Rugby World Cup team of the tournament featuring a quartet of England players

Gareth Jones selects Sporting Life's Rugby World Cup team of the tournament
Gareth Jones selects Sporting Life's Rugby World Cup team of the tournament

Gareth Jones picks out the 15 stand out players of the Rugby World Cup, plus a few reserves, to form his team of the tournament.

Sadly this wonderful tournament is over for another four years. The first Rugby World Cup to be held in Asia inspired some incredible team performances - look no further than England's semi-final win over New Zealand.

But it also provided the stage for some standout individual performances. We found new breakout stars who announced themselves to the world while old warriors rolled back the years to remind us why they are considered legends.

For the team of the tournament you have at least two players in each position who could be selected, which just highlights how much talent was on show.

So here goes....

THE BACKS

Full-back: Beauden Barrett (New Zealand)

New Zealand's Beauden Barrett
New Zealand's Beauden Barrett

Beauden Barrett's switch from fly-half to full-back proved to be a masterstoke by coach Steve Hansen. It gave the All Blacks another playmaker on the field and extra cutting edge - like they needed it in the first place!

He provided thrills and surprises and saw attacking opportunities and space on the field no other human could. 24 defenders beaten and 12 clean breaks confirms there is an end-product to his magic.

Wing: Kotaro Matsushima (Japan)

Japan's Kotaro Matsushima
Japan's Kotaro Matsushima

Star of the Cherry Blossoms' World Cup odyssey and one of the surprise packages of the World Cup, Matushima made this tournament come alive.

He started with a hat-trick against Russia and continued to dazzle throughout the competition. In a day and age when wingers have to be eight foot and 20 stone, Matsushima proved there is still room for skill and quick feet.

He is a guy you buy the ticket to see and, along with five tries, beat 23 defenders and made 11 clean breaks, proving how hard he was for tacklers to get their hands on.

Honourable mention: Cheslin Kolbe: Exactly the same can be said for this South African winger, whose magic feet continue to amaze. His try in the final would have been impossible to score for many, but his creative mind and feet made it possible and he adds beauty to the Springboks braun. Had he been fit for the whole tournament he would have finished top try scorer, as our rugby tipster Tony Calvin predicted, and made my team.

Outside centre: Manu Tuilagi (England)

England's Manu Tuilagi scored for England after just 97 seconds in their semi-final victory over New Zealand
England's Manu Tuilagi

In truth most players in this position were solid during the competition and so Many Tuilagi was the clear standout. When he is fit and firing England are a different beast.

He is one of the only players in the world the All Blacks fear and they will still be having nightmares about him for a long time after this tournament following his semi-final performance, which included that early try. He started the World Cup with a bang, bagging two tries against Tonga in England's opening game, and was a star from then.

Inside centre: 12 - Damien De Allende (South Africa)

South Africa's Damien De Allende
South Africa's Damien De Allende

Huge in attack and defence, Damien De Allende's muscular qualities were one of the chief reasons why South Africa bulldozed their way to the World Cup final before then displaying both his and his country's flair and trickery.

He scored the Springboks' vital try in their semi-final victory over Wales and never took a step back. 50 tackles at an 85 per cent success rate shows his quality.

Wing: Josh Adams (Wales)

Josh Adams of Wales
Josh Adams of Wales

A tough call here, but Josh Adams finished as the World Cup's top try scorer with seven and that's no mean feat considering he was part of a Wales team that lacked a creative spark in the backs.

An outstanding finisher, who is deadly five metres from the line, he was a constant danger to opponents and the finish for his try in the semi-final with South Africa proved what a big game player he is.

Honourable mention: Makazole Mapimpi. South Africa's other winger is very unlucky to miss out here, but pays the price for his side's conservative approach in the tournament. He still scored six tries, which tells us everything about this man's quality.

He demonstrated his power for his first try against Japan in the quarters, and in the final the vision and execution of his chip kick to score the match-sealing try for his country were exceptional

Fly-half: Handre Pollard (South Africa)

South Africa fly-half Handre Pollard
South Africa fly-half Handre Pollard

Handre Pollard just pips George Ford here, largely based on their World Cup final performances and the fact he finished as top points scorer with 69.

Pollard was another solid, conservative player in this tournament, doing the basics and what was demanded by his coach almost perfectly.

In the semi-final his superb kicking and his ability to perform under the most intense of pressure took his side to the final. In that final his boot continued to punish England, but he also showcased his skill and variety of game with some superb jinking runs and clever pass that kept the English defence guessing and on the back foot.

Every successful team needs a world class kicker that can deliver when it matters most and Pollard is your man.

Honourable mention: George Ford. The English number 10 pays the price for his forwards final failure, as he wasn't provided the platform to shine on the biggest stage of all. After a difficult 2018 Ford responded to losing his place in the starting XV to restore himself as one of the best backs in the world, which he demonstrated in the competition with his superb vision, creativity and tactical kicking.

The professionalism and attitude he showed after being dropped to the bench for the quarter-final against Australia is a lesson to us all.

Scrum-half: Faf de Klerk (South Africa)

Faf de Klerk
Faf de Klerk of South Africa

He went into this tournament fighting with Aaron Smith for the title of best number nine in the world, but he has won this hands down now.

The lifeblood on the South African team, he controls them and the whole game as he is great game manager now, adding this to his superb kicking, clever running, brutal defence and fearsome attitude.

He has developed at Sale to become the almost perfect scrum-half with such a well rounded game. He returns to the Premiership as a World Cup winner and I'd recommend that when he's playing in your neck of the woods to buy a ticket, because this guy is a true star that you have to see in person.

