x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Finesse, flair and fighters: the stars of the Rugby World Cup

Israel Dagg was one of the few players who retained a commitment to entertain in a Rugby World Cup tournament dominated by defence.

As the dust settles and the curtain falls for four more years, Paul Radley selects his best XV of the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand

15 Israel Dagg (New Zealand)

One of the few players who retained a commitment to entertain in a tournament dominated by defence. Some might say it is easy to do when you have 14 great players in front of you, but his flair was refreshing.

14 James O'Connor (Australia)

Started the tournament in the bad books after missing an alarm call. It was about the only thing he did miss. The most reliable boot in the tournament, after South Africa's Morne Steyn, but with attacking verve to go with it.

13 Ma'a Nonu (New Zealand)

Edged out of his preferred inside-centre position by Jamie Roberts, but far too good to be left out of the team entirely. It is to his credit that a player of the skills of Sonny Bill Williams does not deserve a look in.

12 Jamie Roberts (Wales)

Alongside Sam Warburton, Roberts was the colossus of Wales, who were every neutral's favourite. Indomitable defence, wrecking-ball attacking and some tears to colour a heartbreaking semi-final defeat.

11 Keith Earls (Ireland)

The fact Tommy Bowe, on Ireland's opposite wing, is a marked man might have worked in Earls's favour. However, his tries all needed scoring, and he regularly proved to be the most adept finisher in confined spaces in the event.

10 Rhys Priestland (Wales)

This World Cup did not throw up a bumper crop of stand-offs, but to say Priestland was the best of a bad bunch does him a grave disservice. He could become a Dan Carter-esque star in the coming years.

9 Piri Weepu (New Zealand)

What was Graham Henry thinking when he left him at home ahead of France 2007? He was even behind Jimmy Cowan in the pecking order at the start here, too. Mr Fix-It is so good, he does not need a regular fly-half outside him.

1 Gethin Jenkins (Wales)

A shy man who probably did not covet the captaincy, which was foisted on him after Warburton's red card against France. However, Warren Gatland, the Wales coach, likes those players whose deeds talk so loudly.

2 William Servat (France)

Undeserving finalists they may have been, but at least some of the French players performed with distinction. Their line-out functioned adequately, thanks to their uncompromising hooker.

3 Owen Franks (New Zealand)

The youngster only beats Wales' Adam Jones on account of the fact New Zealand went farther. The immovable All-Black pack is built on a formidable bedrock, with Franks a titan on the tight-head side.

4 Brad Thorn (New Zealand)

Nobody felt the anguish of George Gregan's "four more years" sledge in 2003 more acutely than the former rugby league player. Nobody did more to banish the memory in the semi-final victory.

5 Danie Rossouw (South Africa)

The Springboks sacrificed their crown surprisingly early, but their forward dominance remains a source of envy. Bakkies Botha's injury-laden campaign was barely noticed thanks to Rossouw's form.

6 Jerome Kaino (New Zealand)

Schalk Burger was arguably more destructive, but Kaino married brutality with ruthless efficiency. The blind-side flanker was a key cog in New Zealand's forward machine.

7 David Pocock (Australia)

It was raining open-side flankers. Richie McCaw went farthest, Warburton left an indelible mark, Sean O'Brien stood out and Mamuka Gorgodze struck a blow for the minnows. But Pocock edges the lot.

8 Imanol Harinordoquy (France)

Few players encapsulate the enigma of French rugby more accurately, ironically, than the giant Basque back-rower. When France were good, he was fantastic. When they were bad, he was still just about good enough.


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