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Rugby World Cup Team of the Weekend

The Rugby World Cup came to a brilliant close this weekend with two final games but who impressed the most over the last round

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The Rugby World Cup finished on Saturday as South Africa lifted the Webb Ellis Cup for a third time with an impressive 32-12 win over England.

24 hours earlier and the All Blacks picked up their consolation bronze medals with a brilliant 40-17 victory over Wales in the third-place play-off. 

Across the two games there were some standout performances but who makes our last team of the weekend for this year’s World Cup and why did we pick them. 

Check out who we picked below and why we chose them. 

Backs 

15) Beauden Barrett –

Put the previous weekend’s defeat behind him to put on another fantastic show from full-back. Had tough competition in the team from Springboks Willie le Roux who saved his best performance of the tournament for the final. However, Barrett showed his dancing feet in for his try, his ability in the air dealing with everything that the Welsh threw at him, just on a different level. No matter who takes over as the new head coach this man will be key to the squad. 

14) Ben Smith – 

His last performance in an All Blacks jersey and he left fans wondering if he should have started in the semi-finals as he ran the show. Again, was pushed close by the Boks Cheslin Kolbe but the despite a wonderful try for the winger in green he just didn’t see enough of the ball unfortunately. On the other hand, Smith was everywhere, popping up with two wonderful tries before the half-time whistle to take the game beyond Wales. He will leave some big boots to be filled. 

13) Sonny Bill Williams – 

He started at 12 on what was also his final appearance in a New Zealand jersey but we had to fit him in as he was just simply incredible with his handling game. Age doesn’t seem to affect his skill, producing a wonderful offload for a try assist and unlucky not to set-up another. Splits opinion at times but his talent was on full show on Friday as he ended a glittering international career on a high. 

12) Damian de Allende –

An absolute animal! He seems to be able to carry and make metres with every touch of the ball no matter who is in front of him. Part of a brilliant defensive unit as well and capped off a brilliant tournament individually with yet another powerful performance. 

11) Makazole Mapimpi – 

Josh Adams deserves recognition for his try against the All Blacks which meant he finished top of the try scoring pile with seven. However, Mapimpi was second in the list and this weekend produced a brilliant all-round performance. His try was the highlight, showing great pace and imagination to tear open the England defence and score the Boks first-ever try in a World Cup final. We knew how good he was with the ball in hand but he won his aerial duals as well, in what was just a showing of true class. 

10) Handre Pollard – 

Once again he was steady from the boot putting an early miss behind him to go on a score 22 of his side’s points and finish top scorer at the tournament. He was brilliant with ball in hand as well and put in some big hits throughout the contest. When he’s in this kind form there aren’t many better than him. 

9) Faf de Klerk –

Aaron Smith put in a big shift for the All Blacks but de Klerk continued his rise as a contender to be named the best No 9 on the planet. He ran the show from minute one, passing well and putting up some inch perfect kicks for his teammates. Much like in the semi-finals he showed that he is not afraid to take on a bigger man in a battle, putting in some huge hits on some of the most powerful players in the game. He is just a joy to watch. 

Forwards

1) Tendai Mtawariria – 

In the scrum the Springboks dominated and he was at the front of it, putting Mako Vunipola to the sword. He gave his all and made some important hits throughout. Showing exactly why he is nicknamed ‘the Beast’. Possibly his last game for the country and what a servant he has been. 

2) Malcolm Marx – 

Thrown into action much earlier than expected but stepped up plate with ease. Line-outs were perfect, slotted into the scrum perfectly and carried well. Rose to the occasion when asked and demonstrated his class. 

3) Frans Malherbe –

Again, won penalty after penalty for the Boks from the scrum! Impressive from minute one until he was taken off and continued to develop as a top-class prop. 

4) Eben Etzebeth – 

A massive, massive shift from the Springboks lock! Won his line-outs, carried well, smashed the opposition in the tackle and led throughout. He is vital to the Boks system and showed the world just why on Saturday. 

