From Cheslin Kolbe’s dancing feet in South Africa’s opening weekend defeat against New Zealand to Manu Tuilagi bursting through the gain line in England’s quarter-final with Australia, the 2019 Rugby World Cup was filled with individual moments of brilliance.
Here, City A.M. picks six of the best performers at the tournament.
Maro Itoje, England
Where else to start than with England’s second-row Maro Itoje, who was exceptional in Japan?
The 25-year-old has improved greatly over the last year and now puts in world-class performances every time he steps on the pitch.
Itoje has proved himself more than capable of running the line-out, allowing Eddie Jones to use the more disruptive Courtney Lawes alongside him instead of George Kruis, and has cut mistakes out of his game.
His work helped make England’s attacking maul one of the best in the game and at the breakdown he was equally impressive.
In the semi-final win over New Zealand he was everywhere, winning three turnovers and making Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock look inferior.
It didn’t quite come together against South Africa in Saturday’s final, but Itoje will surely be among the first on the England team-sheet for many years to come.
Josh Adams, Wales
Wales will come away from the World Cup wondering what might have been after they were blighted by injuries and failed to find the form that won the Six Nations Grand Slam earlier this year.
For a number of the Welsh team it feels like it could be the end of an era, but for Warren Gatland’s successor, the emergence of Josh Adams as a prolific try scorer should provide plenty of optimism.
The 24-year-old was the tournament’s top try scorer with seven, including a hat-trick against Fiji.
He pulled Wales level with a try in the semi-final against South Africa before scoring a record-breaking seventh – the most at a World Cup by a Welshman – in the third-place play-off against New Zealand.
Damian de Allende, South Africa
Allende was the man who earned South Africa the led in that semi-final against Wales. With the score finely poised at 9-9, he barged through three defenders to touch down.
The centre has come of age this year and, with the Springboks playing to their physical strengths up front, the role of De Allende in defence has been just as important as in attack.
The 27-year-old may have only notched two tries but he made a massive 61 carries in his seven matches as well as an impressive 49 tackles at a success rate of 84 per cent.
He was part of a water-tight defensive line that kept England try-less as they won the final 32-12.
Kenki Fukuoka, Japan
The World Cup would not have been the same without hosts Japan.
Kenki Fukuoka epitomised everything great about the Brave Blossoms – tenacious, quick and disciplined – and a number of players could have made this list, including captain Michael Leitch and Fukuoka’s fellow wing Kotaro Matsushima.
He gets the nod for his two-try display in the decisive group match against Scotland, in which he also assisted two others as Japan progressed to the World Cup quarter-finals for the first time.
With five tries and six assists in four games against South Africa, Ireland, Samoa and Scotland, Fukuoka, 27, proved himself one of the most deadly attacking threats at the World Cup.
Unfortunately he looks unlikely to feature at the 2023 World Cup as – incredibly – he intends to walk awy from rugby and go to medical school to continue the family tradition of becoming a doctor.
Tom Curry, England
The Sale flanker’s stock has risen dramatically in the last 12 months and he was deservedly nominated for World Rugby player of the year last week.
In tandem with Sam Underhill, the pair were destructive at the breakdown and were crucial to England’s run to the final, even if they failed to repeat their heroics against the All Blacks.
Underhill could just as easily have been picked here, but Curry gets the nod having played every minute of England’s matches, filling in at No8 for Billy Vunipola against Argentina, winning man of the match against Australia and coming close against New Zealand.
Duane Vermeulen, South Africa
With the likes of Pieter-Steph du Toit and Lood de Jager among a forward pack that dominated this tournament, Duane Vermeulen deserves a special mention for his work at No8.
The 33-year-old has been brutal in the tackle and was crucial to the Springboks’ scrum as it got the better of England to win three penalties during the final and send South Africa on their way to a third Webb Ellis Cup.
His man-of-the-match display on Saturday means he gets the nod, but it was a marvellous effort from the entire pack as they stopped England playing their game and proved they are the best in the world.
Main image credit: Getty