2019 Rugby World Cup: Who wins our alternative awards?
We hand out gongs for best player, coach and try among others after the conclusion of the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
Best player (and hair): Faf de Klerk
For all of South Africa’s brute force, it was the smallest player in their squad who stood out most in Japan.
And not just because of his flowing blonde locks.
The Sale Sharks scrummy marshalled the fearsome Springbok pack with ease, while also producing an unrivalled kicking game and popping up on countless shoulders in support.
His appearance and demeanour on the pitch mean it’s easy to dismiss him as some sort of Scrappy-Doo figure, but his performances in Japan proved he’s no young pretender.
Breakout star: Tom Curry
Glorious 😂😍— Tim Cocker (@cocker) October 19, 2019
The MOST English thing that's ever happened. Love you Tom Curry! pic.twitter.com/5lRKfGYsYA
When England were knocked out of the 2015 Rugby World Cup by Australia, they were found to be badly lacking at the breakdown. Chris Robshaw and Tom Wood – both natural No. 6s – were decent enough workhorses, but not the tyros that the modern game requires.
Four years on, and suddenly England’s back row is the envy of world rugby, with Curry and Sam Underhill – both natural No. 7s – forming a devastating triumvirate with Billy Vunipola.
At just 21 years old, it was Curry who impressed most in Japan, making 57 tackles and forcing six turnovers. That his best performance came against the same Aussie jackals that had tormented England at the previous tournament merely underlined how far they had come.
We would present this award in person, but we wouldn’t want to make it awkward.
Best coach: Jamie Joseph
It may seem harsh to overlook Rassie Erasmus here, but Joseph’s achievements in charge of Japan have potentially changed rugby forever.
In becoming the first Asian country to qualify for the knockout stages, Japan have widened the landscape of the sport and ensured the long-term legacy of the World Cup.
Joseph instilled a fearlessness in his side that enabled them to match more physically imposing sides before running rings around them out wide.
Plenty of people were optimistic that the Brave Blossoms might sneak into the quarters, but nobody expected them to top their group after outplaying both Ireland and Scotland.
Best match: Japan v Scotland
No game encapsulated this World Cup better than Japan’s 28-21 win over Scotland to round off the pool stage.
After almost being called off in the wake of Typhoon Hagibis, the match provided the host nation with some much-needed cheer as their team reached the knock-outs for the very first time.
The game had everything – breathless rugby, a see-sawing scoreboard and even a brilliant brace for Japan’s retiring winger Kenki Fukuoka.
The atmosphere in Yokohama at the final whistle provided the peak of the tournament.
Best try: TJ Perenara v Namibia
A 79th-minute try against the lowest-ranked side at the tournament may not sound like ‘Try of the Tournament’ material, but just one viewing of Perenara’s effort ought to convince you.
The series of offloads in the build-up, the round-the-back pass from Brad Weber, and the Superman dive for the line to finish it off – this was poetry in motion.
No doubt there were countless more important tries scored in the tournament, but there can be no denying that this was technically the best.
Unsung hero: Jacques Nienaber
They say that behind every great head coach is a great defence coach. Well, maybe they don’t, but it’s true nonetheless.
Rassie Erasmus is rightly receiving the plaudits for his work in transforming one of the worst Springboks sides in recent memory into world champions, but he didn’t do it alone.
Nienaber is the brains behind their dogged defence, which conceded just four tries in seven matches, and one in three during the knockouts.
He is now being tipped to succeed the departing Erasmus, which is a testament to his influence in the Springboks’ third title.
Biggest disappointment: Ireland
Another World Cup, another quarter-final exit for Ireland.
Joe Schmidt’s side came into the tournament as the No.1 side in the world, but have fallen to fifth position after another false dawn.
With the likes of Rory Best, Jonny Sexton and Rob Kearney nearing the end of their careers, they’ve another rebuilding job on their hands if they are to change the narrative in time for 2023.
Heartbreak moment: Best bows out
It will be a strange sight when Ireland run out for their Six Nations opener in February and Rory Best is nowhere to be seen.
The 124-cap hooker and his white scrum cap have been a fixture for Ireland since 2005, but their quarter-final defeat to New Zealand brought an emotional end to Best’s playing career.
Holding back tears, the 37-year-old was unable to blare out the national anthem in his usual fashion, and struggled through a tearful post-match interview amid some of the loudest cheers of the whole tournament.
A painful end to a stellar career. Thank you, Rory.
Best quote: Steve Hansen
Tip: don’t question a team’s attitude in the wake of their first World Cup defeat for 12 years.
One journalist did just that and was soon asked to step outside for a ‘rugby education’ by the seething New Zealand coach Steve Hansen, who labelled his question ‘average’ and ‘disrespectful.’ Brutal.
Luckily for the Kiwi reporter, Hansen is now retiring from his position, meaning any awkward encounters in the future are off the cards. Phew.
Biggest idiot: Jaco Peyper
France lock Sebastien Vahaamahina was a shoo-in for this gong after elbowing his country out of the tournament but, somehow, Peyper managed to one-up him just a few hours later.
Sure, it was nothing malicious, but by posing for a photo with Wales fans, elbow raised, in a nod to the decision straight after the game, Peyper cost himself a semi-final and a public dressing down from World Rugby.
Not quite the way in which the South African would have wanted to celebrate his 50th Test, and this award isn’t likely to cheer him up.
Best tip: South Africa to win the World Cup
South Africa’s upward trajectory over the last year or so was too hard to ignore, and I tipped them at 7/2 to win the whole thing in my pre-tournament outrights.
New Zealand’s strong early form had me second-guessing myself, as did England’s famous semi-final win, but the Boks came through in the end.
Worst tip: Australia to reach semi-finals
Wales were clear favourites to finish top of Group D – securing a favourable quarter-final draw against France in the process – and I should have listened to the odds.
The Wallabies’ strong record at past World Cups caught my eye, but Michael Cheika’s side were as disappointing as their pre-tournament form suggested.
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