Sunday 24 March 2019

No room for Richie McCaw, Julian Savea or any Irish player in our World Cup Team of the Tournament

David Pocock of Australia is tackled during the World Cup Final
David Pocock of Australia is tackled during the World Cup Final

Tom Rooney

Selecting a side from the 20 teams that all hugely contributed to the best ever World Cup is no mean feat but, after careful thought, we’ve complied a formidable fantasy XV.

Of course, some inclusions and, indeed, omissions, will raise an eyebrow or two, so feel free to offer any alternatives to our selection. Be warned, not a single World Cup winner graces our back-row.

15. Ayumu Goromaru (Japan)

Although the guys at TV3 were unable to remember his name last night, picking Goromaru at full-back was the right call. The Brave Blossoms pulled off the upset of the tournament when defeating South Africa by 34-32 in their Pool B opener and he proved the catalyst behind his country’s greatest ever victory.

Through his kicking and wonderful try, Goromaru contributed 24 points that day, and looked a livewire in his subsequent outings for the competition’s surprise package.

14. Nehe Milner-Skudder (New Zealand)

A little obvious perhaps, but bear in mind the 24-year-old only had two caps prior to the competition. He might lack the formidable physicality of Julian Savea, but Milner-Skudder’s fluent footwork and seamless step are a sight to behold.

In scoring the opening try in yesterday’s final, he has taken his international tally to eight in as many caps.

13. Conrad Smith (New Zealand)

What a player. Smith was steady and reliable over the course of the competition, but waited until the final to give his finest display.

He set the tone with a number of ferocious hits early on, and his pick up pass for Milner-Skudder’s touch down was a thing of beauty. The international stage will be poorer for his absence.

12. Juan Martín Hernández (Argentina)

One of the most gifted footballers of the modern era. Ma’a Nonu and Matt Giteau may have been the more obvious choices, but Hernández was majestic at times.

He bedazzled the All Blacks in their Pool C opener with probing kicks and sumptuous offloads and also showed the Irish midfield a thing or two about the more refined aspects of centre play.

11. Santiago Cordero (Argentina)

While it could be considered tantamount to sacrilege for overlooking Julian Savea, this diminutive Puma gives hope to little guys everywhere. Cordero possesses a blinding thrust of acceleration that most defences, including Ireland’s, could not cope with. Scored three tries, made 13 clean breaks and a total of 514 metres.

10. Dan Carter (New Zealand)

Carter came alive in the knockout stages and was rightly awarded Man of the Match for his 19-point haul as he guided his New Zealand through Australia's purple patch and onto a third World Cup victory. Having missed their triumph at home four years ago, the sublimely gifted number 10 was not to be denied in his final game in black.

He turned back the clock in tearing France asunder in the quarter-final, then sent over a pivotal drop goal while his side were down to 14 men against a possessed South Africa in the penultimate tie, before repeating that particular feat yesterday just as the Wallabies were beginning to hope.

9. Aaron Smith (New Zealand)

The best scrum-half in the business bar none. Smith’s laser-point passing, stooping box-kicks, sniping breaks around the fringes and cunning provided the All Blacks the platform to implement their all-encompassing offence.

1. Scott Sio (Australia)

The bedrock of the Wallabies’ revamped scrum and a sharp operator in the loose, Sio didn’t allow injury prevent him from bringing his country to the brink of a third World Cup win.

2. Dane Coles (New Zealand)

As is befitting of an All Black hooker, Coles is in receipt of the type of speed and deft touches most centres would die for. Coles' prowess from touch maintained a flawless line-out, while his overall contribution around the park was outstanding.

3. Ramiro Herrera (Argentina)

As destructive a scrummager as any in the game, who troubled every pack Argentina encountered en route to a second semi-final appearance. The tight head is a winning combination of brute force and sound technique.

4. Eben Etzebeth (South Africa)

South Africa produce quality locks like Argentina breed bulldozing props, and Etzebeth is on course to emulating the likes of Bakkies Botha. After their loss to Japan, the Springboks went back to brutal basics, and the 24-year-old revelled in the trenches.

5. Brodie Retallick (New Zealand)

Identical to many of his compatriots, Retallick is the premier practitioner of his position of choice. He complements a Trojan work-rate with prodigious athleticism and a wonderful skill-set.

6. Schalk Burger (South Africa)

Fronted up across the entire back row as the ‘Boks awaited the return of Duane Vermeulen, and gave every ounce of his being during a third World Cup campaign. The Stormers man showed new levels of subtlety in his game and carried over the gain line a tournament-high 38 times.

7. Juan Martín Fernandez Lobbe (Argentina)

Another one of the game’s great warriors to have made his final international bow over the weekend. The Toulon flanker had stiff competition from Richie McCaw and Francois Louw, but his blend of doggedness and nous sees him edge it.

8. David Pocock (Australia)

Even the King of the Breakdown couldn’t prevent the All Blacks from retaining their crown, though he appears to be the consensus choice for player of the tournament.

Pocock’s almost supernatural upper-body strength and impeccable positional sense saw him affect an incredible 17 turnovers. His bravery was awe-inspiring at times.

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