2, 439 points, 271 tries and 48 matches later, the best ever Rugby World Cup is over. Here are my Rugby World Cup awards and brickbats:
Best Team: New Zealand.
A sparkling 34-17 win over a quality Australian side saw Steve Hansen’s men become the first team in World Cup history to win back to back titles and pocket their third World title. Devastating with ball in hand, miserly in defence, and cool under pressure, the All Blacks were deserved winners of the Webb Ellis trophy.
Player of the Tournament: David Pocock.
Outstanding from start to finish the Aussie No8 topped the turnovers won chart with 17 (four more than his nearest rival Francois Louw) and was a constant menace at the breakdown with his anticipation, technique and sheer bravery. In tandem with Michael Hooper and Scott Fardy, Pocock was a part of arguably the tournament’s best back row.
Best match: South Africa vs Japan
The biggest ever shock in Rugby World Cup history (and in Rugby Union history), Japan’s last-minute 34-32 victory over the two time champions was fairytale stuff. Playing their fast, open brand of Rugby the brave blossoms ran in 3 tries against the Springboks and came from behind more than once, with captain Michael Leitch declining a kickable last-minute penalty to tie the scores, to instead go for the win which they promptly sealed through Kame Hesketh’s dramatic try.
Best newcomer: Nehe Milner-Skudder
Milne-Skudder who only made his All Black debut back in August made the most clean breaks (15), most metres made (561) and was second place in the try scoring stakes bagging Six including crucial tries in the Semi-final and Final. With scintillating pace and a lethal side step allied with clever running angles, Skudder was a constant threat. Still only 24, the Hurricanes flyer should be at his peak come 2019.
Biggest flops: England
Despite finding themselves in the toughest group in World Cup history alongside Australia, Wales, Fiji and Uruguay, with home advantage, good players and plenty of strength in depth, England were expected to get out of the group and go far in the tournament. But a combination of selection errors, poor decision making and wrong tactics, saw Stuart Lancaster’s men become the first hosts in World Cup history to crash out at the group stages.
Most heartwarming moment: Sonny Bill Williams’ gesture to young fan
Whilst celebrating another World Cup with his team mates the bullocking cross code star saw a young fan flattened by a steward as he tried to get to his heroes. Picking 10 year-old Charlie Lines off the turf, Williams allowed the youngster to briefly join in the celebrations before ushering him back to his mother and presenting the gobsmacked Lines with his winners medal. Fantastic stuff!
Best try: Brendan Foley
The Aussie Fly-half amassed 82 points in a memorable campaign turning in a host of top quality performances, and running the Aussie backline with aplomb. His second try was a thing of beauty as from a breakdown in the middle of the park he feigned to go left deceiving the English defence before going right and inter-linking beautifully with Kurtley Beale isolating Ben Youngs in the process, before taking a return pass from Beale to go over for a try full of intelligence, pace and precision.
Biggest Villain: World Rugby for their handling of the Craig Joubert affair
Craig Joubert’s wrong decision to award Australia a penalty at the death in their Quarter Final clash with Scotland which effectively cost the Scots a Semi Final berth was a bad decision, made worse by his decision to immediately run off the field at the final whistle. But by saying that Joubert had got it wrong in a public statement a couple of days later, World Rugby hung Joubert out to dry in a very distasteful move. Surely Brett Gosper and co should have expressed their feeling to Joel Jutge its Refs Chief, rather than going public in its criticism of Joubert.
Suprise package: Japan
Under the shrewd tutelage of Eddie Jones, Japan racked up three tournament wins including the mother of all upsets against South Africa,surpassing their previous record of one. Narrowly missing out to Scotland for the runners-up spot in Group B, they became the first team to win three matches and fail to qualify for the knockout stages. With their exciting,enterprising brand of Rugby they became the neutral’s team of choice.