As the dust settles on South Africa’s rampant win over England last Saturday, we take a look at the 15 blokes who have done enough to make it into the prestigious MatchPint 2019 Team of the Tournament.
15. Beauden Barrett (New Zealand)
A class act at fly-half, Barrett’s pre-tournament tactical switch to full-back has brought out the best of his electric running game. He made the most runs this tournament of any player (86), with twelve clean breaks (the second most) and also chalked up three tries to his name. A frankly disgustingly talented man, on his day he is unplayable and there was no other candidate that came close.
14. Katoro Matsushima (Japan)
There’s a lot of competition here (Cheslin Kolbe and Anthony Watson can count themselves unlucky) but the Japanese flyer Matsushima gets my vote. His finishing and interplay was simply spectacular, especially against Scotland in that crunch pool decider, and he finished with 5 tries in the tournament, a record for his country and third overall in the tournament standings.
13. Manu Tuilagi (England)
Looked back to his destructive best all tournament, running killer lines in attack and putting immense pressure on the opposition in defence. His performance against New Zealand will live long in the memory, especially for the try he scored after 98 seconds that set England on their way to the final. Great to see him back after so many frustrating injuries. Honourable mention to Wallaby Samu Kerevi for his blistering early tournament form.
12. Owen Farrell (England)
A very hard call to leave out South Africa’s excellent Damian de Allende, but the England skipper has come of age this tournament and just shades it for me. Equally astute at 10 or 12, his kicking from the tee and distribution out of hand were almost faultless in the knock-out stages and his leadership propelled England to two of their finest World Cup victories in living memory against Australia and New Zealand.
11. Makazole Mapimpi (South Africa)
Scored the try that broke English hearts in the final and was generally a menace throughout South Africa’s triumphant campaign. Finished second in the try scoring charts with 6 dot-downs, holding off strong challenges from Josh Adams (the tournament’s top scorer) and Jonny May. An instinctive finisher who came alive on the world’s biggest stage.
10. Handre Pollard (South Africa)
Nerveless from the tee, a masterful deployer of the Garryowen and rock solid in defence, Pollard grew and grew the longer the tournament went on. His flawless display in the final against England is right up there with any in World Cup history and he deservedly takes the 10 berth ahead of close rival George Ford, who was also excellent but wilted badly at the final hurdle.
9. Faf de Klerk (South Africa)
This spiky scrumhalf defends with flanker-like physicality and directs his team around the park with all the gusto of a circus ring master. There is quite simply no other number 9 in world rugby quite like him at the moment, and he was at his pugnacious best in the final against England, exposing his opposite man’s shortcomings on the biggest of occasions with a masterful display from the base. His decision to channel Chris Pontious in the celebrations, immediately and inexplicably cracking out a pair of patriotic budgie smugglers, was also lovely to see. France’s Antoine Dupont also impressed but de Klerk gets the nod for all the reasons above.
1. Tendai Mtawarira (South Africa)
At 34 years of age, the ‘Beast’ rolled back the years with his titanic scrummaging display. Dan Cole, a man who’s calling card is his set piece work, had no where to go as Mtawarira squeezed the life out of England with penalty after penalty at the scrum. Special mention to Japanese prop Keita Inagaki who also had an outstanding campaign, particularly in open play, but for his perfect performance in the final alone the Beast takes the loosehead spot.
2. Jamie George (England)
George had an excellent campaign and can count himself unlucky to have wound up on the losing side in the final. His lineout throwing, bar one honker against the All Blacks, was impeccable throughout the tournament and he was as bustling and busy in the loose as ever. He has made the England hooker spot well and truly his own. Japan’s Shota Horie is perhaps unlucky to miss out having put in some outstanding shifts at the age of 33, though the consolation of enjoying hero status in his home country for decades to come will soften the blow.
3. Kyle Sinckler (England)
A heartbreaking and premature end to his final must not overshadow what came before it: Sinckler was a revelation in this year’s edition and deserves all the plaudits he will get. Solid in the scrum, it was his work in the loose that stood him out from his prop peers - he combines the poise and touch of a number 10 with the power of an ox, and he cut the sharpest of lines against Australia to score one of the tries of the tournament. Remained ruthlessly competitive but without the disciplinary brainfarts that at times sullied his showings.
4. Maro Itoje (England)
The tournament’s second top tackler with 71 hits and its undisputed turnover king, Itoje had a stonker and deservedly takes one of the second-row berths. His man-of-the-match display in the semifinal ought to give the All Blacks nightmares for months, and at the age of 25 it’s scary to think he can still get better. No other lock in world rugby has as much influence on the outcome of a game.
5. Alun Wyn Jones, Co-Captain (Wales)
I’ve run out of superlatives for this man who defies his 34 years of age with every staggering, awe-inspiring performance he puts in. At what was surely his last World Cup, he played in every single game in Japan, made an astonishing 79 tackles and led from the front up until the bitter end. Despite his remarkable commitment to the 'Bobby Charlton' look, he leaves with his head high and his pride more than intact – a true legend of the game.
6. Siya Kolisi Co-Captain (South Africa)
He and backrow partner du Toit were irrepressible all tournament, especially in the final where they made life a living hell for the white shirts at the breakdown and maul. Kolisi’s story is a remarkable one but it is his performances on the pitch and magnetic leadership that put him on a pedestal. Shares the captaincy with AWJ in this side, whilst honourable mentions go to Michael Leitch, an icon now in his adopted nation of Japan and the human tackling machine that is Sam Underhill of England.
7. Tom Curry (England)
Combines the relentless enthusiasm of a 21-year-old with the battle-hardened nous of a 35-year-old Neil Back at his scavenging best. A limpet at the breakdown and a ferocious tackler in the open field, Curry was simply sensational for England in Japan and has the potential to go on and dominate the world stage. He can run, ruck, tackle and pass with aplomb – the complete modern-day flanker.
8. Duane Vermeulen (South Africa)
Capping a remarkable comeback for the name ‘Duane’ over the last decade, Vermuelen was a colossus all tournament long and deservedly picked up the MOTM gong for his showing in the final. Bullocking with ball in hand, he was equally disruptive in defence, slowing opposition ball down and generally making a nuisance of himself around the park with shuddering hits galore. Vermeulen holds off a decent challenge from Kieran Read (who chopped through an impressive 69 tackles in Japan) to claim the number 8 jersey in this team.