The party is far from over, but the journey for some is at an end. With the Rugby World Cup pool stages complete and the number whittled down from 20 to 8, we are left with no shortage of memories. Here’s the best XV from the Nations we’ll be seeing goodbye to.
Ayumu Goromaru (Japan): One of the abiding memories of Japan’s World Cup will be Goromaru’s taped fingers and unique kicking style which saw him convert 20 of his shots at the post in the pool stage. The 29 year old was far more than a kicker though, he also chipped in with a try, carried for 182 meters and made 11 tackles, including his incredible last ditch, bone shuddering hit on Tommy Seymour on the stroke of half time against Scotland that kept Japan within touching distance at the break.
Anthony Watson (England): One member of the England back line who actually looked like he could make things happen on the rare occasions the ball made it out as far as him. With very little happening in midfield, Watson grasped his chance when did get ball in hand. He carried for 230 meters, made 11 clean breaks, beat 9 defenders and helped himself to three tries during the pool stages. With a fine tally of 8 tries in 15 tests, the 21 year old will be central to any rebuild the English team will embark on after this tournament of disappointment.
Ciaran Hearn (Canada): While winger DTH Van der Merwe will get most of the plaudits, Canada’s outside centre was a key component in a back line that functioned competently in a tough group. The 29 year old who is a 7’s specialist, brought all his talents from the shorter format of the game to this tournament. Hearn played confidently in open spaces with ball in hand, carrying for 177 meters, while preforming strongly in defence, completing 28 tackles and winning two turnovers.
Lepani Botia (Fiji): The saying goes it’s about quality not quantity, and the 7’s specialist certainly proved this to be the case. The La Rochelle man only appeared in Fiji’s final two fixtures against Wales and Uruguay, but he proved to be worth the wait. Every time the 26 year old got the ball in his hands there was a sense he would create some magic. He carried for 137 meters, beat 10 defenders, made 6 clean breaks and was the fulcrum of the scintillating Fijian counter attacks of their last two games.
DTH Van der Merwe (Canada): A South African born, Canadian international who excelled in Scotland but now resides in Wales. DTH has certainly used rugby to take him on a mini world tour. The 29 year old was the stand out player in a Canadian side that failed to register a win in the pool stage, and was the only player at the World Cup to score in each of the four pool games. His pace and adventurous attacking intent saw him cross for one of the tries of the tournament to date, when Canada nearly shocked Italy in their second pool game.
Ben Volavola (Fiji): One of the biggest issues Tier Two nations face when trying to bring their game to next level is finding dependable players in key decision making positions. Fiji won the hearts of many neutrals with the spirited nature of their performances in the tournaments pool of death, but with Volavola spearheading the team they look set to win plenty of games over the next decade. The 24 year old showed an excellent temperament throughout and while there is room to improve he is a genuine out half, as opposed to a square peg shoved into a round hole to do a job.
Eduardo Gori (Italy): Despite recording two victories and falling just short of Ireland, the Azzurri were far from convincing during this tournament. They lost a number of key players in the lead up to the World Cup and talismanic captain Sergio Parisse managed a mere 60 minutes of action. However a major plus was the form of Gori who proved he can be a truly top class scrum half. He threatened with ball in hand making 156 meters and beating 14 defenders, while he marshalled his pack in front of him well.
Samu Manoa (USA): One of the few household names in world rugby in this USA squad, Manoa was part of a team that didn’t fall on their sword with ease during the pool stages, with the exception of their mauling at the hands of the Springboks. As equally adept in the second row, the Toulon man’s athleticism is a joy to behold. He never shirked responsibility of being the USA’s go to man, carrying for 121 meters and making 34 tackles in his four games at the tournament.
Mamuka Gorgodze (Georgia): Not content with being one of the backrows in France’s Top 14 competition, a league revered for the power of its forwards, the Georgian captain provided irrefutable proof there is talent aplenty outside the Tier One nations. Playing in his third World Cup, the 31 year-old was a tower of strength in the backrow making 41 tackles, 7 turnovers and crossing for two tries as he led his team to two victories, which is more than the Georgians have ever managed before. Gorgodze’s reaction to being named man of the match against New Zealand was a perfect reflection of the humble and widely respected warrior he is.
Michael Leitch (Japan): Coming off the back of a dominant Super Rugby season with the Chiefs, Japan’s captain was a main character during the Brave Blossoms historic pool campaign. The blindside recorded more tackles (51) and broke the gain line (36) more times than any other player during the pool stages. Japan were the first team to ever win 3 pool games and fail to progress to the knockout stages of the World Cup, but thanks in part to Leitch they won the hearts of all the neutrals.
Leone Nakarawa (Fiji): Anyone who follows the Pro 12 league will know exactly who Leone Nakarawa is, now anyone who appreciates free flowing and attractive rugby also does. The 27 year-old has been wowing crowds in this part of the world since he arrived in Glasgow in 2013. By combining his barnstorming running style and incredible offloading ability the 6’6 highlight reel is just another Fijian that has earned the appreciation of the watching world. With 177 meters gained, 1 try scored and 9 offloads completed Nakarawa is a second row like no other, while his 9 turnovers means he didn’t ignore his responsibilities either.
Joe Launchbury (England): Overlooked for a starting berth in England’s opening two pool fixtures, the 24 year old made notable impacts off the bench in both games before getting the start in the defining pool fixture against Australia. Launchbury couldn’t pull England over the line but he was by some distance their best player on the field that evening. The Wasps lock was England most prolific turnover winner in the pool stage recording 4, while he registered 28 tackles and made 55 meters with ball in hand. A fine all round return for a man who had to wait for his chance to shine.
Manasa Saulo (Fiji): It would be interesting to slip back in time and see what were the odds that Fiji and Australia, in that order, would have the most impressive scrummaging units in Pool A. Central to this has been the form of Saulo, who plays his club rugby in Romania with Timisoara Saracens. The Pacific Island nations generally are not expected to compete with Tier One Nations up front but with the 26 year old anchoring the scrum, Fiji won 6 put ins against the head against England, Australia and Wales, while retaining their own ball 100% of the time at this set piece.
Ray Barkwill (Canada): Looking more like a ZZ Top band member than an international hooker, the 35 year old was a model of consistency up front for Canada. The Canadians departed the World Cup without a victory but they certainly entertained the neutrals over their “TV Dinners”, and it could have been massively different as they pushed both Italy and Romania very close. Barkwill linked up very well with his locks in all four games and was never exposed at the lineout. The Ontario Blues hooker plays his rugby domestically but is one of the few Canadians to have plied his trade in one of the world’s top leagues, having represented the Western Force in 2012.
Campese Ma’afu (Fiji): For a prop who has spent the last two seasons in the English Championship, Ma’afu was a standout component in a highly impressive front row that routinely bested their more illustrious counterparts. Alongside the steadying Saulo, the 30 year old piled the pressure on his opposite number game after game in Fiji’s remarkably difficult World Cup pool. The Islanders are more known for their backplay, and for years have been trying to play off the back foot ball, but with Ma’afu and co up front they now have a reliable platform. Fiji also forced 11 penalties at scrum time over the course of their four games.