Rugby Union

Rugby World Cup 2015: Team of the tournament so far

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With the end of the group stages comes the end of the World Cup experience for a number of teams. The nations in the quarter finals will have players who are yet to hit their stride, but with no further opportunity to impress for the whole array of players, which ones have stood out?

1. Mihai Lazar (Romania)

The Castres prop was a key part of Romania's biggest weapon at the tournament. In a nation renowned for great scrummagers, there are few stronger than Lazar. He did his part in carrying and even turning over the ball in the loose but first and foremost, he dominated his opposite man up front.

Against a formidable French pack, he had the competition's heaviest man on toast every time. Against Canada, he won penalty after penalty eventually leading the way after 74 minutes of play for Macovei to pick up and score to set them up for a famous win. There have been some excellent looseheads in the tournament, notably Scott Sio, but none seem so solid.

2. Augustin Creevy (Argentina)

Creevy has led an impressive Argentinean side by example. He embodies so much of what Argentina have always been about in his energy and physicality, but he also represents the new style they have displayed this tournament with his heads up play and handling ability.

He has been an all-round performer, nailing his set piece but also contributing to every other facet of play to a greater degree than any other Hooker in the competition. He is a ball of energy and seems to be everywhere on the pitch at once.

3. Sekope Kepu (Australia)

It's not too often you can say that an Australian scrum has obliterated Welsh and English packs in back to back games. But that has been the case. The introduction of Scott Sio has made an impact but Kepu has improved technically under the tutelage of Mario Ledesma.

The prospect of an Australian side with a scrum that can match their superstar backline is a daunting one. Not only have they made their pack a real weapon, but they haven't lost any of the dynamism they usually value. With a step that plenty of centres would envy, Kepu is the most versatile Tighthead on the scene.

4. Alun Wyn Jones (Wales)

I genuinely can't remember the last poor game this man has had. I can't really remember one where he has been less than outstanding. He staved off opposition from both South African Locks and the impressive Iain Henderson among others.

He is the one constant source of inspiration in the Welsh team and his work rate is unlike almost any other player on the planet. He is the perfect engine to have both at set piece and around the park for the full 80 minutes time and again.

5. Leone Nakarawa (Fiji)

If I was picking an individual of the tournament, I would be hard pushed to find one who has outshone this man. It is a pleasure to watch his loping and sidestepping in the loose knowing that somehow, someway, he will draw two defenders and offload the ball through sleight of hand worthy of Las Vegas.

Game after game he has stolen the show with a complete array of skills. His offloads have stood out but he has also turned over the ball from the breakdown, the lineout, and the maul, and run in a try beating two defenders.

He has stood out in his duty at Lock but also played like a world class Centre with the ball in hand, seemingly being able to dominate contact in every exchange.

6. Mamuka Gorgodze (Georgia)

"Gorgodzilla" is one of the most feared players in European rugby and as captain and talisman for Georgian rugby had an enormous role to play. Playing as the underdogs is a different prospect to performing well in a Toulon galacticos pack.

In their first outing, they faced a strong Tongan side, and he rose to the occasion to lead his side to a victory. He carried the ball, amassed a huge tackle count, turned the ball over, and even scored a try in a Man of the Match performance. In fact, he won three such accolades in the Pool stages which is the most of any player.

Against New Zealand, he lead by example in a spirited Georgian effort that forced mistake after mistake from the Champions. In the final match against Namibia, it was his try that gave the breathing space to endure an intense comeback.

7. David Pocock (Australia)

I'm sure I won't be the only one picking this man at a position he hasn't played this tournament. With an eight on his back, he has been displaying the skills of an Openside to the highest degree. Despite being out with injury for much of the last two years, he is back to imperious best as the standard bearer for breakdown devastation.

Against England, he seemed uncontested in his speed, body position, and strength over the ball, and he did more of the same against the more competent Welsh.

His presence in the side makes it nearly impossible for the opposition to build phases and secures a lethal Wallaby backline plenty of possession and turnover ball.

8. Taulupe Faletau (Wales)

Going into the tournament this spot seemed destined for Louis Picamoles, and after one game it looked even more likely, but he failed to make another typically strong showing.

Faletau, on the other hand, falls into the Alun Wyn Jones category of a constant performer for the Welsh. His work rate is phenomenal as one of the most athletic eights out there. Whether carrying in the close or hitting lines wider out his power and loping stride make him a formidable figure.

Had either Holani or Mafi had more game time for Japan one of them might well have been chosen but for consistency, Taulupe gets the nod.