THE FORWARDS

Loosehead prop - Tendai Mtawarira (South Africa)

Tendai Mtawarira, right, with Prince Harry
Tendai Mtawarira, right, with Prince Harry

Tendai Mtawarira takes his place on his final performance. He and his front row colleagues won this World Cup final for their team. He destroyed the English scrum, which meant England never got an attacking platform for the whole 80 minutes and they soon lost their confidence in their set piece and went to pieces across the park as a result.

At 34 years old 'The Beast' rolled back the years and proved why he is a legend of South African rugby and someone still to be feared.

Honourable mention: Japan's Keita Inagaki lifted his side to new heights and was integral in orchestrating their route to the quarter-finals. A strong scrummager and powerful around the park, he also showed the quality handling skills required of a modern day prop.

Hooker: Shota Horie (Japan)

Shota Horie of Japan
Shota Horie of Japan

We thought we'd seen it all from the inspirational Japan hooker after his excellent 2015 campaign, but he came back here to discover another level. At 33 he drove his pack forward and could be found making breaks and big tackles across the park.

Honourable mention: England's Jamie George had a superb tournament and reinforced his title of one of the best hookers in the world. He scrummaged well and, as always, was a powerful influence across the park with his constant willingness to run hard at the defence, while showing his clever lines of running and his handling ability. However, his overthrow for New Zealand's try in the semi and England's line out collapse in the final costs him here.

Tighthead prop: Kyle Sinckler (England)

England prop Kyle Sinckler
England prop Kyle Sinckler

At 26 Kyle Sinckler used this World Cup to prove his is already world class, relishing the challenge of being on the biggest stage. He was outstanding all tournament with his scrummaging and all round play. His memorable try in the quarters against Australia showcased what a modern prop is all about - vision, clever running lines and speed.

Had Sinckler not been knocked out two minutes into the World Cup final we might now be talking about England as World Champions.

Lock: Maro Itoje (England)

England's Maro Itoje
England's Maro Itoje

Maro Itoje was a cut above the rest in England's exhilarating semi-final win over the All-Blacks, which epitomised his all round talents and how he'd gone about his business in Japan overall. Being left off the World Player of the Year shortlist has shocked everyone and is a disgrace.

At 25 he is a future England captain and if he and England carry on their development from here, he could be the man lifting the William Webb Ellis Trophy in 2023.

Lock: Alun Wyn Jones (Wales)

Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones
Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones

The warrior that is Alun Wyn Jones had another standout tournament. At points he single-handedly dragged Wales out of some dark places and to a World Cup semi-final through his leadership, inspiration and determination. His decision to reject a simple penalty kick to go for the scrum instead against South Africa in the semis was one of the biggest calls ever made at a World Cup. He got it right, as it resulted in a Josh Adams try that almost pushed Wales into the final.

But it was the 34-year-old's work rate and endeavour that wins him this spot too. He led the whole tournament in tackles, making 79 in total, and was always a willing ball carrier. You don't have a world class team without a great captain and Alun Wyn Jones is just that.

Honourable mentions: New Zealand's Brodie Retallick and Japan's James Moore had outstanding tournaments also.

Blindside flanker: Pieter-Steph du Toit (South Africa)

2019 World Player of the Year Pieter-Steph du Toit
2019 World Player of the Year Pieter-Steph du Toit

Pieter-Steph du Toit was an absolute giant in Japan and one of the biggest reasons the Springboks found success in their three knockout contests.

South Africa's key to success in the semi-final and final was their domination at the breakdown, slowing up and interfering with Wales and England's attacks once they hit the ruck, and this was all down to him. He added pace to his power and also showed his clever thinking, choosing when to attack the breakdown to win ball and when to back off.

Oh, and he's also the World Player of the Year!

Openside flanker: Tom Curry (England)

England's Tom Curry has been nominated for the world player of the year
England's Tom Curry was nominated for the World Player of the Year award

Being nominated for the World Player of the Year at the age of 21 should tell you everything about this outstanding young man. The Sale Shark's work rate is unrelenting and he has already become one of the best in the world at the breakdown's 'dark arts'. If he continues like this he could be talked about like back row legends Neil Back and Richie McCaw in years to come.

Honourable mentions: England's Sam Underhill, Japan's Michael Leitch and Wales' Aaron Wainwright were all outstanding. Japan's ageing inspirational captain Leitch was dropped to the bench against Ireland, but came on early as an injury replacement and turned that game in Japan's favour to prove what a player and inspiration he is for his country.

Underhill was one of the players of the tournament and was outstanding against Australia and New Zealand. He has a huge future ahead of him.

At 22, Aaron Wainwright exploded onto the world stage in Japan and should go on to become a Welsh and rugby legend if he continues like this. Big hits, powerful runs and try scoring - he has it all.

Number eight: Duane Vermeulen (South Africa)

South African number eight Duane Vermeulen
South African number eight Duane Vermeulen

You cannot leave out a player voted man of the match in a World Cup final. He really came to life in the semis and final to break northern hemisphere hearts not once, but twice.

35 carriers and 140 metres made in Japan showed his work rate and his willingness to do the dirty work and get smashed time and again by opponents to allow space and opportunity for his team mates to thrive.

He is aggressive but calm and disciplined with it - rare traits in a Springbok forward - and he is effective in the breakdown, constantly upsetting the opponent's attacking flow.

Honourable mention: Japan's Kazuki Himeno almost took this, but Vermeulen was too good in the final two games to ignore. Himeno was the World Cup's biggest breakthrough star and at 25 has the potential to go on to even greater things.

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