Rugby World Cup awards: the best player, the best match – our verdicts

Player of the tournament

RK Richie Mo’unga. It did not quite happen for him in the final but he was wonderfully sharp in parts. His All Black colleagues Ardie Savea and Aaron Smith make my team of the tournament, as do Ireland’s Bundee Aki and South Africa’s Ox Nché.

GM Ardie Savea. Carried New Zealand at times during their defiant performance in the final and brings an intensity in close quarters that few can match. Sam Cane is the captain of the All Blacks but Savea is their leader.

AB Siya Kolisi. He isn’t the strongest, fastest, or most formidable player in the South Africa team, let alone the tournament, but he may well be the greatest captain in the history of the game. It’s impossible to think the Springboks would have won it without his leadership.

JL Eben Etzebeth. Immense in every sense of the word. Not just the heart and claws of this South Africa side but its platform and its emotional fulcrum. Other players were more flawless. None was as influential.

MA Eben Etzebeth. Some things in rugby run deeper than who can run fastest, pass sweetest or tackle most. Etzebeth dominates a rugby match just by standing there. Martin Johnson had that. People are glad to be in the same team as such players.

Eben Etzebeth, right, goes up for a line-out during the final.
Eben Etzebeth, right, goes up for a lineout during the final.Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

LMc Faf de Klerk. Eben Etzebeth or Pieter-Steph du Toit would be equally deserving but no one personifies the Springboks’ winning mentality more than their brilliant, niggly, downright annoying scrum-half. Profound impact off the bench, at times, before a masterful display in starting the final.

Breakthrough player

RK Nicolas Martins, Portugal. Os Lobos were a joy to watch and the 24-year-old Martins impressed with and without the ball. Athletic, rangy and fit, he should be playing at a higher level than second-tier French club rugby.

GM Jac Morgan, Wales. Honourable mentions for England’s Ben Earl and New Zealand’s Mark Tele’a but Morgan established himself as an elite back-rower in Wales’s impressive pool stage captain. Will be a mainstay for years to come.

AB Mark Tele’a, New Zealand. The All Black damn near turned that final around all on his own. His magnificent sidestep made him the hardest man to tackle in the tournament. It took three Springboks to bring him down pretty much every time he got the ball.

New Zealand’s Mark Tele’a in action versus South Africa.
The New Zealand wing Mark Tele’a on the run against South Africa in the final. Photograph: Teresa Suárez/EPA

JL Ben Earl, England. Cast adrift by Eddie Jones, he has been on quite the journey. May eventually end up as a flanker rather than No 8, where he has impressed this tournament. The kind of player you can build a team around.

MA Raffaele Storti, Portugal. The French system does much for world rugby by employing players from upcoming nations like Portugal, via a more forgiving visa system. Storti’s been ripping it up on loan with Beziers; now, after his performance this World Cup, Stade Français want him back

LMc George Martin, England. Was dropped into the cauldron of a semi-final against South Africa and helped his team rough up the eventual champions for 60 minutes. A combative, relentlessly physical Leicester lock leading England at a World Cup Down Under: sound familiar?

Best match

RK south Africa 8_ 13 Ireland Both the Paris quarter-finals were outstanding but of the games I attended in person the most memorable was Ireland v South Africa in the pool stage. The Stade de France was overflowing with travelling Irish supporters and their renditions of Zombie and Dirty Old Town made it a green day to savour.

GM france 28_29 South Africa The first half of France’s quarter-final defeat by South Africa in particular was rugby to take the breath away before things got a bit tighter, a bit more tense but no less dramatic. Just pips New Zealand’s victory over Ireland a day earlier.

AB The first 40 minutes of the quarter final between South Africa and France felt like the greatest half of rugby ever played, and if the second didn’t quite live up to it, well, nothing much in the history of the game has.

JL For tension, drama, importance, atmosphere and sheer dizzying technical quality, France v South Africa was about as good as sport gets.

MA There have been plenty of great matches (Wales v Fiji in the heat of Bordeaux springs to mind), but for ferocious, skilful, should-have-been-the-final breathlessness, Ireland 24_28 Newzealand took some beating. A shame the other example of that was also a quarter-final.

LMc japan 27- 29 Argentina The sort of swarming blitz defence that wins trophies was refreshingly absent here. Both teams kept ball in hand and looked for width, with a scintillating spectacle the result. Yes, it was error-strewn, but since when did technical perfection equal entertainment?

Amato Fakatava of Japan sprints down the wing to register one of the tries of the tournament against Argentina.
Amato Fakatava of Japan sprints down the wing in Nantes to register one of the tries of the tournament against Argentina. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

Best try

RK Kurt-Lee Arendse, South Africa v Scotland. Arendse finished it off but it was Manie Libbok’s magnificent no-look diagonal kick pass to his winger that made it special. A sublime piece of skill.

GM Will Jordan, New Zealand v Ireland. He scored eight so plenty to pick from but his effort against Ireland in the quarter-final was the best of them. Richie Mo’unga’s vision to see and then prise the opening before releasing Jordan was a sight to behold.

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