TOKYO, Japan, Nov 3 – Five of the stand-out players at the Rugby World Cup, which was won by South Africa on Saturday:
– Blonde bombshell: Faf de Klerk –
Instantly recognisable with his flowing blonde locks, diminutive Springbok scrum-half Faf de Klerk was central to South Africa’s victory.
He marshalled the enormous Springbok pack and controlled their territorial game with a seemingly never-ending stream of towering box kicks for wings Cheslin Kolbe and Makazole Mapimpi to chase.
But he is more than just a kicker. Sharp around the ruck area, he is handful for any defence. The best example of this came against Japan when he capped a man-of-the-match performance with a sniping try under the posts after a monstrous rolling maul.
Standing only 5ft 7in (1.72m) tall and weighing 13st 12lb (88kg), he makes up for his lack of physical presence with bravery especially in defence and his confrontation with the massive Welsh lock Jake Ball was one of the images of the tournament.
He said afterwards it was important for scrum-halves to show courage under physical intimidation. “If I can, the smallest guy on the pitch, maybe add a bit of that, it just gives a bit of motivation to the rest (of the team). I need to be up for it as well.”
– Fijian flyer: Semi Radradra –
Fiji may have failed again to make it through to the knock-out phase but their giant centre Semi Radradra shone brightly in the pool stages, topping the table for most carries, metres run and defenders beaten.
He scored a double in Fiji’s 45-10 dismantling of Georgia, was man of the match in the narrow defeat by Wales and was a tour de force against Australia, smashing Wallaby Reece Hodge as the Fijians gave the Australians a huge first-half scare.
He won wide acclaim, with England coach Eddie Jones clearly a fan. “What a player that Semi Radradra is,” enthused Jones.
“Just to be at the World Cup is a humbling experience to see him play with such, power, pace and guile. I thought it was a fantastic display,” said the coach.
– Japanese ‘Ferrari’: Kotaro Matsushima –
Japan coach Jamie Joseph described wing Kotaro Matsushima as a “Ferrari” and he certainly drove the home fans wild with his mazy runs that typified the Brave Blossoms’ sharp, attacking style of play.
With his big hair and searing pace, the Pretoria-born wing instantly lit up the tournament with a hat-trick in Japan’s opener against Russia and he added another two to put him among the best marksmen at the World Cup.
The 26-year-old does not possess huge physical attributes, leading fellow star wing from South Africa, Cheslin Kolbe, to note: “Dynamite comes in small packages!”
After posing a constant threat in Japan’s big pool wins over Ireland and Scotland, he was again outstanding in the quarter-final loss against South Africa, leading the stats in terms of balls carried and metres made.
– Brilliant Beauden Barrett –
New Zealand fullback Beauden Barrett came to Japan as a two-time World Player of the Year and did not disappoint, electrifying the tournament with his pace, running and distribution as part of the All Blacks’ twin playmaker system.
His best game was New Zealand’s obliteration of Ireland in the quarter-final, where he made a staggering 21 carries and scored a try in a man-of-the-match performance that left the Irish powerless to stop him.
Barrett was one of the best players for the All Blacks in their shattering semi-final defeat to England, leading the way both in terms of carries and metres made, but was outshone by the English playmakers George Ford and Owen Farrell.
Featuring at fly-half for club side the Wellington Hurricanes, the 28-year-old was given a roving role from fullback for the All Blacks, allowing him licence to pop up wherever he spotted the slightest gap.
– Fearless leader: Owen Farrell –
Captain and inside-centre Owen Farrell has controlled proceedings throughout England’s tournament, his tactical kicking and distribution as part of a double-playmaker system with fly-half George Ford keeping his team on the front foot.
He has shed his reputation for hotheadedness and reined in his tackling technique, as referees demonstrated a willingness to punish no-armed and high hits with cards.
But it was his contribution as on-field captain that has impressed coach Eddie Jones, who frequently praised his “absolutely exceptional” leadership.
Images of him smirking his way through the traditional pre-match New Zealand haka went viral and it was he who came up with the idea of greeting the Maori challenge by lining up in a V formation.