Arguably the greatest-ever Rugby World Cup has finished and here Sport360’s Andrew Binner looks back at the players who lit England 2015 up. Do you agree? Have your say using #360Fans.
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15 – BEN SMITH (NZL)
14 – SANTIAGO CORDERO (ARG)
Argentina have always had a fearsome scrum but in 2015 the Pumas announced themselves as one of rugby’s finest attacking sides and one of their most potent threats was that of winger Cordero. The former sevens player showed an unbelievable turn of pace to rack up a whopping 514 metres with ball in hand.
13 – JESSE KRIEL (RSA)
It was an unfortunate injury to Springbok skipper that handed Kriel his chance in the starting XV and the Bulls centre did not disappoint. The burly 21-year-old has well and truly solved something of a problem position for South Africa since the retirement of Jaque Fourie with his enormous strength in the tackle and ability to break the gain line with every touch.
12 – MA’A NONU (NZL)
A well-deserving recipient of a try in the final, the dread-locked centre had to be at the top of his game to keep Sonny Bill Williams out of the team. While still demonstrating all the strength and power of his early years in professional rugby, Nonu showed a more varied playing-style with a cultured boot and enhanced passing skills to make the jersey his own.
11 – JULIAN SAVEA (NZL)
It took the bulldozing winger a couple of matches to find his best form, but once he did the Hurricane was unstoppable. With eight tries in total (including a hat-trick in the quarter-final against France) Savea continues to show remarkable similarities to the great Jonah Lomu which says an enormous amount about the winger.
10 – DAN CARTER (NZL)
A special mention must go to Argentina fly-half and tournament top-scorer Nicolas Sanchez who was integral to his team’s fantastic run and at 27, will hope to lead his team to even higher honours at Japan 2019. However this World Cup belonged to one man in Dan Carter, who after two failed World Cup campaigns on a personal note, finally got his fairy-tale ending.
9 – FUMIAKI TANAKA (JPN)
Japan surpassed all expectations with three group-stage wins and relied heavily on the tactical nous of their little general Tanaka. With an eye for a gap, he left plenty of flankers chasing shadows while he punched well above his weight on defence and displayed a mature tactical kicking game to get the Brave Blossoms playing in the right areas of the field.
1 – SCOTT SIO (AUS)
Australia’s scrum has gone from zero to hero at the World Cup and Sio was central to its cause. The mobile prop missed Australia’s semi-final win over Argentina with injury and the Wallaby attacking platform suffered as a result.
2 – AGUSTIN CREEVY (ARG)
The Argentina captain was simply inspiring with his work-rate and tackle count around the field and personified his team’s relentless work-ethic. However it was in attack where the 30-year-old drew the most plaudits because of his ability to draw defenders and offload like a centre.
3 – SEKOPE KEPU (AUS)
The final third of Australia’s powerful scrimmaging unit proved that he is so much more than a lump who is there to push. Having trimmed-down significantly before the tournament Kepu’s work-rate was greatly improved, regularly reaching double figures for ball-carries to help Australia’s backs cause havoc.
4 – BRODIE RETALLICK (NZL)
While the giant lock did not quite replicate the unbelievable form that saw him crowned World Rugby player of the year in 2014, his consistency at the set-piece and in the loose make him easily the most effective lock in the tournament.
5 – LOOD DE JAGER (RSA)
Regularly topping the tackling and ball-carrying charts for South Africa, his consistency despite his youth means that he just edges compatriot Eben Etzebeth here. However at 22 and 24 respectively, this duo could potentially become one of the greatest second-row partnerships ever.
6 – SCOTT FARDY (AUS)
The bearded Wallaby was the unsung hero of the Australian back row. Fardy could always be found at the bottom of a ruck using his uncompromising physicality to disrupt opposition’s attempts to generate quick ball. Fardy’s work at the kick-off turned the restart into something of an attacking weapon for Australia.
7 – RICHIE MCCAW (NZL)
Steve Hansen described McCaw as ‘simply the greatest All Black ever’ and it is difficult to disagree with the New Zealand coach. McCaw, 34, rolled back the years and overcome many injury setbacks to lift the Webb Ellis Cup for a second time on Saturday, and rugby fans will be pleased that he has not announced any retirement plans just yet.
8 – DAVID POCOCK (AUS)
Australian coach Michael Cheika’s decision to bring back David Pocock at number eight was perhaps one of the greatest tactical decisions ever made in a World Cup. Pocock was by some distance the player of the tournament after almost single-handedly defeating several teams on his own. If there was a turnover crown, Pocock would have just taken it from McCaw.
Dan Carter finished his Test career with 19 points as New Zealand became the first team to successfully defend the World Cup title after a 34-17 victory over arch-rivals Australia on Saturday.
Carter’s man of the match performance more than made up for his missing out on the victory on home soil in 2011 because of an injury suffered during that tournament.
New Zealand became the first team to win the trophy three times although they had to withstand a ferocious fightback from 21-3 down by Australia.
When the Wallabies had closed to within three points of the All Blacks in the second half, Carter struck with a monstrous drop goal and a 50 metre penalty to decide the game.
With three tries, two converted, and a further three Carter penalties the All Blacks put on a brilliant show, spoiled only by Ben Smith becoming the first player to be sin-binned in a final.