9. Grieg Laidlaw (Scotland)

This was a tough pick. Gareth Davies has been constantly keeping Wales opposition on edge in defence and Fumiaki Tanaka has been the lynchpin behind Japan's constant skilful pressure. Laidlaw gets the nod for his goal kicking and decision making as well as he merits at Scrum Half.

Scotland have shown strong flashes in the tournament and most of them have revolved around their half-backs. Finn Russell has been outstanding and with his playmaking partner they get the best out of their backline.

In the crunch moment of their Pool, it was Laidlaw who brought controlled calm to the Scots against a fired up Samoan side. It was also his decision to turn down three points and his execution to snipe a vital try that put Scotland through to the quarters.

10. Bernard Foley (Australia)

This was another tough one. Second tier Fly Halves Vlaicu and Kotze impressed as well as more vaunted candidates in Michalak, Russell, and Sexton. There have been some excellent performances, but none so consistent and holistic as Foley's. He was more devastating against England than was Biggar, and in the Pool decider he got the better of the Welshman. With a clear first choice at fly-half, Australia can build around him and look as threatening as they ever have.

Foley has kicked his goals, moved his team around the pitch, and put his body on the line in defence. His tackle on George North was extraordinary when the Wallabies were down to 13 men. His combination with Giteau gives Australia a cutting edge that no team can currently match.

11. DTH Van De Merwe (Canada)

Canada might have had a disappointing campaign but this man did not. He scored in every game including one of the tries of the tournament. He showed the full array of talents with speed, footwork, and power making himself useful every time the game went his way.

Canada's game plan revolved around getting the ball wide because they knew the threat this man possessed. Even with a bad ball he made things happen, as he showed his ability to react by standing up fleet footed Brice Dulin to cross untouched against France despite slipping.

12. Matt Giteau (Australia)

Michael Cheika moved the world in his quest to ensure Giteau's selection as an overseas player. Australia don't exactly have a dearth of talent in this area, but it is simply a testament to the class of the man.

As a second ball player outside Foley, he allows Australia to target holes anywhere in the defensive line. He can take the ball to the gain line, he can sling the wide pass, or he can make the break himself.

He pulled the strings mercurially against England and eventually put the final nail in the coffin with his try in the corner.

13. Jonathan Joseph (England)

The only English man on this list makes it despite his team's performances. No other nation relies so heavily on their Outside Centre to make things happen, and more often than not he answers the call. He was impressive when on the field, and conspicuous in his absence against Wales as England suddenly seemed blunt without him.

In the final game of the hosts' World Cup, they looked a different prospect when JJ came off the bench and clean breaks came thick and fast for the final 20 minutes.

Not too many 13s have stood out thus far. Scotland's Mark Bennett has had a stop-start tournament, Conrad Smith has been part of a backline struggling for fluidity, and you expect Jesse Kriel and Tevita Kuridrani will have bigger performances in the knockout stages. Earls has shown potential in his new role for Ireland, and Hearn has been a bright spark for the Canadians.

14. Nehe Milner-Skudder (New Zealand)

There have been some excellent wingers in the tournament so far, so it would take something pretty special from a player who hasn't played in every match to get the nod. He made one howler in dropping an offload for an easy try but apart from that he has been exemplary.

He has been strong in the air and in defence where he is perceived to be weak. And elsewhere he has just done what he has done so well all season in Super Rugby. He probably has the best footwork in world rugby which he has used to bag four tries so far. He also has a phenomenal offloading game that often gets forgotten in the wake of his running game. He has beaten so many defenders himself but also put so his teammates in space as well.

He has also bagged two Man of the Match awards, which goes a long way to stake a winger's claim. The scary thing is that we haven't yet seen the best of the Hurricane in a Black shirt.

15. Ayumu Goromaru (Japan)

I think there is little doubt that Japan have been the heroes of the World Cup so far. They have announced themselves on the world stage as genuine contenders is any match. Beating South Africa looked far less like a fluke after their demolition of Samoa; a game in which this man won Man of the Match.

He exemplified everything that made Japan so effective. Constant work rate has made them so difficult to defend and Goromaru demonstrated the pride in their jersey by putting his body on the line for cover tackles long after the result was secure.

Like all the Japanese backs, he is deceptively strong, and an incisive, balanced runner. His kicking, both from hand and the tee was indicative of the whole squad's execution of skills under pressure which put plenty of bigger teams to shame.

Some of these performers will get more chances to impress, some of them won't. Come to the end of the tournament the dream team may look slightly different but it will take monumental efforts by any player to displace these 15 men.

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