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Opinion

The Roar's Rugby World Cup team of the tournament

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Editor
7th November, 2019
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The morning after the Rugby World Cup final, we asked you to pick the team of the tournament for us.

Nearly a thousand votes later, we’ve pulled the results together for a formidable-looking 23, filled with players who dominated in Japan.

Just for good measure, I went ahead and picked my own team of the tournament before looking at who picked up the most votes in our poll, too. Because why have one team to argue about when you can have two?

Fullback

The Roar’s pick: Beauden Barrett (New Zealand)
My pick: Beauden Barrett (New Zealand)
This tournament was short on standout displays from fullback, but Beauden Barrett was the one player who consistently dominated in the no.15 jersey.

Starting with a man-of-the-match display in the All Blacks’ tournament-opening win over eventual champions South Africa, Barrett was superb in a position he was only moved back into at Test level this year. That he picked up 85.7 per cent of the vote, more than any other player in any other position, shows how far ahead of the rest of the fullback crop he was.

Liam Williams was probably the next-best 15, assured in defence and damaging in attack for Wales. Had he not been struck down by injury before the semi-final, we may very well have had a different champion.

Beauden Barrett

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Wingers

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The Roar’s picks: Cheslin Kolbe (South Africa) and Semi Radradra (Fiji)
My picks: Cheslin Kolbe (South Africa) and Semi Radradra (Fiji)
If we were short on options at fullback, the opposite was the case out wide. A number of wingers had sensational tournaments, none more so than Cheslin Kolbe – despite missing two games with an ankle injury.

The Toulouse wide man was the Springboks’ bright spot in their only loss to New Zealand, and it was fitting he scored the final try of the tournament, a blistering solo effort which left Owen Farrell sprawling on the turf and a handful of other English defenders in his wake. He was unsurprisingly the most popular winger in the poll, picked in 75.4 per cent of teams.

With 38.6 per cent of the vote, Semi Radradra takes the no.11 jersey. In what was ultimately a disappointing tournament Fiji, the league convert was the best player of the group stage.

He single-handedly defeated Georgia with what was the most dominant individual display in Japan: two tries, three try assists, 177 running metres, five clean breaks and 11 defenders beaten would have been a strong return for the entire tournament. That was Radradra’s haul from that single game, and he was also strong against Australia and Wales, both games which Fiji threatened in but were ultimately unable to win.

There were plenty of other wingers who came into contention for this spot. Japan’s Kotaro Matsushima was foremost among them for his five tries and damaging running game, falling about 100 votes short of Radradra, and his teammate Kenki Fukuoka also had a strong tournament.

Kolbe’s wing partner Makazole Mapimpi, Australia’s Marika Koroibete, and leading try-scorer Josh Adams from Wales were also right in the mix, but it was impossible to overlook Kolbe and Radradra.

Semi Radradra playing for Fiji

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Outside centre

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The Roar’s pick: Manu Tuilagi (England)
My pick: Manu Tuilagi (England)
Another consensus pick, Tuilagi’s impact in midfield was critical in helping England to the final. Strong in both defence and attack, he was the most consistent backline performer for the Red Roses, although he was nullified well by South Africa in the decider.

While Tuilagi’s efforts earned him 54.5 per cent of the vote, Jonathon Davies from Wales (16.3%) and France’s Virimi Vakatawa (14.7%) also had good tournaments.

Manu Tuilagi of England

(Photo by David Rogers – RFU/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

Inside centre

The Roar’s pick: Damian de Allende (South Africa)
My pick: Damien de Allende (South Africa)
South Africa’s most powerful backline ball-runner is another easy selection in the team of the tournament. Damian de Allende was superb for the Boks, particularly in the knockout stage.

His try against Wales in the semi-final was a remarkable display of strength through contact, and he was dominant in the midfield battle in the final.

A worthy selection, de Allende’s 48.9 per cent of the vote was comfortably enough to get past England skipper Owen Farrell (25%), while Australia’s Samu Kerevi and All Black Anton Lienert-Brown also had good tournaments.

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Flyhalf

The Roar’s pick: Handre Pollard (South Africa)
My pick: Richie Mo’unga (New Zealand)
Finally, a disagreement! The Crowd had little hesitation in collectively picking Handre Pollard (66.6%) at flyhalf after his deadeye accuracy from the tee, all-around kicking game, and occasional forays with ball in hand helped the Springboks to their third title. It’s hard to argue with the choice.

But I will anyway, going instead with someone who was picked in 15.8 per cent of the fan-voted teams. Richie Mo’unga, in his first World Cup for the All Blacks, was a more complete performer in Japan, excellent in helping orchestrate the New Zealand attack in the no.10 jersey.

He had more opportunity to shine given the contrasting gameplans of the two sides, but his better playmaking was enough to warrant picking the Crusader. I don’t lay the semi-final defeat at his feet, either – there’s not a lot a flyhalf can do behind an outclassed and outmuscled pack.