5) Brodie Retallick – 

Missed the start of the tournament through injury, only playing 30 minutes before the knock-out stages but managed a full 80 come the final weekend. Moved him to five as he had to be in the team. For such a big unit his handling skills are up there with some of the best backs in the world and dominated this game from the off against some of the best opporaters around. 

6) Siya Kolisi – 

Captain fantastic! Deserves a spot in the XV for his speech after the game alone! Although on the pitch he was calm, leading his troops from the front-foot throughout and was impossible to get by from an English perspective. There isn’t a player in the world that deserved to lift the trophy more than this man on Saturday. 

7) Pieter-Steph du Toit – 

Won his title of men’s player of the year 24 hours later and this performance may have swayed the voters. A world-class flanker! He hits opposition attackers with such power and determination, but is equally as effective in attack when his side need to make the hard yards. If he can continue like this he will go down as one of the greatest in his position. 

8) Duane Vermeulen – 

Some call him ‘Thor’ and on Saturday it was as though a film script was written for him and he grabbed it with both hands! He may not have the cape but he has the power and sheer work-rate of any Avenger! Nobody could get past him and when called upon he took the hard hits himself for his team. Man of the match on the day and rightly so, a monster of a performance from the big man.

International

Fans Player of the Decade Confirmed

World Rugby have announced the winner of their Fans Player of the Decade vote and there’s no surprise who’s won

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Former All Blacks fly-half Dan Carter has been named World Rugby’s Fans Player of the Decade following their polls over the past couple of weeks.

The organisation narrowed the competition down to 16 players, as they split them into a last-16 style format, with backs on one side and forwards on the other. With two players going head-to-head in the polls to make it through to each respective round. 

Last week it was brought down to the final four, with all of them being New Zealand internationals as Carter was pitted up against Beauden Barrett, with Richie McCaw facing Kieran Read. 

McCaw and Carter were victorious and now Carter has come out as the overall winner as the best player over the past 10-years. 

It is not hard to see why fans have gone for the 112-cap All Black, who finished up his international career in 2015, having guided his country to historic back-to-back Rugby World Cup crowns. 

As well as that he holds the title for the most points scored at test-level rugby with an incredible 1598 to his name. 

On the international stage he was impressive, but he has been equally so at club-level, winning domestic crowns in both France with Racing 92 and in Japan with the Kobelco Steelers. 

The 37-year-old is still under contract with the Japanese outfit, but has been unable to play for them for the majority of the year, having suffered a major injury, which also prevented him from a brief return to Racing 92 for the latter-half of last season. 

However, he is poised to return to the playing field shortly and will be hoping to guide his team to further success and will have the aid of another All Black great joining him in the form of Brodie Retallick, who is linking up with the side for the season during his year sabbatical.  

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Read Admits to Injury in RWC Semi-Final

Former All Blacks captain Kieran Read has opened up about an injury he picked up before the Rugby World Cup semi-final against England earlier this year

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Former All Blacks captain Kieran Read has admitted he was injured leading up to his side’s Rugby World Cup semi-final against England, but played anyway.

The 128-cap international retired from test-level rugby following the tournament in Japan and has confirmed he was injured for the semi-final defeat to England in his new autobiography “Straight Eight”.

He claims that he suffered a calf injury during New Zealand’s incredible quarter-final win over Ireland and that it prevented him from preparing properly for the last-four clash.

“What if I had been able to train with the team that week instead of watching from the sideline? What if I had been out there to offer a little more direction, or reassurance, or assistance?” he wrote in his book.

However, despite losing the game 19-7 while injured, Read also admitted that England were the deservide winners on the day as they overpowered the All Blacks.

Many will now question the coach’s decision to allow Read to play while injured and hamper the team’s chances as they bid to win a third Rugby Cup on the trot, with Read part of a back-row that was up against the likes of Billy Vunipola.

At 34, Read has now chosen to move abroad and taken up a role with the Toyota Verblitz in Japan, where he will once again work with former All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen.

It is doubtful that even if he was at full tilt for the game that there would have been a different outcome due to England’s sheer dominance on the day, but it does show that the All Blacks went in with a chink in their armour before the match had even kicked-off.

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Is Schmidt to Blame for Ireland’s RWC Failings?

