Following a stellar second weekend of Rugby World Cup action, we pick our team of the week from the several stars who light up the tournament in France.
The second week of action saw some midweek action as France stuttered to a 27-12 victory over Uruguay, while New Zealand thrashed Namibia on Thursday and Friday, respectively.
Saturday’s action saw Samoa kick off their campaign with a 43-10 victory over Chile before Wales beat Portugal and Ireland hammered Tonga.
Sunday produced the first shock of the tournament as Fiji ended a 69-year wait to defeat Australia after South Africa cruised to a 76-0 win over Romania. Finally, England ended the weekend’s action with a 34-12 bonus point win over Japan.
15 Willie Le Roux (South Africa): There will be those who criticise the Springboks fullback’s handling errors in the resounding victory, but it had no impact on the match, and his attacking output far outweighed his minor mishaps. He had four try involvements, scoring his first World Cup try and assisted a hat-trick of scores. He beats Samoa’s Duncan Paia’aua, England’s Freddie Steward and Chile’s Ianaki Ayarza.
14 Grant Williams (South Africa): A second Springbok makes our team after running riot against Romania. The scrum-half-come winger did not look out of pace out wide, scoring twice against the Oaks and racking up over 100 running metres. All Blacks flyer Caleb Clarke and Wales’ Louis Rees-Zammit falling short to the Bok.
Fantastic Fijian midfielders
13 Waisea Nayacalevu (Fiji): If there is another outside centre better than the Fijian in world rugby, they were not playing in the World Cup this week or didn’t prove it. Nayacalevu was simply outstanding again, making it back-to-back team of the week inclusions. He made clear, decisive decisions as skipper, was resolute on defence and impressed with the ball in hand. Ireland’s Garry Ringrose had a strong shift against Tonga, while France’s Arthur Vincent was solid in the opening game of the weekend.
12 Josua Tuisova (Fiji): Three notable mentions who are all incredibly unlucky to miss out, arguably none more so than Ireland’s Bundee Aki but Portugal’s captain Tomas Appleton and Chile’s Matias Garafulic were also excellent. However, Tuisova was too good to ignore. The powerhouse centre was a driving force in Fiji’s historic victory over Australia, bossing the gainline and breakdown and was relentless on defence.
— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) September 17, 2023
11 Makazole Mapimpi (South Africa): One of the most crucial roles for a winger is to score tries, and the Springboks’ flyer did just that, scoring three tries in a man of the match performance as he emphatically stamped his mark on the 2023 tournament. He racked up well over 160 metres and finished off his hat-trick with a wonderful long-range try. New Zealand’s Leicester Fainga’anuku also shone in his World Cup debut.
Experience and youth in the halfbacks
10 Johnny Sexton (Ireland): The veteran fly-half became his country’s top points scorer in Test rugby in style, posting an impressive 16-point tally, including a try, as he marshalled Ireland to a comfortable half-time lead. George Ford steered England to victory once again while Damian McKenzie shone against Namibia, while Uruguay’s Felipe Etcheverry shone for the South Americans.
9 Cam Roigard (New Zealand): There was no shortage of options at number nine, with Cobus Reinach coming agonisingly close to breaking his record for the quickest hat-trick in a World Cup, while Simione Kuruvoli, Santiago Arata and Jonathan Taumateine were pivotal for Fiji and Samoa respectively. However, Roigard was the pick of the lot, scoring twice and assisting further two tries as New Zealand marched to a comfortable win.
— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) September 16, 2023
8 Taulupe Faletau (Wales): Warren Gatland’s side was really put under the pump by Portugal, but number eight Faletau was excellent throughout scoring a late try to cap off a man-of-the-match performance and seal the bonus point. There were other standout number eights in Caelan Doris, Vaea Fifita, and Bill Mata.
7 Levani Botia (Fiji): Like Nayacelevu, there is a strong argument to be made that Botia is the best player in his position in the world right now and he should it against Australia. A menace over the ball, winning three turnovers, Botia was just as effective elsewhere, landing hefty tackles and rampaging his way through the Wallabies’ defence. The runners-up include Nicolas Martins, Fritz Lee, Jac Morgan and Ben Earl.
6 Manuel Ardao (Uruguay): Los Teros produced an inspired performance against France, most notably through the efforts of brilliant blindside flanker Ardao. A tenacious back-rower, the Uruguayan commanded the breakdown against the hosts and was influential in all facets of the game. He beat Kwagga Smith, Taleni Seu, Courtney Lawes, and Michael Leitch to a place in our team.
Strong second rowers
5 Theo McFarland (Samoa): There is no doubting the Saracens’ forwards ability, and he did not disappoint in his first Rugby World Cup appearance. A dominant presence in the lineouts, with ball in hand and on defence, McFarland is a superstar, and he proved it against Chile. Elsewhere, Portugal’s Steeve Cerqueira and South Africa’s RG Snyman narrowly missed out.
Kicking his nation off with the win
— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) September 16, 2023
4 Tadhg Beirne (Ireland): The second rower’s shift against Tonga has become somewhat of a standard over the past two years, but that does not make it any less impressive. It was an all-action shift, leading the way on defence, thriving with his carries, too, scoring a try and gaining over 30 metres. Sam Lousi, Felipe Aliaga, and Christ Tshiunza were all in the running but missed out to the excellent Irishman.
3 Matias Dittus (Chile): A left-field pick, but the Chilean tighthead certainly deserves it after a strong outing against Samoa, where he played nearly the full 80 minutes. He scored a try, held his own in the scrums and worked relentlessly around the park. South Africa’s Trevor Nyakane comes in a close second, with Fiji’s Luke Tagi and Ireland’s Tadhg Furlong not too far behind.
2 Dewi Lake (Wales): The Welsh captain was superb against Portugal dotting down in the 28-8 victory. He landed some huge hits on defence, carried superbly and was clearly one of the best players on the pitch. His opposite number, Mike Tadjer, was also excellent, as was England’s Jamie George and Fiji’s Sam Matavesi.
1 Joe Marler (England): The 33-year-old loosehead prop comically set up a try with his head against Japan, and while that was the humourous highlight of the game, it does not take away from his overall performance. He was strong in the scrums and hard working around the pitch, making his tackles and won a turnover. Similarly, Ox Nche and Eroni Mawi had strong shifts.