It’s a pretty tedious 3 hour ferry ride from the South Island to the North, even if, after some successful blagging from Hutch, you are sitting in the comfort of the luxury lounge. So what better way to make time pass rather quicker than to pick a Team of the Pool Stages. So after much heated discussion, here it is.
Barring Ireland and Australia being on the other side of the draw and Tonga beating France, the World Cup has panned out much as everybody would have expected. This could be seen as a bit of a shame but there have still been some stirring performances from the so-called smaller teams and many of the players involved. This is reflected in the fact that four of the team will be watching the remainder of the tournament from the comfort of their own homes.
This number increases to five if you count the desperately unlucky Dan Carter whose absence makes the tournament poorer, whatever your allegiance. He makes the cut by virtue of a peerless display against the French. Samoa contribute two players and Tonga one after their stirring contributions to some of the finest games to date. This includes Paul Williams who was outstanding throughout and had it not been for his outrageous red card could have helped his team take a notable scalp against the Springboks.
Some of the more established teams have disappointed despite going through which explains why England, France and Australia do not have a single representative between them. New Zealand, Wales and Ireland however contribute three players apiece with South Africa adding two. These have been the best teams on display so far. Ma’a Nonu has been my player of the tournament causing havoc wherever he has gone allied to much improved distribution. He forms an enormous back line with compatriot Richard Kahui and the Welsh duo of the outstanding George North and the rejuvenated Jamie Roberts.
In the front row Cian Healy has scrummaged more powerfully than we have seen before to add to his already excellent work around the park and Castrogiovanni has shored up the Italian team all on his own at times. Bismarck Du Plessis meanwhile looks to have consigned John Smit to ending his international career on the bench, something which in truth should have happened some time ago.
The other area worthy of note is the back row. It seems most of the Man of the Match awards in the tournament have gone to ‘loosies’ with the Georgian, Tongan and Namibian back rowers taking plenty of plaudits. But Sean O’Brien and Sam Warburton have been simply outstanding and would have to rate next to Nonu as players of the tournament thus far. Granted O’Brien has been playing at 7 but he has played a lot of rugby at 6 and you would get short odds on these two packing down together in Australia in 2013 in the red of the Lions. Warburton is also skipper of the team for the way in which he seems to have inspired his young charges to finally perform on the world stage. They are joined by Tongan Viliami Ma’fuu who has been frightening around the park and had Frenchmen diving out of the way in a manner not seen since The Duke of Wellington shouted ‘Charge!’.
So here is the team. I don’t expect a single person to agree but frankly, it’s my article. Deal with it.
15. Paul Williams, 14. George North, 13. Jamie Roberts, 12. Ma’a Nonu, 11. Richard Kahui, 10. Dan Carter, 9. Khan Fotuali’i, 1. Cian Healy, 2. Bismarck Du Plessis, 3. Martin Castrogiovanni, 4. Danie Roussouw, 5. Paul O’Connell, 6. Sean O’Brien, 7. Sam Warburton, 8. Viliami Ma’afu
by Stuart Peel