Rugby World Cup 2015: Tournament awards and highlights

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What was your highlight of the Rugby World Cup?

The Rugby World Cup best match, player, try, funniest and most heart-warming moment feature among the accolades as Sport360 looks back on a magnificent tournament.

– RELIVE: New Zealand win 2015 Rugby World Cup final
– #360view: RWC finalists’ very different attitudes
– VIDEO: Five of the most memorable NZvAUS battles

Best match
The beauty of this World Cup has been the performances of the tier-two nations and none have been more spectacular than Japan’s victory over South Africa. In the short-term it was a match that lit up a World Cup but the victory’s long-term effects were just as important. Japan’s win captured the hearts of a nation (where rugby is very much a minority sport) to the extent that 20 million viewers back home tuned in to watch the match against Scotland. This was the largest domestic TV audience for a rugby game ever and lays an important foundation of interest ahead of Japan 2019.

Best player
Australia exceeded all expectations by reaching the final and their supreme work ethic was best personified by the genius of David Pocock. Playing out of position at number eight, the Zimbabwe-born flanker put two years of injury trouble behind him to top the leader board for turnovers and was a constant thorn in the side of all of Australian opponents. Heading into the final, Pocock looked like a raccoon with two black eyes that were a typical feature of a player that put his body on the line for the gold shirt every time he played. 

Best try
Any try in a Rugby World Cup is special but one of Julian Savea’s three scores against France in the quarter-final stood out from the rest for sheer individual brilliance. The bulldozing winger took a short ball from Kieran Read in a wide channel and treated the three French defenders in front of him like speed bumps as he crashed over the white line in a brutal display of power and determination. It was a breath-taking piece of play that drew comparisons with Jonah Lomu’s famous quarter-final score against England in 1995.

Funniest moment
During France’s 41-18 demolition of Canada in the group stages, there was a brief moment of respite for the North Americans as France prepared for an attacking lineout. The Maple Leafs’ 1.96m enforcer and French speaker Jamie Cudmore was spotted crouching behind the French huddle trying to eavesdrop on and told in no uncertain terms to “assez, aller!”

Best refereeing moment
Eccentric Welsh referee Nigel Owens is one of the game’s best-loved characters and during the Scotland v South Africa clash at Newcastle United’s St. James’ Park, he did nothing to diminish that reputation. Prior to the tournament referees were briefed to clamp down hard on any simulation and after Scottish full-back Stuart Hogg’s dramatic fall, Owens suggested that maybe he should ‘come back and play here in two weeks’ with the footballers. Brilliant.

Worst refereeing moment
Scotland were robbed of a place in the semi-finals by an incorrect decision by referee Craig Joubert that handed Australia a thrilling 35-34 victory in what was one of the games of the tournament. While there is no excuse for the pathetic barrage of abuse that Joubert suffered from journalists and former players in the aftermath, it was a costly error that devastated a nation. Joubert’s decision to sprint from the field didn’t help his case but regardless, rugby is a sport that respects its referees, right or wrong.

Best supporter

From a host of rugby-mad English royals to Australian diva Kylie Minogue, this was a difficult award to judge but the winner goes to Diego Maradona. The Argentinean football legend fully embraced the spirit of the tournament and became the Pumas’ lucky charm as they stormed into the tournament semi-finals. Following Ireland’s dismantling in the quarter-finals the former football World Cup winner was even filmed joining in the celebrations in the changing rooms.

Heart-warming moment
PR-genius or genuine moment of humility? Either way when Sonny Bill Williams gave his medal to a young New Zealand fan who had dodged security to get on the pitch, the rugby world’s heart was warmed. Yes, Sonny Bill does already have a World Cup winner’s medal but even so, to give away a piece of gold that represents four years of backbreaking work is an image that will live long in the hearts of rugby fans and World Cup montages alike.

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Dan Carter was desperate to be part of a winning team in a RWC final

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Dan Carter will now move to France to play for Racing Metro in the Top 14.

Dan Carter has admitted that New Zealand’s stated mission to make Rugby World Cup history was “a pretty daunting goal”.

But the All Blacks will head home as undisputed kings of the sport, crowned world champions for a second successive time and achieving what no other country has accomplished.

– RELIVE: New Zealand win 2015 Rugby World Cup final
– #360view: RWC finalists’ very different attitudes
– VIDEO: Five of the most memorable NZvAUS battles

And Carter can now begin a three-year adventure with French club Racing 92, having signed off a 112-cap Test career as unquestionably the finest fly-half of rugby union’s 20-year professional era.

“I would have loved to have been in that New Zealand side playing in the final four years ago, but unfortunately I couldn’t because of injury,” he said.

“I’ve had to work extremely hard over the last four years ago to get this. There were times over that four years when I was doubting if I would be here or not, so it’s a dream come true.

“It was a pretty daunting goal trying to win back-to-back World Cups and do something that no other side has done before.

“To be able to sit here and say that we’ve done that is just amazing. I am so proud to be part of such a special group of guys.

“The typical trend is that you don’t back up well after winning a World Cup. The fact that we did that and stayed as the number one side over the past four years has been pleasing. This is just the icing on the cake.

“I am looking forward to celebrating something pretty unique over the next week or so. Then I need to catch up with family before moving over to France and starting a new chapter in my life.”

Carter’s 19-point haul proved instrumental in New Zealand sinking arch-rivals Australia 34-17, in what was the third-biggest World Cup final victory margin.

“It has been an amazing career for me, personally,” he added. “I couldn’t have written it better, to be honest, and to finish on such a high.

“It’s obviously time for me to move on and retire from international rugby, so I will be doing that, but first and foremost I will be celebrating and enjoying the next week with a special bunch of guys.

“There are a few guys departing, and this team will never be together again, so we need to enjoy the next couple of days before flying home, then it will be time to celebrate with our families and friends.”

Carter, Richie McCaw, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Tony Woodcock and Kevan Mealamu are all unlikely to wear the All Black jersey again and coach Steve Hansen admits he may not be in charge by 2019.

Hansen was promoted to the top job in 2011 when Graham Henry stepped down and suspects he will follow suit after the British and Irish Lions tour in two years’ time.

He said: “There’s a reason why the contract only lasts until 2017. I wouldn’t say no but I’m certainly not saying yes either. You only get 10 years for murder back home so…

“I like the idea of changing the guard halfway through a cycle which has a World Cup in the middle of it.”

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From Richie McCaw-Ben Smith: RWC team of the tournament

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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.

– RELIVE: New Zealand win 2015 Rugby World Cup final

– #360view: RWC finalists' very different attitudes

– VIDEO: Five of the most memorable NZvAUS battles

15 – BEN SMITH (NZL)

Apart from a moment of madness in the final which earned Smith 10 minutes in the sin-bin, the full-back has been imperious. The Highlander combined a fearless attitude under the high-ball and in the tackle with silky-smooth handling skills to launch countless waves of All Black counter-attacks.

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.

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