Magnificent seven who have risen above the rest

Amid a host of outstanding performers at RWC 2019, here is the Rugby News Service's selection of the best of a very impressive bunch.

TOKYO, 31 Oct - Who has been your stand-out performer in this most wonderful of World Cups? From the diminutive to the colossal - such as South Africa's firecracker Cheslin Kolbe and his England World Cup final opponent Maro Itoje - the contenders as player of RWC2019 come in all shapes and sizes.

Here is a look at a magnificent seven who have illuminated the tournament.

Maro Itoje (second-row, England)
Truly outstanding in every facet of the game, this titan has further enhanced his claim to be the world's most dominant forward with his heroics in leading England to their first final in a dozen years. Itoje, who turned 25 on Monday, has hit new heights, to the point of delivering a command performance against New Zealand in the semi-final that has not been topped in the tournament. Those telescopic arms have won him 10 turnovers, the most in the tournament, and earned him 22 lineout catches while he has used his athleticism to hit more rucks than anyone.

"He's a nuisance," was a rueful All Blacks coach Steve Hansen's greatest compliment. "He's athletic, a smart player, with the ability to adapt and adjust to what he is seeing and feeling. He is one of those players that could go on and be a great."

Kenki Fukuoka (winger, Japan)
It is hard to separate Fukuoka from his fellow Japanese "twin Ferrari" Kotaro Matsushima, so excellent were the home flyers. Fukuoka's dazzling two-try, player-of-the-match performance against Scotland may have swung it his way, but it felt a bit of a letdown to learn that the international rugby world may not be seeing much more of this singular talent. At age 27, he has resolved to continue his family tradition by going off to study at medical school.

Hailed by England coach Eddie Jones as Japan's answer to South Africa great Bryan Habana, Fukuoka will at least have the chance to become the country's sporting hero all over again by starring in next year's Olympic sevens in Tokyo.

Alun Wyn Jones (second-row, Wales)
If you were to pick any player to captain a world XV, it would surely have to be this Welsh living legend, who has held his team together like super glue amid all manner of bad luck and injury woes. His downcast visage after yet another narrow semi-final defeat told of how much effort he had hurled into the fray once again at the age of 34. So did the tally of 70 tackles, the most by any player in the tournament.

"An incredible athlete, an incredible player and incredible leader," said assistant coach Neil Jenkins. "I don't know a 99 per cent Alun Wyn Jones. I only know a 100 per cent one."

Semi Radradra (winger/centre, Fiji)
The only player in our list to have departed at the pool stage. Such was the impact this amazing Fijian flyer made in the opening weeks of the tournament, he simply could not be ignored. He won two player-of-the-match awards, rampaged for 400m over his four games, made eight clean breaks and stormed past 29 defenders. Hail the "Semi-trailer". He could beat you on the inside, he could scorch you on the outside, or he could just plough over you.

"What a player that Semi Radradra is," swooned the England coach Eddie Jones. "Just to be at the World Cup is a humbling experience to see him play with such power, pace and guile."

Beauden Barrett (full-back, New Zealand)
Ultimately, it took England's impenetrable great white wall to halt the two-time world player of the year in his quicksilver tracks and even then he still made more than 100m of inroads. He has left his imprint on the event with his glorious breaks from full-back, carrying the ball in more attacks (74) than any other player.

With one match to go against a weary Wales, it would still be no surprise to see Barrett add to his two tries and make the 78m of ground at Tokyo Stadium that would take him past Australian winger Marika Koroibete's tournament-leading 449m. Not a winner this time but still a great player.

Sam Underhill  (flanker, England)
It seems a bit harsh to pick one without the other as both Underhill and his fellow centre Tom Curry have been such a destructive and effective back-row partnership for England. Dynamic athletes, they have spent the past two Saturdays outplaying first the Australian back-row legends Michael Hooper and David Pocock and then being too sharp for the New Zealand luminaries Ardie Savea and Sam Cane.

Between them, they have hurled themselves into 114 tackles but maybe Underhill shades it simply on the monumental impact of his signature tackles, such as the merciless hits that deposited the great Kieran Read and Jordie Barrett on to their backs. They felt like the symbol of England's domination of the All Blacks. 

 

Pieter-Steph du Toit (flanker, South Africa)
In a side with so much collective power in evidence, Cheslin Kolbe may have stood out as the Springboks' most striking individual in the pool  stages with his dancing feet. Yet while Damian de Allende's crash-ball charges in midfield, and Faf de Klerk's electric prompting at the scrum base have been notable, the man who has really been their totem is Du Toit, the heart of the Springbok engine room. Du Toit, pictured with captain Siya Kolisi, has been magnificent in defence with his 50 tackles, and thunderous when powering over the gain line.

RNS ic/js/rm/bo