Rugby World Cup 2019: Gerry Thornley’s team of the tournament

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15 Beauden Barrett (New Zealand)

It’s too reactive to say that Barrett’s switch to fullback didn’t work on the basis of their semi-final exit, as England’s all-enveloping defence would have shut down any playmakers that day. The policy still gave Barrett more opportunities to carry than otherwise would have been the case and he thrilled in three telling wins with his pace, line-breaks, offloads and tries (three). The Lionel Messi of rugby.

14 Kotaro Matsushima (Japan)

Set the tournament alight with his hat-trick on opening night, albeit it was against Russia, and thereafter wowed the home crowds every time he touched the ball, making him dangerous from anywhere on the pitch. Also sealed Japan’s bonus point against Samoa with try in overtime, although this slot could just as easily go to Cheslin Kolbe.

13 Lukhanyo Am (South Africa)

Under-used it is true, not least in the semi-final against Wales, but his form for the Sharks and the Springboks in 2019 has been outstanding. He has an eye for a gap, is creative, strong in defence and good over the ball and, of course, his skill and awareness were demonstrated with that nonchalant no-look assist for Mapimpi in the final. Virimi Vakatawa, Timothy Lafaele, Jack Goodhue, Jonathan Davies all had good tournaments.

12 Manu Tuilagi (England)

Tuilagi also played mostly at outside centre, although by rights they could easily reverse positions. Either way they’d make a perfect balance, with Tuilagi’s raw power the perfect foil to Am’s playmaking abilities. Set the bar for England with his double against Tonga and was the most influential player in their semi-final win over the All Blacks on both sides of the ball, the ripple effects of his early try and ensuing intercept enduring until the last minute.

11 Makazole Mapimpi (South Africa)

Although Josh Adams had a superb tournament, and was its top scorer, Mapimpi finished one behind him, his sixth also being the decisive finish in the final to ensure the Springboks became world champions. Assistant coach Mzwandile Stick describes Mapimpi as the most improved player over the last year in their squad, and two towering takes over Elliot Daly provided evidence of this. Fiji’s Semi Radradra lit up the tournament with his powerhouse displays against Wales and Australia.

10 George Ford (England)

England’s outhalf George Ford during his team’s semi-final win over the All Blacks. Photograph: Getty Images
England’s outhalf George Ford during his team’s semi-final win over the All Blacks. Photograph: Getty Images

Curiously, not a vintage tournament in the chief playmaking role. Ford was becalmed in the final, where Handre Pollard’s 22 points was just shy of Matt Burke’s 25-point haul in the 1999 final, but the English outhalf played with far more variety in the pool stages, and after helping seal the deal over Australia in the quarters off the bench, was outstanding in the win over the All Blacks. Class in wins over South Africa and Ireland, Richie Mo’unga had little impact against England.

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