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The moments, players and numbers that made the 2015 pool stages the greatest ever

15 Oct | BY Betway | MIN READ TIME |
The moments, players and numbers that made the 2015 pool stages the greatest ever

We pick our greatest moments and team of the tournament, and analyse the stats that prove these pool stages as the best in World Cup history

The pool stages of the 2015 Rugby World Cup undoubtedly surpassed all expectations for drama and intrigue, completely blowing apart their reputation for being an inconvenient formality to be completed before the real excitement of the knock-out stages can begin.

With each game seeing an average of nearly six tries and over 50 points, the quality of rugby has been scintillating while also throwing up plenty of surprises along the way.

Who would have thought, for example, that at this stage Argentina would be tournament top scorers with a whopping 174 points in four games?

Few, meanwhile, would have predicted Scotland, having only picked up the Six Nations wooden spoon in March, to outscore all of their Northern Hemisphere rivals within a tricky group.

And as we bid farewell to the 10 second-tier nations as well as Italy and England – the first host nation to ever fail to make the knock-out stages – what money on tournament favourites New Zealand to be the most error-strewn team with 44 knock-ons?

Memorable moments

Incredible tries, gripping matches and a few iconic events thrown in for good measure – these pool stages have provided countless memories to be added to the list of great World Cup moments.

Here’s our top six:pool-moments26. Biggar sticks the boot into England – With five minutes left on the clock, the flawless Dan Biggar stepped up to slot a penalty from the halfway line to complete a miraculous turnaround for injury-depleted Wales’ against England in the Pool of Death’s decisive game.

5. Goneva scores try of the tournament so far – Despite finding themselves in the Pool of Death, Fiji refused to deviate from their entertaining style – an approach that was perfectly encapsulated by their 85-metre try against Wales featuring an array of line breaks, sidesteps and offloads.

4. Deysel scores for Namibia against the All Blacks – Johan Deysel’s try for Namibia delighted all neutrals in what was supposed to be the biggest mismatch of the tournament – a moment that perfectly symbolised the progress made by all smaller nations at this World Cup.pool-moments13. Romania pull of biggest ever comeback – All looked lost for Romania at 15-0 down in their final pool game against Canada before 17 unanswered points in the final half-hour saw the minnows complete the biggest comeback in the history of the tournament.

2. Habana equals Lomu’s record – Bryan Habana already shares one record with Jonah Lomu for biggest haul at a single tournament in 2007, but his hat-trick against USA this time around drew him level with the legendary wing for most tries scored in World Cup history.

1. Japan stun the Springboks – It was Japan who brought the tournament to life on the opening weekend with one of the greatest shocks in sporting history – defeating two-time world champions South Africa with a dramatic try deep into injury-time having bravely declined the draw.

Team of the tournament so far

It is a testament to the fine margins on display at this World Cup that, in selecting our Pool Stage XV, only two side boast more than a single player.

The impressive Wallabies lead the way with three while Japan weigh in with two, with a total of five players forcing their way in despite their country already being eliminated.

No All Blacks have made the cut despite winning all four of their games, while only three players selected for our All-Star XV and Ones-To-Watch XV ahead of the tournament have held on to their places.

Here’s who has made each jersey their own:

15. Ayumu Goramaru – Produced two man-of-the-match performances on his way to scoring 58 points, making him Japan’s all-time leading scorer and putting him at 13th in history of international rugby.

14. DTH van der Merwe – Only two people are above him in the try-scoring charts after the electric winger scored in all four of Canada’s defeats – no fluke considering he made more metres (389) than any other player.

13. Jesse Kriel – The 21-year-old has been a revelation at centre – combining intelligence in attack with a fearsome defence that has produced a tackle success rate of 89 per cent.

12. Matt Giteau – Will win his 100th cap against Scotland, completely justifying Michael Cheika’s decision to adjust the ARU’s policy on including overseas players with his performances of poise and guile.

11. Bryan Habana – His five tries have been pivotal in South Africa’s renaissance since their defeat to Japan and, having drawn level with Jonah Lomu’s all-time record, he now stands on the brink of history.

10. Bernard Foley – Has impressively pulled the strings for the most clinical backline in the tournament, with his brace against England also emphasising his own finishing capabilities.

9. Gareth Davies – Has been a revelation since stepping in for the injured Rhys Webb with the pivotal score against England just one of his four tries – the most scored by any player not on the wing. pool-stage-xv8. David Pocock – With more turnovers than any other player (10), he is quite simply the best in the business when it comes to scavenging the ball from the opposition.

7. Michael Leitch – Having made more tackles (51) and carries (36) than any other player, the Japan captain has been a real talisman for the impressive Cherry Blossoms.

6. Mamuka Gorgodze – A fearsome presence in the pack that has personified the brute force and determination that has led to Georgia enjoying their most successful World Cup ever.

5. Iain Henderson – His try against Canada showed his ball-carrying abilities while his impact off the bench against France gave descriptions as ‘the next Paul O’Connell’ even more weight.

4. Leone Nakarawa – The athletic second row has challenged the expected limitations of those who play in his position with more offloads (10) and the second-highest number of turnovers (9).

3. Willem Nel – The South African convert has contributed to Scotland’s recovery by bringing plenty of Springbok grit to their pack and even chipped in with a try against USA.

2. Agustin Creevy – Has strengthened his reputation as the most effective hooker in the game while captaining an Argentina side that have taken tournament by storm.

1. Rabah Simani – With two tries in three games, the prop has one of the best strike rates in the tournament and has helped make the French pack one of the most imposing around.

The stats don’t lie

A week into the tournament we argued that the Rugby World Cup was becoming more competitive, with a clear drop in the gap between the best and worst sides since 2003 when the competition expanded to 20 teams – a downwards trend which the 2015 tournament has emphatically proven:rwc-compSince 2003, there has been a 41 per cent decrease in the number of points scored and a 38 per cent drop in the number of tries scored by the bigger teams in the five largest defeats of the tournament, with the average winning margin falling by 44 per cent.

Before this tournament Japan had only ever won a single World Cup game, yet this year became the first team in history to win three pool-stage matches and still not make the last eight.

Former whipping boys Georgia, meanwhile, won two games in a single campaign for the first time in their history thanks to victories over Namibia and Tonga – who were above them in the world rankings heading into the tournament.

And Italy, as a Tier 1 country, only managed to overcome the two second-tier nations in their group Canada and Romania by a combined total of 15 points.

There can be no denying that the gap between the best and the rest is shrinking dramatically, with the 2015 pool stages surpassing all expectations for excitement and setting a new bar for competitiveness.

It has already been a tournament to remember – and the fun has only just begun.

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