Team of the 2015 Rugby World Cup
15 Ben Smith (New Zealand)
Runners-up: Joaquín Tuculet, Ayumu Goromaru
Not his best game in the final that’s for sure, with his yellow card getting Australia back into it, but over the course of the tournament we couldn’t ignore how phenomenal Smith was under the high ball and his ability to unlock defences. Smith made the second-most runs in the tournament, had the second highest number of metres made, the second-most clean breaks… you get the picture. He’s a gifted player. Tuculet was part of a thrilling Argentine back three, while Goromaru could become Japan’s version of Jonny Wilkinson after his heroics.
14 Santiago Cordero (Argentina)
Runners-up: Nehe Milner-Skudder, Adam Ashley-Cooper
No player was more exciting to watch with ball in hand than Cordero who was able to make something out of nothing time after time. He finished third in metres run, second in clean breaks, and top of the pile in defenders beaten, with an incredible 31. With Argentina playing a more expansive game, Cordero really had the chance to shine. What a year it’s been for Milner-Skudder, who topped off his season with a try in the World Cup final. Ashley-Cooper had to settle for a hat-trick in the semi.
13 Sonny Bill Williams (New Zealand)
Runners-up: Tevita Kuridani, Mark Bennett, Paul Perez
In the absence of a 13 who stood out from the crowd, we’ve gone for the best impact player of the tournament. SBW featured at both inside and outside centre and was massively influential whenever he came off the bench, most notably in the final when his offload released Ma’a Nonu for that try right after half-time.
12 Ma’a Nonu (New Zealand)
Runners-up: Matt Giteau, Robbie Henshaw
Reached his 100th cap during the tournament, and was the difference between the sides for much of the final, scoring a stunning try early in the second half. Nonu bowed out of Test rugby with an incredible performance, and on another day might have won man of the match in the final. A mention for Giteau, who was sorely missed after going off early on Saturday, while Henshaw was a shining light for Ireland.
11 Julian Savea (New Zealand)
Runners-up: Juan Imhoff, DTH van der Merwe
His first World Cup and the comparisons with Jonah Lomu keep on coming. Eight tries to match Lomu’s record, and a try against France in the quarter-final reminiscent of Jonah’s best as he bumped off three men. Quieter in the final but still as dangerous a weapon as there is in international rugby. Imhoff in open space is virtually impossible to stop, his early withdrawal in the semi-final hurt Argentina, while Canada’s Van der Merwe scored in every game – only the second player to do so in the group stages, ever.
10 Dan Carter (New Zealand)
Runners-up: Nicolás Sánchez, Dan Biggar, Bernard Foley
Stepped up for the biggest games, Carter ended his international career in the perfect fashion, and killed off the Wallaby challenge just as it looked like New Zealand might choke. A fitting way to say goodbye for the All Black ten, who even finished as New Zealand’s top tackler in the final. Sánchez finished as the tournament’s top points scorer, and made more tackles than any other back, and most forwards. Biggar was excellent in the pool stages for Wales, and Foley had a great tournament with the exception of a shaky game against Scotland.
9 Fourie du Preez (South Africa)
Runners-up: Fumiaki Tanaka, Greig Laidlaw, Aaron Smith
It’s no coincidence that South Africa got back on track at this World Cup with the return of Du Preez at scrum-half. Indispensible for the Springboks ever since then, his try against Wales booked a semi-final spot and you can’t put a price on the experience and leadership he offered with so many younger players around him in the backs. Laidlaw was a points machine for Scotland while Smith came good at the right time in the final.
8 David Pocock (Australia)
Runners-up: Kieran Read, Mamuka Gorgodze, Amanaki Mafi
There was genuine surprise in some quarters when David Pocock wasn’t named Player of the Year on Sunday. Whether for the Brumbies or Wallabies, coming back after two ACL surgeries, Pocock has been a monster at the breakdown. He makes turnovers look so easy, comfortably topping that stat category with 17 – four more then the next best. He humbled England in their group stage clash and has been superb. A special mention for Mafi of Japan, who came out of nowhere and was phenomenal when fit.
7 Francois Louw (South Africa)
Runners-up: Sam Warburton, Michael Hooper, Juan Martín Hernández Lobbe
We debated this position more than any another with Warburton, Hooper and Lobbe all worthy candidates along with a certain All Blacks skipper. But Louw, who topped the tournament tackle stats and was second in the ‘turnovers won’ category was outstanding in Springbok pack that did an outrageous amount of work.
6 Michael Leitch (Japan)
Runners-up: Scott Fardy, Jerome Kaino
We had to have a player from Japan in the side and Leitch was the obvious choice. Picking him above Fardy and Kaino is some compliement for the Chiefs back-rower but you can’t put a value on the inspiration he gave the Brave Blossoms in their three wins. Leitch finished with the second-most carries over the gain line – 36 – despite playing three games less than the Schalk Burger in top spot who made 38. He led brilliantly from the front and did his country proud.
5 Alun Wyn Jones (Wales)
Runners-up: Sam Whitelock, Tomás Lavanini, Jonny Gray
Was, as usual, at the forefront of Wales’ line-out effort, winning plenty of balls at the set-piece but also put his body on the line in defence. Jones also caught the eye in the tight exchanges and his value in the scrums, rucks and mauls should not be underestimated. Has cemented his status as arguably the greatest second row to come out of Wales. New Zealand’s Whitelock, Argentina’s Lavanini and Gray of Scotland also did well.
4 Lood de Jager (South Africa)
Runners-up: Iain Henderson, Eben Etzebeth, Brodie Retallick
Yes, the Boks’ baby-faced assassin wore number 5 on his back but we simply couldn’t leave him out. The tournament’s leading tackler (level with Louw), De Jager was a key ball carrier too, powering over the gainline consistently. Victor Matfield might be gone but the future is bright for the Springboks at lock. Mentions too for his second row partner Etzebeth plus Ireland’s Henderson and the now world champion Retallick.
3 WP Nel (Scotland)
Runners-up: Manusa Saulo, Davit Zirakashvili, Sekope Kepu
One of the tournament’s standout players, Nel came to the fore with several solid scrummaging performances. He got the better of all his direct opponents at the set-piece during the group stages but it was his dominance of Australia’s Scott Sio in the quarter-finals which cemented his place in our team. Did well to top a pile of solid performers including Saulo, Zirakashvili and Kepu.
2 Stephen Moore (Australia)
Runners-up: Agustín Creevy, Shota Horie, Dane Coles
Justified his selection as Wallabies captain with several solid performances. Moore was at the forefront of Australia’s improved forward effort and impressed at his core duties, especially his strong scrummaging and line-out throw-ins which were always on target. Led by example as a leader and eges out another fine captain in Creevy of Argentina.
1 Marcos Ayerza (Argentina)
Runners-up: Scott Sio, Mihati Lazar
Before the World Cup Ayerza was regarded as one of the world’s best scrummaging props and he enhanced his reputation by never taking a backward step to any of his direct opponents at scrum-time. Apart from his dominance in that facet of play, Ayerza also caught the caught the eye with ball in hand and got his team over the advantage line on several occasions with some powerful runs. Australia’s Sio and Romania’s Lazar also impressed.