Rugby World Cup team of the tournament: Ben Earl, Damian Penaud and South Africa domination

Rugby World Cup team of the tournament: Ben Earl, Damian Penaud and South Africa domination

From record-high August temperatures on the beach in Marseille and Nice, to the driving rain of October’s Stade de France, 50 days of Rugby World Cup matches all came down to South Africa beating New Zealand by a solitary point to lift the Webb Ellis Cup.

The 20 teams contested 48 matches, using more than 660 players. And the Boks ended up beating the Blacks 12-11 in Paris on Saturday night.

Here, Nick Purewal selects his team of the tournament at the end of a marathon competition that stretched from the scorch of summer to winter’s very cusp.

15 Thomas Ramos, France 

France may never quite work out how they slipped out of their home tournament, but Ramos was excellent from first to last. Accurate in defence and a constant threat in attack.

14 Will Jordan, New Zealand 

Tied the record for most tries at a single World Cup, with eight scores in the competition. Oozed class, but could not find enough in the final to add one more score that would have won the All Blacks the day and also stolen the outright try record.

Will Jordan and Aaron Smith both make our team. (Getty Images)
Will Jordan and Aaron Smith both make our team. (Getty Images)

13 Waisea Nayacalevu, Fiji 

The powerful, focused and smart Fiji captain led from the front for his talented side, offering physical defence and astute attack.

12 Bundee Aki, Ireland 

Would have been player of the tournament had Ireland gone as deep as everyone expected. In the shape of his life, fearsome on the ball, tireless in every performance and a real menace in defence. His finest turn in green.

11 Damian Penaud, France 

Les Bleus’ own try machine, with six for the competition. As with Ireland, their quarter-final exit blunted the rest of the tournament somewhat. But Penaud again showed his excellence in terms of finishing and also overall accuracy.

Damian Penard was the standout for France. (AP)
Damian Penard was the standout for France. (AP)

10 Handre Pollard, South Africa 

Not even fit for selection at the start of the tournament, the Leicester fly-half built steadily after his return. He replaced hooker Malcolm Marx in one of the Boks’ classic left-field selection calls, and that ultimately paid full dividend. His poise and nerve in the final inched South Africa over the line.

9 Aaron Smith, New Zealand 

The veteran half-back had tears in his eyes as the chance for glory ebbed away in the dying stages of the final. But to sign off a glittering Test career having returned to his very best form was a remarkable feat from a man with a bullet pass and a razor-sharp brain.

1 Ox Nche, South Africa 

The peerless scrummager took on and defeated all comers in the set-piece that still remains entirely critical to South Africa’s unapologetically brutal approach.

2 Mike Tadjer, Portugal 

The veteran hooker signed off in style with a string of combative and savvy showings. Had a hand in Nicolas Martins’ smart try against Wales, and helped inspire dramatic victory over Fiji.

3 Frans Malherbe, South Africa 

Yet more scrum power saw the Boks bash everyone else into submission, with Malherbe so crucial to every South Africa enterprise.

Tadhg Beirne reaffirmed his status as one of the world's best. (REUTERS)
Tadhg Beirne reaffirmed his status as one of the world's best. (REUTERS)

4 Tadhg Beirne, Ireland 

His ability to operate as an auxiliary back-rower but still excel in all lock duties has marked Beirne out as one of the world’s best locks.

5 Eben Etzebeth, South Africa 

Still massive, still muscle-flexing, still grappling with opponents off the ball – but still winning most of his lineout ball, most of his scrums and most of his collisions.

6 Pieter-Steph Du Toit, South Africa 

The physicality and tight-five brilliance to match Etzebeth, but somehow with even more work-rate and fire. His 28 tackles in the World Cup final, including one crucial smash on Jordie Barrett, took him to even greater heights.

7 Siya Kolisi, South Africa 

The extraordinary Kolisi tore the ACL in his knee in April – and won the World Cup in October. Some players need nine months to recover from that injury and operation. His legacy will stand the test of time, having lifted the World Cup twice as Springboks captain.

8 Ben Earl, England 

England’s clear man of the tournament, this was a coming-of-age competition for the Saracens star. Unwanted under Eddie Jones, now Earl is completely central to Steve Borthwick’s future.