du Toit scored the Springboks’ only try against the All Blacks to put them back into the contest and featured prominently in the play-offs. A two-time South African Player of the Year, his heroics earned him the World Rugby Player of the Year award.
A tough call as Siya Kolisi spearheaded the Springboks’ surge and England’s Tom Curry was consistently terrific. Leitch was not only talismanic on the field, but as inspirational leader of hosts Japan, he became a figure of hope and determination, especially after devastating Typhoon Hagibis hit, with his never-say-die heroics.
The 31-year-old was the heart and soul of the Brave Blossoms, THE key figure of their fairy-tale campaign and rise leading up to it, leading his group of ground-breakers to a historic quarter-final appearance. He was terrific in all departments, a workhorse of note – making 36 carries and 44 tackles – and a cool head in the cauldron. His leadership was invaluable and his use as a super-sub against Ireland was a masterstroke as he emerged as the game-changer in the historic 19-12 upset.
Few players see out the twilight of their careers as spectacularly as the Welsh skipper did on the big stage. The evergreen 34-year-old continued the form that saw him being named the Player of the Six Nations after leading Wales to Grand Slam glory as an integral figure in the Dragons’ march to the semi-finals.
Far more than a composed captain, Jones well and truly led by example and was an unrivalled tackling titan, the world’s most-capped lock and Wales’ record cap holder (134) making a tournament-high 79 hits.
One of the most impressive athletes in the game, the England second-rower took his career to new heights at the global showpiece. His Man of the Match heroics against the All Blacks will be remembered as one of the best lock performances in World Cup history, right up there with Springbok legend Victor Matfield’s Man of the Match outing against England in the 2007 final. Titanic all tournament, the 25-year-old won more turnovers (11) than any other player and made 71 tackles, second only to Jones.
When you talk about hunger, commitment and laying it all on the line, look no further than Sinckler. The passionate England prop put his body on the line all tournament. Unfortunately, it caught up with him in the final when he was knocked out early on in a collision with Springbok wing Mapimpi. He was a force at scrum time, mobile around the park and made a few impressive offloads.
Bongi Mbonambi was brilliant, but the hard-working Horie edged out the Springbok hooker in the end. One of the Brave Blossoms’ best and busiest players, he was in the thick of the action, mixing it up with mongrel in the set-pieces and in open play.
Fit, fast and a livewire link with his back-line ball skills, he had some deft touches as the hosts ran teams ragged with their high-octane offence. He was most effective and energetic on defence, making 18 tackles against Russia, 17 against Ireland, nine off the bench against Samoa and 10 against Scotland before finally fading a bit with four against South Africa.
One of the most beloved and respected players worldwide, “The Beast” was in vintage form. Indestructible, immovable and irrepressible, the iconic Springbok loosehead was a destroyer-in-chief in the scrums, roaring with unbridled passion after every foe he pummelled and penalty he earned.
The 34-year-old not only matched but often outworked younger front-rowers with his astonishing conditioning and burning desire. He was a tank with ball-in-hand and a brick wall on defence, making 38 tackles and boasting a 97% success rate. His dominant display in the final was the perfect way for Mtawarira, the most-capped prop in Springbok history (117), to cap off his illustrious Test career.
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