Player of Pool C: Ireland's Sean O'Brien
AUCKLAND, 4 Oct. - As Tri Nations champions, Australia have plenty of big names with even bigger reputations at Rugby World Cup 2011.
But their cruel luck with injuries means that their Pool C campaign may be better remembered for the roll call of players heading for the treatment table.
Wing Digby Ioane gave a glimpse of his destructive running before breaking his thumb in the opening match against Italy, flanker David Pocock missed the defeat by Ireland during a two-match layoff caused by a sore back and full back Kurtley Beale has played less than two hours of rugby because of a hamstring strain.
Meanwhile, their lower-ranked opponents have managed to grab a share of the limelight.
Russia scrum half Alexander Yanyushkin used all his 165cm to stretch for his team's first RWC try minutes after coming on as a replacement against Italy.
Fly half Konstantin Rachkov, 32, scored in all four of his team's matches, collecting a total of 19 points, and number 8 Victor Gresev twice claimed the man-of-the-match award despite being on the losing side.
Flanker Todd Clever was an inspirational captain for USA and number 8 Sergio Parisse led Italy by example. The sight of blood, sweat and tears rolling down Parisse's cheeks after the defeat by Ireland was a testament to how hard he had striven in vain to propel them into the quarter-finals for the first time.
But it is the men of Ireland who will be remembered as the kings of Pool C.
Captain Brian O'Driscoll became only the third player to score at four separate RWCs and his statesman-like manner is an example for all.
Ronan O'Gara succeeded with 16 of his 19 place kicks, and Keith Earls, who scored two tries on his 24th birthday against Italy, has developed into a versatile three-quarter full of menace.
They all have their forwards to thank for laying the foundations of the crucial win over Australia and Ireland's path to the top of the pool. Prop Cian Healy was the star of a front row that forced the Wallabies into submission, and later cowed the more distinguished Italian line-up.
Second row Paul O'Connell is a tireless workhorse in the loose as well as the set-piece and number 8 Jamie Heaslip did not put a foot wrong as he played every minute of the pool matches.
However, the player-of-the-pool award goes to 24-year-old flanker Sean O'Brien, the European player of the year. Despite performing in the unfamiliar openside position, he has been a rampaging ball of destruction in his first Rugby World Cup, whether in attack or defence, and looks set to enhance his reputation as the last eight teams standing do battle in the knockout stage.
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