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Dublin: 9 °C Thursday 17 October, 2019
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The Score's team of the Rugby World Cup

It’s taken us all of 46 games (and over a month of late nights and early morning), but we’ve finally settled on 15 names worthy of a place on our dream teamsheet.

Israel Dagg skips his way past Australia's Anthony Faingaa.
Israel Dagg skips his way past Australia's Anthony Faingaa.
Image: Themba Hadebe/AP/Press Association Images

BEFORE WE GO about the contentious business of actually naming the 15 players we consider to have exemplified the requirements of their various positions during this World Cup, it’s worth making a couple of early revelations.

Dan Carter is not here. Neither is Francois Steyn.

Each was afforded the opportunity to gesture towards their world-beating talent in the tournament’s early stages, but neither really succeeded in showcasing their full range against competitive opposition (and yes, that is intended to demean France’s first performance against the All Blacks).

Now…

15. Israel Dagg (New Zealand)

One of the few inclusions about which there can surely be little debate. Threatening the opposition line with nigh-on every spell in possession, the 23-year-old hasn’t just announced himself as a worth successor to Mils Muliaina, but staked a strong claim to Player of the Tournament honours. Honourable mention: Rob Kearney (Ireland)

14. Vincent Clerc (France)

Les Bleus have looked tentative and directionless for long spells during this tournament, but Clerc’s trademark ruthlessness and opportunism appear to have eluded the Lièvremont Effect. He’s already bagged six tries, including a crucial last-minute score against Tonga that guaranteed his side’s place in the quarter-finals. Honourable mention: James O’Connor (Australia)

13. Adam Ashley-Cooper (Australia)

Though lacking in the explosiveness that characterises a number of our other standouts, Ashley-Cooper has made a game-changing virtue of his quiet diligence. Tireless in defence and economical in attack, he’s become the stable point about which the Wallabies’ back line orients itself. Honourable mention: Conrad Smith (New Zealand)

12. Ma’a Nonu (New Zealand)

He has the hair of a Predator and has proven about as difficult to stop over the course of this World Cup. If you were planning to build a world-class inside-centre, his unique blend of tactical nous, pace and brute strength would offer a template. Honourable mention: Sonny Bill Williams (New Zealand)

11. George North (Wales)

He might only be 19 years old, but at 6’3” and nearly 100kg, the Welsh winger possesses a rare genetic gift. Unfortunately for the rest of the world, it’s also allied to an advanced awareness of the game, meaning his speciality– running over people– comes particularly easily. Honourable mention: Digby Ioane (Australia)

10. Morgan Parra (France) [Captain]

Whoa, hear me out! Yes, he’s really a scrum-half; yes, he’s small; yes, the No10 he’s keeping out of the side is probably better; but the absence of Dan Carter has left this tournament with a dearth of talent at stand-off, and while Parra’s proven a merely adequate strategic kicker, his place-kicking has been exemplary. Plus, his unswerving self-confidence is never anything less than a boon to those around him. Honourable mention: Rhys Priestland (Wales)

9. Will Genia (Australia)

Unquestionably the finest scrum-half in Test rugby, Genia isn’t just a reliably accurate passer of the ball, but a dynamic runner with a talent for punishing defences that give him anything less than constant attention. Honourable mention: Mike Phillips (Wales)

David Pocock: Master of deception (Barry Aldworth/Sports Inc/Press Association Images)

8. Sergio Parisse (Italy)

Describing Parisse as “world class” has become something of a cliche in recent weeks, but its a label his titanic performances can’t but encourage. Having laboured for years in one of rugby’s least imaginative sides, he deserves all the attention he’s receiving. Honourable mention: Toby Faletau (Wales)

7. David Pocock (Australia)

He’s a youngster by international standards, but Pocock can call upon an array of skills a 20-year Test veteran would be proud to call his own. An unstoppable ball-carrier when he’s allowed to build momentum, the openside also has a McCaw-like ability to read referees and “fall” in the most inconvenient of places. Honourable mention: Sam Warburton (Wales)

6. Jerome Kaino (New Zealand)

The All Blacks’ blindside is both a brutally effective ball carrier and a hard-hitting omnipresence at the breakdown. With four tries to his name in the tournament to date, don’t be surprised if he makes the difference on Sunday. Honourable mention: Stephen Ferris (Ireland)

5. Paul O’Connell (Ireland)

His performance against Australia, when he steered a dominant pack to arguably the most impressive win in Irish rugby history, will stand as an enduring testament to his class. According to television (that never lies), full-fat milk has been the key to his longevity. Honourable mention: Sam Whitelock (New Zealand)

4. Victor Matfield (South Africa)

He’s big (6’6”), he’s hairy and, come lineout time, he will not be stopped. Matfield’s days as a Springbok may be numbered, but he’s still every bit as imposing as he was when made his debut a decade ago… so we’re going to play him slightly out of position. Honourable mention: Richie Gray (Scotland)

3. Martin Castrogiovanni (Italy)

The inclusion of the Italian tighthead makes our pack a particularly hirsute one, but who’d want to be without his scrummaging prowess and unkempt air of mystery. Honourable mention: Adam Jones (Wales)

2. Mario Ledesma Arocena (Argentina)

An incredible 38 years of age, Ledesma’s a reliable set-piece performer and skilled tactician. His real strength, however, lies in his ability to offer leadership and inspiration to those around him. Honourable mention: William Servat (France)

1. Cian Healy (Ireland)

Mobile in a way few props are, Healy at his best is a rampaging dynamo of offensive and defensive effort. Better still, the World Cup hinted that he’s outgrown his occasional bout of indiscipline. Honourable mention: Tony Woodcock (New Zealand)

What do you think?

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As it happened: Champions League Wednesday>

‘I’m looking forward to a very bad hangover’ — Clarke and McIlroy miss out in Bermuda>


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