Richie McCaw, in what may have been his international swansong raised the Webb Ellis Cup for the second time in four years after 80 minutes of high-octane rugby.
Carter, who has confirmed it was his 112th and final Test scored 19 points to stretch his world record to 1,598.
— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) October 31, 2015
The Wallabies put up a stubborn resistance for much of the first half but the speed of the All Blacks and passes proved too much for them.
The Australians resistance broke just before half-time, when Conrad Smith, Aaron Smith and McCaw all combined to put Nehe Milner Skudder over in the corner.
Sonny Bill Williams, who replaced Conrad Smith at half-time, produced two classy off-loads with his first touches. The second put Ma’a Nonu on a 40 metre run to the line.
Before a capacity crowd of 80,125, it put the All Blacks ahead 21-3.
The Wallabies came back with two converted tries in the middle of the second half when the All Blacks were down to 14-men with Ben Smith in the sin-bin.
David Pocock crossed from a lineout drive and Tevita Kuridrani scored when Australia counter-attacked after Milner-Skudder missed touch with a clearing kick.
The two wings with places in the record books at stake, Julian Savea and Drew Mitchell were unable to cross the line.
Savea finishes the tournament with eight tries, equalling the record for a single World Cup set by Jonah Lomu (1999) and Bryan Habana (2007).
— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) October 31, 2015
Mitchell signed off without adding to his 14 career World Cup tries, one behind the record also shared by Lomu and Habana.
Australia kicked off but were almost immediately forced back into their own half when Nonu stepped around Sekope Kepu to get the All Blacks up to the Wallaby line.
They threatened on the right side with Milner-Skudder then on the left with Savea before winning a penalty for Carter to put the first points on the board.
Although the All Blacks were applying the early pressure a series of errors allowed Australia into the game.
A kick for the corner went out on the full, a Carter clearing kick did not go out and when Australia kicked Ben Smith knocked on.
At the resulting scrum the All Blacks front row was penalised and Bernard Foley landed the equalising penalty.
New Zealand blew a chance to regain the lead when awarded a handy penalty which scrum-half Aaron Smith decided to run with rather than let Carter have a shot at goal.
Smith then found himself penalised when tackled near the posts.
— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) October 31, 2015
Wallaby prop Kepu warned once for a late tackle on Carter gave away another penalty for a high tackle on the New Zealand fly-half.
This time Smith contained himself and allowed Carter to kick the points.
After Carter landed his third penalty the All Blacks produced the opening try of the game, just before half-time with Conrad Smith, Aaron Smith and McCaw all featuring in the move to put Milner-Skudder over for the All Blacks to turn 16-3 ahead.
Williams, who came on for Conrad Smith at the break, produced two sensational off-loads with his first two touches of the ball, to set up Nonu’s try.
The Pocock and Kuridrani tries saw Australia close the gap to 21-17 before Carter, the man of the match, landed his drop goal and penalty.
Beauden Barrett then scored the shutout try with Carter landing the conversion.
Unsung hero Wayne Smith has been hailed as a driving force in New Zealand’s bid to make history by retaining the World Cup.
Much-vaunted defence specialist Smith guided the Chiefs to Super Rugby success before returning to the All Blacks and adding an extra level of frugality to Steve Hansen’s already mean-spirited rearguard cordon.
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“It’s been pretty good having Smithy back in the camp,” said hooker Keven Mealamu, preparing for his final All Blacks match in Saturday’s World Cup final against Australia. “With guys understanding their roles, he’s been able to put some good systems in place for us.
“But it’s just been good having old Smithy back. Wayne’s got a really good rapport with the players.
“He’s a very smart man. He sees a lot of things a player doesn’t usually pick up on and he’s great at getting his teaching across.
“It’s been really handy having him back.
“His attention to detail really adds to the coaching group we’ve had for the last couple of years.”
New Zealand have conceded just three tries throughout their inexorable march to a second successive World Cup final.
The All Blacks will become the first side to retain the Webb Ellis Cup with victory this weekend, with Richie McCaw set to go down as the best captain in the history of the game.
Veteran hooker Mealamu will end his All Blacks career in Saturday’s World Cup final, likely to earn his 132nd cap off the bench.
Along with Dan Carter, McCaw, Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith, the 36-year-old is aiming to exit the Test arena in unrivalled style.
The All Blacks have been at excruciating pains not to hype up their emotions ahead of facing Michael Cheika’s Wallabies.
Mealamu reiterated the party line that the All Blacks will only address the reality of the passing of a clutch of all-time greats once Saturday’s match is done and dusted.
The Blues hooker did however admit he had no idea he would be able to stretch out his Test career for another four years when New Zealand claimed the 2011 title.
“It wasn’t until the next year that I even started to consider it,” said Mealamu.
“For a personal goal I thought how amazing it would be to go to another.
“With the opportunity to play in another final, I’m close to that goal.
“I’m just really pleased to be in this position, to have the opportunity to do this.”
Insisting New Zealand must strike out all thoughts of glory and complete their meticulous preparations, Mealamu said: “I just think it’s an exciting challenge that we’re really walking towards.
“We’ve got an opportunity to do it, so there’s still plenty of days we need to make sure we get right to enable us to do what we want to achieve. It’s a pretty cool opportunity.”