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i’s team of the pool stage, featuring James Lowe, Damian Penaud and Johnny Sexton

The pools are done and we have our Rugby World Cup quarter-finalists, with some box-office clashes happening in Paris in particular next weekend where arguably the four best sides in the world will face off against each other.

But before then is a time for reflection and thanks. Thank you to Chile, for playing some incredible counterattacking rugby. Thank you to Santiago Arata for at one point climbing on top of a moving maul. Thank you to George Ford for drop-kicking like it’s 2003 again. And thank you to Mike Tadjer for kicking like a full-back with different coloured boots.

It’s been an enthralling pool stage, with some incredible individual performances. Here is i’s team of the pool stage.


15 Damian McKenzie, New Zealand

Simply majestic. Instinctive eye for a gap and as evasive as any in the game. That one-handed flick back inside against Uruguay from the touchline should have been subject to a takedown on X (formerly Twitter) for obscenity reasons, not World Rugby’s bizarre copyright stance.

14 Damian Penaud, France

If you score six tries in the pool stage you’re probably doing something right. Commanding in the air, exceptional at finishing.

13 Waisea Nayacalevu, Fiji

Spent the pool stage carving open defensive lines for fun and making exceptional reads when without the ball. His work against Wales in particular was crucial and astonishing.

12 Bundee Aki, Ireland

Mr Gainline. Absolutely relentless in his work rate and so much of what Ireland are enjoying outside him is due to the threat he poses and defenders whose thoughts he occupies.

11 James Lowe, Ireland

Excellent at finishing, incredibly competitive in the air, defensively brilliant. Lowe is one of the most well-rounded wings in rugby. Just really very good at everything, even when only playing with one eye against Scotland.

10 Johnny Sexton, Ireland

Probably the best at game management in the world right now, while also pulling the strings of an incredible incisive backline. Great with the boot, good with the referees, is truly enjoying his final flourish on the big stage.

9 Aaron Smith, New Zealand

His speed and quality of distribution is second-to-none, not even Dupont. Always gives defences something to think about around the fringes and is one of the canniest opportunists in the game. Kicks exceptionally, an operator that all young players should watch.


1 Angus Bell, Australia

Comes out of this tournament with a huge amount of credit despite his side’s disappointing performances generally. Runs hard at defensive lines and usually makes metres, as well as being solid in the scrum.

2 Bongi Mbonambi, South Africa

His lineouts are very reliable and his round-the-field work is top-drawer too. A hugely crucial cog in all that South Africa do well, and it’ll be essential he’s on song in the knockouts.

3 Ben Tameifuna, Tonga

That performance against South Africa, wow. If any teams need a fly-half they could do worse than the big man. Incredible work rate, carries hard and protects the ball well, while adding 23 stones to the scrum.

4 Tadhg Beirne, Ireland

An immense work rate and an extra loose forward when deployed at blindside, but loses none of the ballast at second row. Ireland’s already formidable defence gains an edge when he starts, the threat of turnovers all over the park.

5 Cameron Woki, France

Dynamic, intelligent and solid at the set-piece. It’s a hard-run thing between him and his countryman Thibaud Flament, who are both excellent at this World Cup, but Woki just gets the nod due to his aggressive carries.

6 Manuel Ardao, Uruguay

The turnover king! Ardao broke the record for turnovers in a World Cup match with seven against Italy, and was targeted as a potential problem every moment after. A constant menace at the breakdown.

7 Jac Morgan, Wales

A wrecking ball of a carrier with a lovely flair to boot. His work rate and leadership is excellent and looks to have nailed down the Wales 7 shirt for years.

8 Caelan Doris, Ireland

His all-round game is simply astonishing these days. Carries well, turns ball over reliably, and has an unbelievable defensive work rate. One of the best in the game at the moment.

i’s team of the pools (Graphic: i)

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