Team of the Week: Rugby World Cup Semi-Finals

Adam Kyriacou

With the dust having settled on the semi-finals of the Rugby World Cup, we have gone through the action and picked the standout players.

Following their superb victory over New Zealand in Yokohama on Saturday, England unsurprisingly lead the way with eight nominations, while fellow finalists South Africa are next best with five in our line-up.

Team of the Week: Rugby World Cup Semi-Finals

15 Leigh Halfpenny (Wales): The loss of Liam Williams to injury was set to be a significant setback to Wales’ game but credit to Halfpenny, who stepped in as a calm head at the back on Sunday. He was faultless under the high ball – there were certainly lots of those – whilst also defending impressively in terms of his positioning to edge New Zealand’s hard-working Beauden Barrett to our full-back position.

14 Anthony Watson (England): Another performance that showed what a dangerous runner Watson is with ball in hand. He looks in excellent form at the moment and England have clearly played on that by trying to get the ball into his hands as much as possible. He beat five defenders as he racked up a team-high 91 metres from his 13 carries. The Springboks will look to starve him of possession this weekend.

13 Manu Tuilagi (England): Continues to flourish in this hugely confident English line-up as he looks in the form of his life at the moment. Showed intelligence and calmness to spot the weakness on the fringe of New Zealand’s ruck to open the scoring early on in Yokohama before being a strong carrier thereafter. Tuilagi was also solid defensively with seven hits as he played a part in shackling the All Black backs.

12 Damian de Allende (South Africa): Tough call on England talisman Owen Farrell who practically had to be dragged from the action against New Zealand. He led superbly yet again but just misses out here as De Allende was a monster on Sunday. The powerful midfield back dominated the gain line as there was no way through for Wales. He topped that off with a crucial try in a hulking showing for the Boks.

11 Josh Adams (Wales): He’s had a brilliant Rugby World Cup and even in a match that was limited in terms of entertainment due to a multitude of kicks, he stood out. That says a lot about the Wales wing as even with precious ball Adams made it count, with his stock rising once again in the game. Granted his score was a simple finish but he patiently maintained his width to go out on his own in the try chart.

10 Handre Pollard (South Africa): George Ford was outstanding once again at 10 for England as he attacked and defended superbly while also stepping up to coolly take over the kicking duties against New Zealand. However, Pollard gave his most assured showing for the Boks in their semi-final as they ground their way to the final. He was faultless off the kicking tee and needs to be again against England.

9 Ben Youngs (England): An infuriating and dull game plan, yes, but effective? Definitely; Faf de Klerk did his job on Sunday. The Springbok scrum-half kicked everything he could from the base against Wales as they stuck to their instructions, which ultimately paid off. Thankfully though there was a showing more pleasing on the eye as Youngs bested Aaron Smith, with slick service a real feature of his game.

8 Duane Vermeulen (South Africa): Both teams struggled to make ground with ball in hand, but the Springbok number eight was the exception. Vermeulen ran for the most metres of any South African against Wales, with 45 to his name, and was typically physical throughout the contest. Elsewhere, opposite number Ross Moriarty was impressive while England’s Billy Vunipola produced his best performance of the tournament, but it was not enough to displace the gargantuan Springbok.

7 Sam Underhill (England): Led the Red Rose defence with a brutal display of tackling, which has become synonymous with his game. Hits hard and hits low, New Zealand consistently felt the full force of the flanker, who ended the game with a team-high 16 tackles. As a result, Underhill got the better of Ardie Savea, but it was another excellent display from the All Blacks fetcher, who was one of the few New Zealanders to stand out in the defeat.

6 Pieter-Steph du Toit (South Africa): This is an extremely tough call on England’s outstanding flanker Tom Curry, who once again shone for the Red Rose, but Du Toit was absolutely huge for the Springboks. He was a constant nuisance at the breakdown, regularly disrupting Welsh ball, and was superb in defence. The blindside was one of two players to get into double figures for tackles and made a staggering 19 hits overall, which was six more than the next best.

5 Lood de Jager (South Africa): We mentioned above that only two players made double figures in tackles; well, the Sale Sharks-bound lock was the other one after another all-action performance for the Springboks. Once again, De Jager and second-row partner Eben Etzebeth, with the exception of one errant lineout, dominated in the air while the 26-year-old was busy in the loose, meaning that he edges out England’s Courtney Lawes and Wales’ Alun Wyn Jones.

4 Maro Itoje (England): Arguably his best display in a white shirt as the Red Rose reached their fourth World Cup final by dominating the forward exchanges against New Zealand. The Saracens man caused havoc in the set-piece and the breakdown, winning three turnovers, while his carrying was also very good. It is an area which has been a work-on, but Itoje is starting to contribute far more with ball in hand. As a result, he comfortably takes the position from South Africa’s Eben Etzebeth.

3 Kyle Sinckler (England): A tough one here as the England tighthead only lasted 46 minutes before coming off due to injury, but he still did more than enough to claim the position ahead of South African duo Frans Malherbe and Vincent Koch. Sinckler was solid in the set-piece, not giving New Zealand’s excellent loosehead Joe Moody an inch, and was once again impressive with ball in hand, playing a huge part in their only try by off-loading to Ford.

2 Jamie George (England): Is now among the best hookers in the world following his performances in this tournament. There were worries about the lineout before the semi-final due to New Zealand’s four excellent operators, but his throwing was pinpoint, while George was typically industrious in the loose. The 29-year-old may look like your stereotypical front-rower from yesteryear, but he is remarkably mobile and has an excellent skill set, which allowed him to get in ahead of Wales’ Ken Owens.

1 Mako Vunipola (England): After his display in the quarter-final and now this effort in the last-four, it seems incredible that the loosehead had barely played since May. The prop was excellent for the Red Rose in both the set-piece and with ball in hand. He won a penalty against Nepo Laulala in the scrum and contributed significantly in the loose by carrying 16 times as he takes the position from South Africa’s replacement prop Steven Kitshoff.