Well WHAT a tournament it's been. I'm posting this before the final, but it's already been an amazing competition filled with plenty of great play, controversies, drama and emotion, several teams have performed far better than expected, and a few have underperformed massively, but overall, the 2015 World Cup has been a huge success!
Arguably this will be one of the hardest, and most divisive blogs I'll write. So many players have impressed that there are two or three options for every position. Everyone will have their own opinion, but the reality is, I'm always right, so my opinion is the only one that matters ;)
In truth, I'll give my choice for a starter and will give some other options, 'honourable mentions' if you will!
15 - Ben Smith - New Zealand.- When the All Blacks can afford to leave Israel Dagg out of their world cup squad, you have to have an exceptional player to play full back, and in Smith, they have an outrageously good option. He may not have bothered the scoring charts much, but his all round game has been flawless. Other choices would be Japan's Ayumu Goramaru who was one of the breakout stars of the tournament or Argentina's Joaquin Tuculet who played as part of an absolute world class back three for Los Pumas!
14 - Santiago Cordero - Argentina - No-one expected the Argentinian onslaught to come from the 14 jersey. We all knew about Imhoff, now we know that Cordero is certainly more than capable of destroying defences. Some absolute scorching tries, combined with an array of offloads and some outrageous running lines have announced the presence of a new school Argentina that will run you to pieces if you give them a yard! The only one that runs Cordero close was Nehe Milner-Skudder who sidestepped his way into the Kiwi squad and in to the knowledge of rugby fans worldwide
13 - Ma'a Nonu - New Zealand - Bit of a cop out going for the big lad, especially in the 13 jersey, but as usual, he was consistently superb and deserves to be in the best XV even if it is in a slight reshuffled position, you just can't leave him out. To be fair, there have been very few standout 13's in the tournament, so it's an easy choice. Mark Bennett of Scotland and Canadian Ciaran Hearn were the only ones that came close!
12 - Sam Burge.....I'm kidding.... Damian De Allende - South Africa - Absolute powerhouse in the 12 jersey and another who's burst on to the scene during the world cup. Hard runner, tough defender, yet has a graceful sidestep that Shane Williams would be proud of. De Allende and Kriel will be the yardstick for international centers over the next few years, mark my words. Notable mention to Matt Giteau who made a superb comeback for the Australians, rolling back the years with a string of superb performances! Outside shout for Johan Deysel of Namibia who proved himself worthy of higher level rugby with some strong showings!
11 - Julian Savea - New Zealand - Don't really need to justify the inclusion of Savea, if he gets the ball, he's a monster. Had his standout performance in the demolition of France, where he became the first player to get two hat tricks in a world cup, his try where he swatted 3 defenders out of the way was nothing short of freakish! The 'almost made it's' would be the exceptional Juan Imhoff of Argentina and for old times sake, Canadian DTH Van Der Merwe was quality and Bryan Habana proved there's life in the old dog yet with a few great performances for the Springboks, but also had a few error strewn games that cost him his tournament XV selection and also the outright world cup top try scorer honour.
10 - Nicholas Sanchez - Argentina - Possibly the most controversial decision on the list, but Sanchez is one of the most rounded fly halves in the game at the moment, superb whether it's kicking from the tee, out of hand, or making one of his trademark, livewire breaks. Very few players have come close to Sanchez over the course of the tournament for consistency and that, for me, gets him the nod. Notable close calls go to Dan Biggar, who was fantastic throughout the tournament, USA standout AJ Mcginty was excellent in patches and Dan Carter for basically being Dan Carter.
9- Greig Laidlaw - Scotland - Quite rightly, Greig is getting plaudits left, right and centre after some excellent performances during the world cup. Leading both Scotland's scoring charts and also the team impeccably. Seems to have added some zip to his passing as well as some all round tenacity in his game as well as being a lethal kicker from just about anywhere within 45 meters. Other 9's considered were Fumiaki Tanaka of Japan, Fourie Du Preez of South Africa, Martin Landajo of Argentina and Wales' Gareth Davies and they were all outstanding, but Laidlaw's leadership get's him the call to my squad. Plus he plays for Gloucester..... ;)
8 - Mamuka Gorgodze - Georgia - A monster, a warrior, a leader. For a Georgian to earn the man of the match award against New Zealand despite not playing the full game speaks volumes about how good a player Gorgodzilla is. Well known around Europe already, but now Gorgodze is known globally and has the potential to be a huge worldwide star! Several 8's have played some great rugby this tournament, Kieran Read has been his usual self for the All Blacks, Duane Vermeulen and Willem Alberts have been huge for the Boks and David Pocock has been a sensation for the Wallabies, but none have impacted their side like Big Mamuka!
