Unlock this article, live events, and more with a subscription!
Already a subscriber? Log In
The dust has settled on what has been a tremendous World Cup in Japan, and now is a good time to look back and reflect upon some of the best performances over the past five weeks.
A lot of great players stood out this campaign, and you're splitting hairs trying to pick one guy over another, but here is my 2019 Rugby World Cup XV:
1. Tendai Mtawarira - South Africa
"The Beast" has over 100 Springbok caps to his name, and he showed everyone exactly why during South Africa's World Cup title run this year.
Ferocious in the tackle, in the carry, and in the clean out, Mtwarira was at the heart of a Springbok side that physically dominated their way through the tournament.
His best work was done at the set piece, where South Africa thoroughly dominated everyone they played. The Boks completed 68/69 lineout throws, and retained 45/47 scrums during the World Cup, and The Beast was an integral part of that success.
2. Bongi Mbonambi - South Africa
Another member of the dominant Springbok front row, Mbonambi was the catalyst for a set piece that will go down as possibly the best of all time.
The Bok hooker completed 96.8 percent of his throws, and tackled at an unbelievable 100% rate, successfully making 33/33 tackle attempts.
To unseat the mighty Malcolm Marx as the starting South Africa hooker, one has massive shoes to fill, but Bongi filled them alright.
3. Kyle Sinckler - England
It was gutting to see Sinckler go off injured in the opening two minutes of the final, but that shouldn't overshadow the immense work the Harlequins front rower put in for England this World Cup.
Sinckler was excellent in the set piece, but his real damage was done in open play. Few, if any, props have the skillset that he does, which compliments his unrelenting power and energy in the contact area.
Anticipate seeing Kyle Sinckler back in the England squad for the 2023 World Cup, as well as the 2021 British Lions, who will tour to World Cup champions South Africa.
4. Maro Itoje - England
It would be awfully hard to say there's a player in world rugby who gets as much work done as Maro Itoje.
The big English second rower was everywhere this World Cup; making carries, forcing turnovers, obliterating rucks, contesting box kicks, slowing down opposition mauls, putting in monster tackles, Itoje was constantly busy.
His 10 turnovers led the competition, and he was hard-done-by not to have been awarded a couple more in the final. He also logged 71 tackles in the competition, second most at the World Cup.
At just 25 years old, he already has a resume as impressive as nearly anyone else in the world, which is a scary prospect if you're not English.
5. Alun Wyn Jones - Wales
The Welsh captain's legend continues to grow. One of the most revered players in the game, Jones' impact on the team goes well beyond just his play.
The 134-cap inspirational leader has been a pillar of the squad all throughout head coach Warren Gatland's 11 years in charge of Wales. In that time frame, Wales have experienced their greatest years since the hey-day in the 1970's.
Jones led a Welsh team riddled with injuries to the cusp of a World Cup final; only a late, long-range Handre Pollard penalty in the semi-final kept them out of it.
AWJ's 79 tackles led the entire tournament, and you have to wonder just how much further Wales could have gone had Gareth Anscombe, Taulupe Faletau, Liam Williams, Josh Navidi, Ellis Jenkins, and Cory Hill not been injured.
6. Pieter-Steph du Toit - South Africa
(Yes, he wears #7 for the Springboks, but in South Africa the blindside flanker wears #7 and the open side wears #6.)
The 2019 World Player of the Year was phenomenal this World Cup for the Boks. Nothing that PSDT does is flashy or necessarily highlight-worthy, but he epitomizes what South African rugby is all about. Hard, relentless, and willing to always put the team first, he is a true leader by example.
In five games, he recorded 61 tackles, carried the ball 28 times, beat 5 defenders, and scored one excellent try against the All Blacks.
What that stats won't show are the impact of his tackles, and the momentum-stopping nature of his hits. Both England and Wales found themselves running into a cement wall against the Springbok defense, and Pieter-Steph was a huge reason why.
7. Sam Underhill - England
Certainly the breakout performer of this World Cup, Sam Underhill firmly established himself as one rugby's premier flankers.
A similar player to Australia's Michael Hooper, Underhill is an absolute tackling machine. There is nobody in the sport that gets off the line as quickly or consistently makes as many dominant tackles as the English flanker.
He also adds incredible work at the breakdown and a keen sense for running lines on attack to get England on the front foot. He is a complete player with an extremely bright future ahead.
Initially overlooked in England, Underhill made a name for himself early on in his career playing for the Ospreys in Wales. Eddie Jones was quick to reel him into the team when Sam moved back to England to play for Bath, and that's proven to be a hugely positive decision.
