15 – Fullback – Ben Smith (New Zealand)
Without a doubt one of the most consistent players throughout the tournament New Zealand’s electric fullback was crucial to the All Blacks run to the final and highlighted his qualities with a fine piece of play to set up Beauden Barrett’s tournament-clinching try. Dominant in the air, always alert to opposition plays and a remarkably intelligent attacking player; the quintessential modern day fullback.
14 – Right Wing – Juan Imhoff (Argentina)
Few would have predicted that Argentina would come within 15 points of reaching the Rugby World Cup final. Even fewer would have predicted that the Argentinian backline would provide some of the most thrilling attacking play of the tournament. Imhoff’s chemistry with wing partner Santiago Cordero and fullback Joaquin Tuculet produced some absolutely scintillating rugby and established Argentina as the up-and-coming force in world rugby.
13 – Outside Centre – DTH Van Der Merwe (Canada)
There was always the suspicion that Canada were doing little more in the World Cup than making up the numbers in a pool featuring heavyweights Ireland, France and Italy. However, the brave nature of the Canadian performances won them many admirers and one man stood out among the many heroes. Wing DTH Van Der Merwe not only scored an outstanding 4 tries in 4 games but also finished the World Cup with the 6th highest number of metres made, a remarkable feat given the 5 players above him all played at least 2 more games. A legend in the making for Canadian rugby.
12 – Inside Centre – Ma’a Nonu (New Zealand)
It will come as no surprise to fans of New Zealand rugby to see Ma’a Nonu included in a list of the best players of the tournament. The experienced centre showed his class time and again with a string of powerful performances culminating in his crucial World Cup Final try. His centre partnership with the equally outstanding Conrad Smith will likely go down as one of the great centre pairings and they will be sorely missed by the All Blacks as they head into international retirement.
11 – Left Wing – Julian Savea (New Zealand)
There is little to say about “The Bus” that has not already been said. 8 tries in his first World Cup, equalling the record jointly held by South African legend Bryan Habana and the man whose throne Savea has inherited, Jonah Lomu. Quite frankly, Savea is a phenomenon. What more can you say about a man who, at only 25, has scored 38 tries in only 41 Test matches? Barring injury it is hard to see Savea finishing his career without breaking all the notable Test try-scoring records.
10 – Fly-half – Dan Carter (New Zealand)
The highest Rugby Union Test points scorer of all time. Winner of multiple World Cup winners’ medals. Quite possibly the greatest fly-half to have ever played the game of Rugby. Influential in his sides’ semi-final victory over South Africa, instrumental to their victory over Australia in the final. As he, alongside a host of All Blacks greats, head into retirement, Rugby Union has lost one of its bona-fide legends.
9 – Scrumhalf – Aaron Smith (New Zealand)
All great sides need a great scrumhalf and Aaron Smith is nothing short of the world’s best. If Dan Carter is the man at the helm of New Zealand’s sumptuous rugby then Smith is certainly the chief of the engine room. Without his incredible eye for a pass and supreme tactical awareness the All Blacks would not have been able to sustain the level of high-pressure, attacking rugby that brought them such success. His contribution cannot be measured merely by the number of moments of brilliance he produced but his assist for Sonny-Bill Williams try against Tonga was one of the most sensational bits of skill throughout the tournament.
8 – Number 8 – David Pocock (Australia)
Australia’s converted Number 8 David Pocock is a man for whom the stats speak for themselves. 17 turnovers won, only 3 penalties conceded, 15 carries over the gainline, 59 tackles made in only 5 games. Without Pocock Australia were noticeably poorer as was particularly evident in their quarter-final against Scotland. Pocock and his partner-in-crime Michael Hooper will be the cornerstone on which coach Michael Cheika continues to build his Wallabies revolution and the Rugby world had better watch out.
7 – Openside Flanker – Richie McCaw (New Zealand)
Alongside Dan Carter, Richie McCaw will go down as one of the all-time All Blacks greats which speaks volumes considering the number of legendary players to have emerged from the Southwestern Pacific island. Revelling in his role as New Zealand’s “master of the black arts at the breakdown” McCaw was at his imperious best when it truly mattered and his inspirational leadership was clear to see in the manner in which the All Blacks dragged themselves back from the brink to defeat South Africa in the semi-finals. Apparently primed to retire, you would not bet against McCaw to carry on for a few months yet, if only to reach the extraordinary milestone of 150 Test caps for the world’s best team.
6 – Blindside Flanker – Mamuka Gorgodze (Georgia)
A bit of a wildcard, given that Georgia picked up a mere 8 points in their pool stage group and were absolutely dominated by New Zealand and Argentina, but “Gorgodzilla” as he is affectionately known was absolutely titanic throughout for his side. A 95% tackle success rate from 41 tackles shows a man equally committed as he is skilled and this was reflected in his two man of the match awards. His contribution to Georgian Rugby cannot be overestimated and he leaves the tournament a definite fan favourite.
5 – Lock – Jonny Gray (Scotland)
Perhaps only Argentina were more of a surprise package at this World Cup than the Scots were. It would have been a brave man who bet on the Scots coming within a dubious last minute penalty of clinching a semi-final berth before the outset of the tournament. At the heart of their agonisingly near miss against Australia was an incredible defensive effort, utterly embodied by the younger Gray brother. Despite brother Richie being the better known of the pair, Jonny stood out and put in the kind of defensive shift throughout Scotland’s campaign that any second-row forward would be proud of. A heroic performance and at only 21 years old he will surely be a stalwart of the Scotland side for years to come.
4 – Lock – Lodewyk De Jager (South Africa)
South Africa may have been shocked by Japan in their opening game in one of the greatest upsets in Rugby Union history but after that the Springboks seemingly remembered just how good they are. With a strategy based on their devastating physical game and the unerring kicking boot of Handre Pollard, the South Africans were unlucky to lose out in the semis to a magnificent All Blacks team. De Jager and monstrous second-row partner Eben Etzabeth were crucial to the South African resurgence and combined for an incredible 152 tackles across the tournament. If both can stay fit and in form then they will surely form one of the most feared second-row pairings in Rugby Union over the next few years.
3 – Tighthead Prop – Ramiro Herrera (Argentina)
While Argentina’s exciting new style was almost universally heralded and their backs soaked up much of the praise, they retained much of the steel amongst the forwards that had characterised Argentinian Rugby for so long. This was in no small part down to the gargantuan performance of prop Ramiro Herrera. Alongside front-row partners Agustin Creevy and Marcos Ayerza, Herrera was part of a dominant Argentinian scrum that built the foundations for their backs to produce such exciting rugby.
2 – Hooker – Agustin Creevy (Argentina)
For a lot of what can be said about Creevy you need look no further than what has already been said about front-row partner Ramiro Herrera. However, Creevy was also instrumental in providing the calming influence at scrums and lineouts that was so crucial to Argentina’s historic Rugby World Cup performance. If he had not been forced off by injury in the semi-final against Australia then the result could have been so different.
1 – Loosehead Prop – Scott Sio (Australia)
Part of an Australian pack revitalised by the introduction of forwards coach Mario Ledesma, Sio was the model of consistency throughout the tournament. After returning from injury for the final he was essential to the Australian front-row that troubled the New Zealand scrum in a way that few teams have ever done. Another man who coach Michael Cheika will rely on as he looks to progress his Aussie revolution and usurp the All Blacks as the world’s premier Rugby Union side.