7 - Schalk Burger - South Africa - One of the stats on ITV's bronze medal match coverage was that Burger had made 23 carries more than anyone else in the tournament, that is phenomenal, especially considering he was close to injury retirement not long ago! Tackles like a tank, is a superb jackal at the breakdown. Yes he gives away penalties, but he more than makes up for it with other facets of his game. Schalk edges out the likes of Kiwi Richie McCaw, Welsh talisman Sam Warburton, Scotlands John Hardie and Australian Mike Hooper
6 - Michael Leitch - Japan - The talisman from a team of talismen, led his Brave Blossoms from the front with some stellar performances and ushered in a new era of Japanese rugby leading up to the Japan 2019 tournament. I don't think anyone will deny the Japanese captain a spot in the team of the tournament. Other 6's in with a shout were South African Francois Louw, Jerome Kaino and Sam Cane of the All Blacks and the unsing hero of the Aussie pack, Scott Fardy.
5 - Leone Nakarawa - Fiji - When Fiji bowed out, Nakarawa was the top offloader of the tournament, and it's that drive and offload combination that gets him the nod for me. An absolute beast and the aforementioned offloads are a lethal weapon and an unlikely skill for a guy so big! I'll add my honourable mentions after the second lock selection....
4 - Lodewyk De Jaeger - South Africa - Probably a surprise to no-one. De Jager has been a revelation, where most people knew the obvious succesor to Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield was Eben Etzebeth, De Jager has emerged as a real gem and will join Etzebeth to form a dominating partnership in the engine room for possibly the next 2 world cups. Great lineout operator, a strong option as a ball carrier and a defensive dynamo mean that De Jager has been a revelation for the Boks! Several locks could have taken the 4 or 5 jersey, Alun Wyn Jones of Wales and Ian Henderson of Ireland have both been excellent, Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick have been immense for the All Blacks, Aussie Kane Robertson has been superb. The best Tier 2 representitive for me was Tjiuee Uanivi who stood out in the Namibian pack.
3 - Owen Franks - New Zealand - I hate choosing props,in fact, front rowers in general, mainly due to the fact that most of their work is in the dark arts, so it's hard to call. The exceptions being the Kiwi's who handle the ball like centers and run like the back row. So my default pick at tighthead is Owen Franks. You can choose your own props into this selection......
2 - Dane Coles - New Zealand - A strong running hooker with a great lineout percentage who occasionally thinks he's a winger and is often found lurking out wide for a chip through or a miss pass, but unlike most hookers who try this, he actually gets on the scoresheet. More of a reason for selection than Franks, but still, you can choose your own!!! Augustin Creevy was also pretty close to getting picked!
1 - Alasdair Dickinson - Scotland - A few years back, Ali was frequently slated for his lack of scrummaging ability, but he's really come of age during this competition. Argentinian Ayerza, Kiwi's Wyatt Crockett, Tony Woodcock and Joe Moody have all shared the 1 jersey fantastically and Aussie Scott Sio was very good, so, yeah, pick one. Fill your own front row.
Team of the world cup - Argentina - They have grown SO much over the past few seasons and have completed the Rugby Championships stranglehold on the tournament.
Surprise package - Japan - That will surprise no-one, hey. Who will ever forget THAT win over South Africa. First team to ever go out in the group stages despite 3 victories. The Brave Blossoms have announced their arrival in world rugby.
Fans of the tournament - Argentina - Colourful, Loud, Lively, Loud, Passionate and Loud. Did I mention Loud? Even Diego Maradona was getting in on the act as celebrity cheerleader!
Disappointment of the tournament - England.Enough said?
Referee of the tournament - Mr Owens of Wales is the best ref in the world, for me, and he's proved why over the last few weeks. Mr Barnes of England has also had a great competition.
Player of the tournament - For me, It's Schalk Burger. The reasons why are all listed above. In reality, it'll be Laidlaw or Pocock. Or Hooper. Or Jonny May. Probably.