With the Rugby World Cup done and dusted it’s an apposite time to reflect on the highlights of the competition with a set of tournament awards.
Best Team – Japan
South Africa won the tournament and England were mightily impressive in beating the All Blacks but both lose out to the Brave Blossoms here.
Not only did Japan provide some of the most aesthetically pleasing rugby and tries that will endure in the memory but they firmly established themselves in the top tier of the global game. They were superb in their wins against Scotland and Ireland, inspiring the nation to follow them.
Over half the Japanese population watched their quarterfinal match against South Africa. While Springbok power prevented a repeat of 2015’s Brighton Miracle, Japan will present a major threat in future international competition and rugby union has received a major regional boost in a huge market.
Biggest Upset – Fiji vs Uruguay
Few expected this to be anything other than a fairly simple victory for the Fijians. A quick look at the names on the team sheet such as such as Semi Radrada and Leone Nakawara suggested it would be a torrid match for the South Americans.
However, Uruguay defended consistently well against the devastating runners arrayed against them, kicked their points and played with a tactical intelligence that belied their lowly world ranking. Scrum-half Santiago Arata was particularly impressive for Los Teros and scored a try to push his team to only their third ever world cup win.
Best Coach – Eddie Jones
While Japan’s Jamie Joseph and Wales’s Warren Gatland deserve mention, it is the England coach who has really impressed. Whatever happens in the final Jones, as he did for Australia in 2003, has masterminded a superb victory against the double reigning champions New Zealand.
England’s players peaked perfectly for this tournament-defining encounter and no coach has managed to out-think Kiwi boss Steve Hansen so comprehensively during his tenure. In spite of England’s final defeat this will be remembered as an all time great World Cup performance.
Most Disappointing Team – Scotland
It is tempting to go with Ireland, whose basic skills seemed to revert to that of an u13 B team against an irresistible performance from the All Blacks, while Australia had a poor World Cup by their high standards. However it is Scotland who take this award.
Though the men in blue performed adequately enough in bonus point wins against Russia and Samoa they were poor against Japan and the Irish. Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell were not able to exert their usual influence on matches while the forwards were outmuscled. Despite a decent 20 minutes in the second half of the Japan game the Scots consistently executed basics poorly in the key pool matches and deserved to miss out on the quarter-finals.
Best Player – Maro Itoje
Players shone throughout the tournament across various sides. Japanese winger Kenki Fukouka and number 8 Kazuki Himeno looked dangerous. For New Zealand Sevu Reece and Beauden Barrett were consistently strong in attack until the semi-final. South African half backs Handre Pollard and Faf de Klerk haven’t been explosive but demonstrated tactical brilliance in guiding their team to the final, and then victory over Eddie Jones’s men.
England have had a number of particularly strong performers across the tournament: Sam Underhill, Tom Curry, Manu Tuilagi, the Vunipola Brothers, George Ford and Owen Farrell all merit a shout-out. However, Maro Itoje in the second row has been consistently excellent, particularly in the semi-final where his smashing of opposite number Sam Whitelock set the tone for a dominant performance.
Image: 松島幸太朗 via Wikimedia Commons