This isn’t a Team of the Tournament – we’d rather say Pride of the Pools as we compile a scintillating XV from the pool stages of England 2015…
15 Ben Smith (New Zealand)
Japan’s Ayumu Goromaru went close but how can you not go with this immensely likeable All Black? Smith has made eight clean breaks from his 45 carries, and shares with Mike Brown the distinction of being the only full-back to make more than 300 metres in the World Cup pool stages. His try against Tonga was a classic of its kind – could anyone but New Zealand have scored in such a narrow channel?
14 Santiago Cordero (Argentina)
The Pumas average 15 breaks, 18 offloads, 35 defenders beaten and 672 metres a match – table-topping figures in each of those categories. The three-try Cordero (13 defenders beaten, 259 metres) is instrumental to that, and has won five turnovers to boot. And to think this 5ft 9in 21-year-old only got his chance because of the injury to Manuel Montero. Edges out Nehe Milner-Skudder.
13 Ciaran Hearn (Canada)
Everyone warmed to Canada’s gloriously adventurous rugby and it’s no coincidence the wings dazzled with Hearn as their supplier. The Newfoundland player made 46 carries, a chart-topping 27 of them over the gain-line, and his combination with van der Merwe against Italy conjured arguably the best long-range try of the tournament.
12 Damian de Allende (South Africa)
His tackle stats need a little polishing but the young Stormer, one of the stars of Super Rugby 2015, is continuing to impress. He has beaten more defenders (18) than anyone else in the tournament and is making 37 metres per carry – one reason why the Springboks are averaging 44 points a game. Matt Giteau and Fiji’s Lepani Botia were other strong contenders at 12.
11 DTH van der Merwe (Canada)
Yes, you read it right, a second member of the Canucks team that lost every match at this World Cup. New Scarlets winger van der Merwe had a sparkling tournament, becoming the first non Tier One player to score in four consecutive RWC games. Before packing his bags for Llanelli, he made the most metres (389) in the tournament, beat 14 defenders and delivered 14 offloads.
10 Bernard Foley (Australia)
His 56 points (89% kick success) isn’t quite enough to make him leading scorer, but the Waratah produced the individual performance of the World Cup with his 28-point master class against England. We wondered pre-tournament whether Foley had lost his touch, with Matt Giteau, Quade Cooper and Matt Toomua all options for the No 10 shirt, but we are wondering no longer. Not bad for a former sevens player who only converted to fly-half in 2013.
9 Gareth Davies (Wales)
It was tempting to install Italian Edoardo Gori as our No 9, to reward his fine running and offloading game, but as scorer of one of the most famous Welsh tries at Twickenham, Davies gets the nod. The Scarlet has been a little selfish at times but for a player who hadn’t started a Test before this World Cup he’s made a decent fist of replacing Rhys Webb. He is one of only three quarter-finalists to have played every minute of the tournament, Bryan Habana and Francois Louw the others.
1 Scott Sio (Australia)
An unmovable presence at loosehead, Sio has contributed to a 92% scrum success for the Wallabies and 12 scrum penalties – the second-highest figure behind Georgia. But Sio’s work around the park has also been exceptional, with an average of nine tackles (and no misses) a match. He was born three days before the 1991 quarter-finals and named after Scotland because they beat the Samoa side his dad was playing for.
2 Shota Horie (Japan)
The former Melbourne Rebels hooker is proving a magnificent support player and a highly consistent set-piece performer, Japan winning 93% of ball on his lineout throws before departing with three pool wins. Horie underwent a gruelling rehab programme after neck surgery this year to make the World Cup, a pinched nerve previously preventing him from gripping with his left hand. Stephen Moore is a close second at hooker.
3 Manasa Saulo (Fiji)
The Fijian scrum, now under Kiwi scrum coach Alan Muir’s expert tuition, has been a revelation. They were one of four teams to win 100% of their own scrum ball in the pool stage – New Zealand, Japan and USA being the others – and much of that was down to Saulo, a former sailor who got his big break in pro rugby in Romania. Blotted his copybook with a ten-week ban for stamping on Luke Charteris but too good to ignore.
4 Iain Henderson (Ireland)
Man of the Match against Italy and superb off the bench against France. The thunderous Ulsterman is making 11 tackles and carries a match to go with a 94% tackle rate, though thus far he’s barely featured as a lineout option – something that may have to change with Paul O’Connell now injured. “He has the potential to be one of the best players in the world,” says ex-Ireland fly-half David Humphreys.
5 Leone Nakarawa (Fiji)
Always thrilling to watch and one of the first names on our team sheet, eclipsing even Alun Wyn Jones. The king of the offloads, with 26, he also won 26 lineouts and won nine turnovers – the second-highest figures in those categories. He was voted Man of the Match against Uruguay, one of the few awards in this World Cup that went to the right man. Look out for some tips from this remarkable player in the next issue of Rugby World.
6 Michael Leitch (Japan, capt)
With 52 hits, nobody made more tackles than Japan’s skipper in the pool stage. And he also topped the carries chart with 60, ahead of Samu Manoa and Schalk Burger, the only other men to reach 50. Japan averaged eight penalties a game conceded – the fewest in the tournament – and Leitch helps drive that discipline. Pips Sean O’Brien to the blindside spot and is captain of our team.
7 Mamuka Gorgodze (Georgia)
He should never have won Man of the Match v New Zealand, but he was awesome against Tonga (24 tackles and a try), and Georgia fell apart without him when he was sin-binned v Argentina. He made 17 offloads and won seven turnovers, and his giant personality was writ large across this World Cup. Wears seven, where he faced the Kiwis, but can swap in at No 8. Thierry Dusautoir and Francois Louw unlucky to miss out.
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8 David Pocock (Australia)
Tough competition at No 8, not least from Samu Manoa (57 carries) and Taulupe Faletau, but Pocock’s extraordinary breakdown work demands inclusion. His ten turnovers – including three against England – put him top of that list and he got a couple of tries for good measure in Australia’s opener against Los Teros. Has fought back from two knee reconstructions to make this tournament and nobody could grace the stage better.