All manner of records were broken at Rugby World Cup 2023, culminating in South Africa becoming the first men’s team to get their hands on a fourth title.
And one of the standout features of the nail-biting 12-11 win over New Zealand at Stade de France on Saturday was Pieter-Steph du Toit’s remarkable 28 tackles.
Head coach Jacques Nienaber even joked after the match had ended that the Springbok flanker would go after a plastic bag blowing over the pitch such was his ferocity in chasing things down.
However, former World Rugby Men’s 15s Player of the Year Du Toit was far from the only individual to put his body on the defensive line time and time again throughout RWC 2023.
As a team, Wales had to put in 252 tackles in order to beat Fiji in Bordeaux in the opening round, a new Men’s Rugby World Cup record, and not surprisingly their players led the tackles made charts in the early stages.
Captain Jac Morgan and second-row Will Rowlands led the effort on that occasion and continued to tackle themselves to a standstill throughout Wales’ run to the quarter-finals. However, the overall top tackler from RWC 2023 was Argentina’s irrepressible Marcos Kremer.
At times, it felt like Kremer versus the world as he felled opponent after opponent on his way to a Men’s Rugby World Cup record 92 tackles. Some effort!
Of course, RWC 2023 was as much about attack as it was defence and the final total of 325 tries scored across the board was only seven behind the all-time record of 332, set in 2003.
New Zealand’s Will Jordan was the best individual finisher at the tournament with eight, despite a false start against France in the opening match, when he picked up a yellow card instead of a try.
Jordan sat out the All Blacks’ next game against Namibia as Bundee Aki made an early charge to become the first centre to become the tournament’s top try-scorer outright. But braces in big wins over Italy and Uruguay followed by a try against Ireland and then a semi-final hat-trick against Argentina put Jordan clear.
In scoring eight tries, Jordan joins All Blacks greats, Jonah Lomu and Julian Savea and Springbok legend Bryan Habana in achieving the feat at a single tournament. Unfortunately for Jordan, he had very few opportunities in the final to set a new record all of his own.
Farrell makes up for lost time
Another player who was up against it at the start but came good was Owen Farrell. The England captain missed the first two games due to suspension yet still pipped France’s metronomic kicker, Thomas Ramos, by a point in the race to finish as the tournament’s top point-scorer.
Ramos scored 74 points for his team and might have become the third Frenchman after Thierry Lacroix in 1995 and Frédéric Michalak in 2003 to reach three figures at a Men’s Rugby World Cup had Les Bleus gone all the way instead of suffering a quarter-final exit.
While Ramos’ total included a try, all of Farrell’s 75 points – just over a third of England’s total – came from kicks. He becomes only the second Englishman after Jonny Wilkinson in 2003 to finish as the top point-scorer at a tournament.
In terms of runs, no one took it to the opposition more than Ardie Savea, the newly-crowned World Rugby Men’s 15s Player of the Year in partnership with Mastercard.
Number eight Savea carried the ball 82 times, one more than Ireland’s Bundee Aki, and collected two Mastercard Player of the Match awards along the way.
While the injection of talent under the new birthright transfer process did not help the likes of Tonga and Samoa progress as much as they had hoped, there were still some fine individual performances.
Tonga’s full-back Salesi Piutau still used the game’s greatest stage to show off his skills; the former All Black was only equalled by France captain Antoine Dupont in pulling off 10 offloads.
Dupont’s France team-mate, Damian Penaud was king of the clean breaks with 13, one more than Jordan, while the best breakdown steal exponents were Samoa’s Fritz Lee and Manuel Ardao with seven.
Ardao not only stole the ball but also the headlines when he pulled off four – a tournament match record at a Men’s Rugby World Cup – in Los Teros’ Pool A game against Italy.