Sunday 24 March 2019

Here’s our Rugby World Cup team of the weekend

Sonny Bill Williams is tackled by Francois Louw
Sonny Bill Williams is tackled by Francois Louw

Tom Rooney

The four Rugby Championship sides battled it out for a place in the World Cup final over the weekend and we’ve selected the standout performers from the penultimate round of action.

15. Israel Folau (Australia)

Though he’s not set the world alight as expected, the exciting fullback had his moments over the weekend. There were a number of powerful surges and some expert fielding.

14. Adam-Ashley Cooper (Australia)

At just 31, the winger won his 113th cap in Australia’s semi-final victory over Argentina on Sunday, and celebrated by dotting down for a hat-trick of well-taken tries.

Australia's Adam Ashley-Cooper dives over to score a try

13. Conrad Smith (New Zealand)

Up against the dynamic youngster Jessie Kriel of South Africa, the wily veteran used all his know how to largely contain the callow Springbok midfield.

12. Matt Giteau (Australia)

Worth his place here if only for his wonderfully lofted pass to put Cooper through for his second try. The Toulon playmaker has demonstrated the full range of his considerable skill-set throughout the tournament, and has dovetailed perfectly with Bernard Foley.

11. Santiago Cordero (Argentina)

Granted, the winger was turned over inside his own 22 as he sought to launch a counter attack and it led to a Cooper touch down, but it’s for that cavalier attitude that Los Pumas are darlings of the competition. He ran for 106 metres and managed four clean line breaks- not bad

10. Dan Carter (New Zealand)

Foley could rightly feel aggrieved from being omitted from the selection, but the Kiwi out-half just about edges him. South Africa kicked their way to a half time lead by forcing All Black errors through ferocious tackling and flooding the breakdown, and Jerome Kaino  found himself in the bin.Carter was composure personified in those moments of uncertainty and sent over a vital second half drop goal while his side were still down to 14 men.

New Zealand's Dan Carter kicks a conversion

9. Will Genia (Australia)

The Wallaby scrum-half had struggled with injury and form coming into the World Cup and it was thought Nick Phipps would get the nod as the starting nine.

Michael Cheika’s faith in Genia has paid off and, on Sunday, he tormented Los Pumas with his sniping darts and quick thinking. He, too, can claim a wonderful assists for one of Cooper’s trio of five-pointers.

1. Marcos Ayerza (Argentina)

Maybe the Leicester Tigers loose-head would have hoped to exert more pressure on the Australia scrum, which has been transformed by his countryman Mario Ledesma. However, he helped ensure his side were five from five from their own put-in, and was busy as ever around the park.

2. Stephen Moore (Australia)

Perhaps New Zealand’s Dane Coles had a better all-round outing the previous day, but Moore’s overall leadership and endeavour have been incredible. At set piece, where Australia continues to improve immeasurably, all but one of 13 line outs were successful and they managed a return on four of their six scrums. Their captain was the heart of this.

Rugby Union - Australia v Fiji - IRB Rugby World Cup 2015 Pool A - Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, Wales - 23/9/15 Australia's Stephen Moore and Scott Sio line up for the national anthems before the game Action Images via Reuters / Paul Childs Livepic

3. Ramiro Herrera (Argentina)

When the Australian scrum did creak, you can be sure Herrera had played a part in bringing that about. The tight-head, like all his compatriots who pack down in the front row, is a fiercely powerful scrummager, and wreaked considerable havoc against Ireland in the previous round.

4. Eben Etzebeth (South Africa)

As the rain poured down in Twickenham, the  showdown between South Africa and New Zealand descended into a war of attrition, and Etzebeth came to the fore. The lock put in an incredible shift in the loose which resulted in a match-high 16 tackles.

5. Lode De Jager (South Africa)

Like his engine-room partner, De Jager gave a Trojan defensive effort. His tackle count was at 14 by the end of business. In total, he’s made 74 tackles over the last five weeks; nobody has more.

6. Scott Fardy (Australia)

Having to live in the collective shadow of Michael Hooper and David Pocock can’t be easy, but Fardy grabbed his share of the spotlight with an epic, blood-soaked outing against a tough Puma back row. The bearded blind-side made a staggering 16 tackles and also chipped in with two turnovers.

Australia's Scott Fardy in acton during a lineout

7. Francois Louw (South Africa)

Some will say Richie McCaw deserves this spot, but the Bath flanker was immense as the Springboks’ physicality overwhelmed the Kiwis in the opening hour on Saturday. Louw was a nuisance at ruck time and affected two turnovers, in addition to 13 tackles.

8. David Pocock (Australia)

What a difference he makes to this Australia team. Pocock is a sure fire nominee for Player of the Tournament. Notice the change in his side with him on Sunday, compared  to without him a week ago against Scotland; it’s night and day. When it comes to slowing opposition ball, or just downright stealing it, there’s nobody better in the game right now.

His four turnovers against  Fernandez Lobbe and co took his total to a tournament best of 14.  If Australia are to prevent New Zealand from retaining their title, Pocock’s contribution will be pivotal.

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