8. Duane Vermeulen - South Africa
Though maybe not as busy as some of his back row teammates, Vermeulen put in such a marvelous shift in the World Cup final he cannot be ignored.
Heading into a colossal showdown with England ace Billy Vunipola, Vermeulen delivered a classic performance en route to lifting the Webb Ellis cup.
Duane's strength in the contact and over the ball is immense, and even powerful sides like England and Wales were unable to move the big fella at all.
9. Faf de Klerk - South Africa
Not too long ago, Faf was a scrumhalf that was electric and full of energy, but seemed to overplay and try to push the pace 100% of the time.
Now, after moving overseas to play his club rugby, de Klerk has developed into one of the very best game managers on the planet. However, he still brings that same energetic electricity that saw him make a name for himself.
His box kicking this World Cup was excellent, and his territorial control was just exactly what the Springboks needed to be successful. The Boks didn't put themselves under any unnecessary pressure at all this whole tournament, and that can be largely attributed to good scrumhalf play.
What separates Faf from the pack, though, is his defensive ability. On numerous occasions he single-handedly halted overloads by shooting up and smashing a ballcarrier far bigger than him.
He also put the pressure on Wales' Rhys Patchell as he attempted the go ahead drop kick in the final five minutes of the semi-final, causing him to miss wide right.
10. Handre Pollard - South Africa
Similar to Faf de Klerk, Pollard was an outstanding controller of the games throughout the tournament. His composure on the ball as first receiver and his golden boot ensured that the Springboks would suffocate teams out of games.
Handre finished as the tournament's overall leading point scorer with 69 points in six matches. His best performance came against Wales, when he slotted all five of his kicks, including a huge one at the end to give South Africa the win.
11. Josh Adams - Wales
Adams finished the tournament as the top try-scorer with a tally of seven, and also finished with 18 clean breaks, six higher than any other player.
Adams is lightning quick, but also possesses a superb aerial game to go along with his strong physique and aggressive running. At just 24 years old he is a player that will be in the Welsh team for the foreseeable future.
Against South Africa in the semi-finals, the Welsh were limited to just 189 meters, but Adams accounted for 50 of those. He was excellent for Wales, and a big reason for their run to the last four.
12. Damian de Allende - South Africa
The Springbok center was a force all tournament, suiting up in all seven games for South Africa.
De Allende recorded 51 tackles, completing them at 85% over the entire World Cup. That is a remarkable rate for an inside center, considering the open field nature of most of those collisions.
His hits against Japan were destructive, as were his carries in that game and the other two knockout games they played against Wales and England. With 61 carries and 235 meters gained, de Allende earned alot of the hard yards for South Africa, which is a vital role for a center.
13. Manu Tuilagi - England
Tuilagi was held in check in the final, but other than that he was a massive ingredient to England's success at the World Cup.
Whether he was blasting over the advantage line, beating defenders, or smashing ballcarriers in defense, Tuilagi had fingerprints on just about every game. His best game was arguably in the quarterfinal, where he matched up with Australia's Samu Kerevi and delivered a big shift.
After years of battling ongoing injuries, Tuilagi has finally found consistent fitness and it was great for everyone to finally see him show what he can do on the big stage.
14. Cheslin Kolbe - South Africa
Kolbe opened the World Cup on fire against New Zealand, and bookended it with a sublime try against England.
Kolbe is a player that's found an entirely new peak of form since he moved to play in France. Credit to Rassie Erasmus for bringing him back into the side a year ago because he is a genuine game-changer no matter who he is playing.
One of the most impressive things about Kolbe this World Cup though was his resilience in bouncing back from injury. On two separate occasions it looked like he destroyed his ankle, once against Italy and once against Japan.
Though he missed the semi-final against Wales, Cheslin came back a week later for the final and put in a massive effort for the Boks. He could easily have won the World Player of the year award if not for the phenomenal season that teammate Pieter-Steph du Toit had.
15. Beauden Barrett
Remarkably, Beaudy is the only All Black to appear on this list, despite their 3rd place finish.
Playing out of his customary flyhalf role, Barrett still showed everyone why he is debatably the best player in the world, even playing at fullback.
Barrett carried the ball more than any other player, amassing 480 meters on 86 carries, beating 24 defenders, making 12 clean breaks and offloading 7 times.
You have to wonder what could have been for the All Blacks if the mercurial Damian McKenzie had not torn his ACL. Perhaps Beauden would have retained the #10 shirt and D-Mac would have played in that second playmaker role at fullback.
But credit to England for turning in a legendary performance and keeping New Zealand from a third straight title.