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Handre Pollard

(Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Scrumhalf

The Roar’s pick: Faf de Klerk (South Africa)
My pick: Faf de Klerk (South Africa)
No arguments here: Faf de Klerk, who picked up 64.6 per cent of the vote, was far and away the best scrumhalf at the 2019 World Cup. His box kick-heavy playing style might not have been the prettiest thing to watch but there’s no question of its effectiveness.

Throw in some tenacious efforts in defence, and accurate, savvy distribution from the ruck-base, and you have not just the best player in his position, but the player of the tournament.

Faf De Klerk

(Photo by Craig Mercer/MB Media/Getty Images)

Number 8

The Roar’s pick: Duane Vermeulen (South Africa)
My pick: Duane Vermeulen (South Africa)
Man of the match in the final. One of the best performers in the semi-final. A ball runner so devastating that Tomas Francis’ shoulder popped out when he tried to tackle him.

There’s not much else that need be said about Duane Vermuelen’s World Cup. Clearly one of the top players of the tournament, only Barrett and Maro Itoje received more votes than the South African’s 80.5 per cent.

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That’s not to say there weren’t other forwards at the back of the scrum who had good tournaments – Josh Navidi was strong, his injury significantly hurting Wales’ chances of a first final appearance, as were Billy Vunipola and Kazuki Himeno.

None of them came close to matching Vermuelen’s impact, though.

Duane Vermuelen

(Photo by Kaz Photography/Getty Images)

Openside flanker

The Roar’s pick: Sam Underhill (England)
My pick: Pieter-Steph du Toit (South Africa)
After being found out at the breakdown in the last World Cup, it was a notable area of strength for England in Japan, and openside Sam Underhill was a big part of that.

Strong over the ball, the 23-year-old was even more powerful in the contact zone, and particularly impressive in the semi-final win over New Zealand. He was picked in 71.7 per cent of teams, and you can be sure this won’t be the last World Cup he has an impact on.

For me, though, it’s South Africa’s Pieter-Steph du Doit who just pips him for the no.7 jersey, mainly because the Springbok was able to get the better of his English counterpart in the final on Saturday.

Du Toit, too, had an outstanding semi-final, and was a crucial cog in the South African defence which their World Cup success was built on, leaving Japan as the Springboks’ leading tackler.

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Pieter-Steph Du Toit dives in for a try

(Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty Images)

Blindside flanker

The Roar’s pick: Ardie Savea (New Zealand)
My pick: Tom Curry (England)
There aren’t many flankers in world rugby who are as dynamic as Ardie Savea. A fast and powerful runner, excellent pilferer and strong defender, he had a good tournament even as he was shifted around the back row and the All Blacks failed to defend their title.

Savea was selected in 37.6 per cent of teams in what was one of the tightest positional tussles, but I’ve gone for the runner-up, England’s Tom Curry, who finished on 31.2 per cent.

Phenomenal when pitted against New Zealand in the semi-final, Curry put in a tournament performance well beyond his 21 years. Like his back-row partner Underhill, we haven’t seen the last of this young star at the Rugby World Cup.

Tom Curry and Sam Underhill celebrate

(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Locks

The Roar’s picks: Maro Itoje (England) and Lood de Jager
My picks: Maro Itoje (England) and Alun Wyn Jones (Wales)
Maro Itoje was one of the players of the tournament, dominant at the set-piece and around the ground for Eddie Jones’ side. The way he marshalled the English lineout against New Zealand in the semi-final despite having fewer jumpers at his disposal was world-class.

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Itoje had 81.8 per cent of the vote, well ahead of the man picked to parnter him in the second row, South Africa’s Lood de Jager (45.7%).

Much like the Englishman, de Jager had an outstanding tournament, although didn’t pick up the same tackling load as Itoje. The Springboks were also able to cover his absence in the final after he was forced from the field with a dislocated shoulder.

For those two reasons, I’ve gone instead for Welsh captain Alun Wyn Jones to line up at lock. In what will surely be his final World Cup, Jones finished the tournament with more tackles than any other player, eight clear of the next-best Itoje. Add in his leadership and lineout work and you have a deserving selection.

He was the third-most-popular lock in our poll, finishing six per cent shy of de Jager.

Maro Itoje runs the ball for England

(Photo by Adam Davy/PA Images via Getty Images)

Tighthead prop

The Roar’s pick: Kyle Sinckler (England)
My pick: Kyle Sinckler (England)
Back to a position we agree on: Kyle Sinckler was the pick of the tightheads in Japan. Not just an elite scrummager, the prop was also an important part of the English attack with his ball-running and short passing. His try against Australia, a lazy 20-metre dash after running a superb line, ended the Wallabies’ tournament hosts.

Sinckler’s class was perhaps most notable in his absence in the final. England’s chances of a second Web Ellis Cup nosedived when he was knocked out in the early minutes of the decider.

