While South Africa’s final surge tipped the scales in a couple of positions, Pieter-Steph du Toit is an unlucky absentee. But how could you possibly omit the incredible Japan captain, Michael Leitch, or the youthful Tom Curry from the back row? Only one All Black tells its own story but the semi-final against England defined New Zealand’s World Cup. There is one place too, for an Argentinian – the hooker Julián Montoya. Handre Pollard kicked almost everything when it mattered, Kyle Sinckler and Maro Itoje are included on merit and Faf de Klerk is selected both for his nuisance value and world-class ability to spin the ball on one finger. John Denver’s ageless Take Me Home, Country Roads is the official team soundtrack.
Dominated by the finalists and the home nation. Not an abundance of fly-halves to choose from whereas there are too many locks to select only two. Josh Adams can count himself unlucky to miss out on the left wing but Jonny May did not put a foot wrong for England. Michael Leitch is in, as much for his inspirational leadership of Japan, as for his talent.
It pains me to leave out Michael Leitch and Kenki Fukuoka but Josh Adams’ seven tries are hard to argue with and Tom Curry proved himself the best young player in the world. Japan’s Shota Horie does make the front row. George Ford has a case at fly-half but given the way Handre Pollard tied South Africa together, he was the tournament’s most indispensable player. Tendai Mtawarira is there because of his scrummaging in the final and Pieter-Steph du Toit squeezed out Sam Underhill off the back of that match, too. Kieran Read squeezes in because of the way he played against Ireland.
It was a tournament more notable for impressive team performances than individual ones but not exclusively. The likes of Jake Polledri, Torsten van Jaarsveld and Samu Kerevi stood out in teams who did not make a lasting impact. There was also a case for exceptional leaders like Siya Kolisi, Michael Leitch, Alun Wyn Jones and Kieran Read. Some positions, back-row, hooker and midfield, had more candidates than others, fly-half and full-back especially.
Selecting the back row is an almost impossible task – leaving out Siya Kolisi, Duane Vermeulen and Tom Curry seems wrong but I can’t quite countenance not including Michael Leitch or Sam Underhill. And somehow there is no space for a South African in the second row, despite their outstanding lineout. Handre Pollard pips George Ford and Yu Tamura at fly-half because his composure in the final two matches was crucial. Sometimes a cameo leaves the most lasting impression – step up Namibia’s Torsten van Jaarsveld in 40 minutes of dynamism against an All Black tide.