The IRFU have placed the blame of Ireland’s dismal World Cup campaign on Joe Schmidt, but is it really that easy?

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Yesterday, the IRFU held a meeting with a group of handpicked journalists to deliver their verdict on Ireland’s Rugby World Cup campaign.

The result according to the IRFU was that Ireland failed to evolve a game plan, failed in performance due to anxiety, had poor preparation ahead of the tournament and had a skills deficit compared to the world’s best teams. 

All of which appears to have been placed on head coach Joe Schmidt, who stepped aside following the conclusion of the tournament. 

The conclusion of where the team failed was reached by IRFU high performance director David Nucifora, who interviewed coaches and staff, while an independent body held discussions with the players, with all roads leading to the four failings mentioned above. 

Schmidt, who took over as head coach in 2013, a year before Nucifora took his role with the IRFU, is becoming the sole person responsible for the team’s failure, but is that fair?

Yes, Ireland appeared to be stuck playing the same game-plan as their impressive 2018 campaign, which saw them defeat all before them, which is a failure to evolve, but Schmidt had a full team of back-room staff, were they not capable of coming up with a different plan? Or were the players themselves unable to use their own initiative to bring forward a case of how they should play to Schmidt?

In terms of performance anxiety, these are international stars, playing on the biggest stage in European rugby for their provinces on a regular basis. Some criticized Schmidt for not rotating the team enough, but that meant that the same players where playing on the international stage for Ireland on a regular basis too, why are they anxious? 

These are the cream of the crop in Ireland, players that have won Champions Cups and PRO14 titles with their clubs, Six Nations titles and Grand Slams with Ireland, winning series tours with their country and some have even represented the British and Irish Lions on the grand stage. Why are they anxious and what does it have to do with Schmidt? 

Schmidt is a man renowned for his tactical and thorough preparation, looking at teams inside out to find their weaknesses and looking at his own team to find their strengths so what changed this year from a man that admitted his only regret when leaving the job was the fact that he only took one day off in six years. 

The team had played together many times before, went on training camps weeks before the tournament in Japan, including hot-weather camps to prepare for the soaring temperatures and humidity, and played pre-World Cup warm-up games. So why weren’t they prepared and once more how is Schmidt to blame?

Lastly, a lack in skills, an area were former players have noted Ireland failed to capitalise on during the past year. Some pointing towards Leinster’s style of play and asking why players weren’t following that example. 

It is true that Schmidt prefers a risk-free game, but surely once on the pitch, the players must use their initiative when opportunities arise, and play expansive rugby when the chances come if that’s how to win a game of rugby. 

Schmidt may have asked them to be more careful, but it is up to the players on the pitch to seize a game by the scruff of the neck and create openings. It seems unlikely that Schmidt would have argued with his players if they made it further in the World Cup by taking more of a risk. 

The four areas where Ireland failed to seem to be somewhat of the overall problem, and it would be foolish not to place some of the blame on the head coach, but it seems strange and even more foolish to pile the sole blame on him. 

There was a group of staff and players that prepared and went to Japan, a group of talented individuals, if Schmidt was falling short they should have been able to point it out and take it upon themselves to help solve the issues at hand. 

May the environment had gone stale after six years of the same routine, may the players needed more of a challenge, but what appeared to happen this year more than before was the players looked to lack motivation and desire in the green jersey, and that is on them no matter who tries to cover it up. 

While others find it easy to point the finger of blame to a man no longer associated with the IRFU, a look in the mirror may be a good idea. Afterall, if Schmidt was the problem then questions may be raised as to why it is his former right-hand man becoming Ireland’s head coach. Hopefully exciting times lie ahead under Andy Farrell, but don’t be surprised if more of the same is to follow.  

Four years ago Ireland were trounced in the quarter-finals of the World Cup by Argentina, in between then they arguably became the best team in the world under Schmidt, before being trounced again by the All Blacks at the same stage of the competition. The hope will be that Farrell can produce something others have failed to in the Irish hot-seat, but a review of a tournament isn’t what will help, a review of the system is needed and each member involved with Ireland’s failings should hold their hand up for the failure, because one man isn’t the only person at fault.

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