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He finished our poll with 46.8 per cent of the vote, ahead of the next-best Frans Malherbe (37.9%). Allan Alaalatoa and Tadgh Furlong also had good campaigns, even if their sides didn’t enjoy a deep tournament run.

Kyle Sinckler after being knocked out in the RWC final

(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Hooker

The Roar’s pick: Bongi Mbonambi (South Africa)
My pick: Shota Horie (Japan)
No surprise to see a Springbok front-rower in the team of the tournament; Bongi Mbonambi was one of the standout hookers in Japan. His lineout throwing was accurate, his scrummaging strong, and he picked up a few tries rolling into the line at the back of South Africa’s powerful maul.

Like fellow Crowd selections de Jager and Sinckler, Mbonambi’s final ended early, the hooker forced from the field with a head knock after 20 minutes, but his contributions before that were stellar.

Hooker was the most even position of all in picking the team of the tournament, Mbonambi (30.1%) getting the smallest share of the vote of any starter in this side.

Codie Taylor, Jamie George, Tolu Latu and even Mbonambi’s Springbok teammate Malcolm Marx all had strong tournaments, but I’ve gone for Japan’s no.2, Shota Horie, who finished second in the position with 21.6 per cent.

One of the players of the pool stage, Horie’s efforts at the set-piece and general play played a considerable role in getting the Brave Blossoms to their first-ever quarter-final appearance.

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Springboks players after the national anthem

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Loosehead prop

The Roar’s pick: Steven Kitschoff (South Africa)
My pick: Steven Kitschoff (South Africa)
Always the easiest prop to spot on the field, Steven Kitschoff was eye-catching at the World Cup, and not just for his bright red locks. Throughout the tournament, South Africa enjoyed a boost from their bench forwards, of which Kitschoff was the best performer.

His wonderful work in the scrum was particularly notable, and no doubt the main reason he picked up 61.4 per cent of the vote despite coming off the bench.

Japan’s Keita Inagaki was next in line with 16.9 per cent, while Joe Marler and Tendai Mtawarira also got some attention from the Crowd.

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Reserves

The Roar’s bench: Shota Horie (JAP), Frans Malherbe (RSA), Keita Inagaki (JAP), Alun Wyn Jones (WAL), Tom Curry (ENG), Aaron Smith (NZL), Owen Farrell (ENG), Kotaro Matsushima (JAP)
My bench: Bongi Mbonabi (RSA), Frans Malherbe (RSA), Joe Marler (ENG), Lood de Jager (RSA), Sam Underhill (ENG), Gareth Davies (WAL), Owen Farrell (ENG), Kotaro Matsushima (JAP)

For the reader-voted team, the bench was simply the runners-up at all three front-row positions, lock and scrumhalf. Shota Horie, Frans Malherbe, Keita Inagaki, Alun Wyn Jones and Aaron Smith made their way into the side in those positions, while English pair Tom Curry and Owen Farrell were the most popular players to miss the XV in the back row and inside back spots respectively.

Kotaro Matsushima picked up the third-most votes of any winger, and with the dearth of options at fullback, he takes the outside back slot.

There were a few differences in my bench. Mbonambi and Horie, and de Jager and Jones are straight starter-reserve swaps, while it was impossible to leave out Sam Underhill from the 23 after overlooking him for the starting side.

Gareth Davies just gets the nod at scrumhalf over Smith thanks to his stellar pool-stage performances, while Joe Marler pips Inagaki, again for some superb group games, and also for turning around England’s dire scrum fortunes in the final after coming off the bench.

The rest of the reserves, meanwhile, are the same in both sides.

The Roar’s 2019 Rugby World Cup team of the tournament

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As chosen by the Crowd As chosen by the Editor
Steven Kitschoff 1. Steven Kitschoff
Bongi Mbonambi 2. Shota Horie
Kyle Sinckler 3. Kyle Sinckler
Maro Itoje 4. Maro Itoje
Lood de Jager 5. Alun Wyn Jones
Ardie Savea 6. Tom Curry
Sam Underhill 7. Pieter-Steph de Toit
Duane Vermeulen 8. Duane Vermeulen
Faf de Klerk 9. Faf de Klerk
Handre Pollard 10. Richie Mo’unga
Semi Radradra 11. Semi Radradra
Damian de Allende 12. Damian de Allende
Manu Tuilagi 13. Manu Tuilagi
Cheslin Kolbe 14. Cheslin Kolbe
Beauden Barrett 15. Beauden Barrett
Bench
Shota Horie 16. Bongi Mbonambi
Frans Malherbe 17. Frans Malherbe
Keita Inagaki 18. Joe Marler
Alun Wyn Jones 19. Lood de Jager
Tom Curry 20. Sam Underhill
Aaron Smith 21. Gareth Davies
Owen Farrell 22. Owen Farrell
Kotaro Matsushima 23. Kotaro Masushima