Rugby World Cup final ultimate XV – The best of Rugby World Cup

STH has compiled the greatest Rugby World Cup final performances into one team – do you agree?

With less than one year to go until the start of Rugby World Cup 2019(TM), we have been exploring the archives of the past eight tournaments to pull together the Greatest Rugby World Cup final Performances XV. This team is made up of the best individual performances from the 1987 to 2015 Rugby World Cup finals.

1. Jacobus Petrus “Os” du Randt (South Africa, 1995, 2007)

“Os” coming from the Afrikaans word for Ox was made for rugby. Strong and powerful; he ate scrummaging for lunch and would work until he couldn’t walk anymore. This ethos puts him in an elite group, being one of only 20 two-time Rugby World Cup winners. Os’s build-up to the 2007 Rugby World Cup final could not have been much better, with a stellar performance against Argentina in the semi finals, earning him man of the match. In the 15-6 defeat of England in the final, du Randt played a colossal game. He stayed on for the full 80 minutes, including one run which seemed to turn back the clock on his 35 year old body.

2. John Smit (South Africa, 2007)

It is not surprising that this list is full of inspirational leaders, with the key to winning the Webb Ellis Cup being intelligent rugby instead of flashy skills. Most fans would agree that John Smit should be on this list, as the hard-working captain of the Springboks, he embodied the phrase ‘class under fire’. Smit’s work rate in the final was immense with him only taking a rest while he was getting stitched-up in the blood bin. 

John Smit lifting the Webb Ellis Cup after the 2007 Rugby World Cup Final

SAINT-DENIS, FRANCE – OCTOBER 20: John Smit of South Africa lifts the cup after his side defeated England during the 2007 Rugby World Cup Final between England and South Africa at the Stade de France on October 20, 2007 in Saint-Denis, France. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

3. Tony Woodcock (New Zealand, 2011, 2015)

Tony Woodcock has been described as having the “best range of skills of any prop on the planet” and we do not think that description is far from the truth, especially when you consider his knack for scoring tries. Woodcock’s try scoring prowess was on full display in the 2011 Rugby World Cup final, when 15 minutes into the game the All Blacks pulled off the perfect ‘teabag’, setting up the opportunity for Woodcock to cross the line untouched from the lineout. During the 2011 final Woodcock led all front-rowers in metres gained, clean breaks, defenders beaten and was tied second for tackles as well as doing the important propping work of ensuring the scrum was solid. We believe this solidifies his place in this list. Sadly, Woodcock was unable to play in the 2015 RWC final due to injury in the pool stages.

4. John Eales (Australia, 1991, 1999)

Eales is undeniably Australia’s best ever forward and nobody could fault you in saying he was the best ever to wear the green and gold Shirt. Eales’ skills could have had him playing at fly half, but at 6ft 6″ tall and 119 kg, he was always going to be in the second row. As a new face in the 1991 Rugby World Cup squad, Eales cemented his spot in the starting line-up for the RWC final after some massive performances against Ireland and the All Blacks. Captain for Rugby World Cup 1999, he was a true inspiration to his team, leading from the front, never taking a backwards step and playing a full 80 minutes in the quarter-final, semi-final and the final. A true workhorse who could do it all. 

John Eales lifting the Webb Ellis Cup after the 1999 Rugby World Cup Final

6 Nov 1999: John Eales the captain of Australia raises the Webb Ellis Cup after winning the Final of the 1999 Rugby World Cup against France played at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales. Australia won the game 35-12. Mandatory Credit: Nick Wilson /Allsport

5. Martin Johnson (England, 2003)

While Jonny Wilkinson was the face of the 2003 Rugby World Cup final, Martin Johnson was the lifeline – the heart behind the team. Johnson was one of the finest locks to ever play; big, strong and tough, both physically and mentally, equipped with a huge motor he was one of the few who truly led by example, with the ability to inspire and lift all those around him. The bigger the stage the better he got and there is no bigger rugby stage than a Rugby World Cup final. In typical Johnson fashion he led by example, both on attack and in defense – he was everywhere as if England were playing with an extra man. A true legend of England Rugby and the game worldwide, his performance in the 2003 Rugby World Cup should go down in history hand-in-hand with Jonny Wilkinson’s. 

Martin Johnson lifting the Webb Ellis Cup after the 2003 Rugby World Cup Final

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 22: Martin Johnson the captain of England celebrates with the Webb Ellis Cup after England’s victory in the Rugby World Cup Final match between Australia and England at Telstra Stadium November 22, 2003 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)

6. Francois Pienaar (South Africa, 1995)

The fearless captain of South Africa, who at a time when the country needed a hero, delivered a performance worthy of a Hollywood movie. The 1995 final was more than just the occasion, “it became a story about us, new South Africa finding its identity through sport” Pienaar would later say. Francois Pienaar epitomises what a Rugby World Cup-winning Captain should be; he led from the front with staunch bone-crunching defense, he put his body on the line constantly getting over the ball for turnovers or just to stop the All Blacks from getting quick, clean, ball. Most importantly he inspired his team with the belief that they could win; as South Africa entered the 1995 RWC ranked 9th and left as champions.

Francois Pienaar lifting the Webb Ellis Cup after the 1995 Rugby World Cup Final

24 JUN 1995: South African Captain Francois Pienaar lifts the Webb Ellis Cup after they defeated New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup final at Ellis Park, Johannesburg. Mandatory Credit: David Rogers/ALLSPORT

7. Richie McCaw, Captain (New Zealand, 2011, 2015)

Possibly the best ever rugby player on the best ever rugby team, Richie McCaw almost gets in on his pedigree alone, but this article is about picking the best performances from the Rugby World Cup-winning team. Playing the 2011 final with a fractured foot, McCaw led from the front with a game-high 18 tackles, producing a ‘captain’s knock’ to inspire his troops to victory. After the final, All Blacks Coach Graham Henry said, “He can hardly walk and how he played today I just don’t know,” as he acknowledged that the All Blacks probably would not have won without him. In the 2015 Rugby World Cup final there was not a man on the pitch who worked harder than McCaw. He was the everywhere man. Just look at the opening try, McCaw was involved on six separate occasions and provided the final off-load for Nehe Milner-Skudder’s finish. While this team has plenty of leadership options, McCaw stands above the rest and so will be named Captain. 

Richie McCaw lifting the Webb Ellis Cup after the 2011 Rugby World Cup Final

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND – OCTOBER 23: Captain Richie McCaw of the All Blacks lifts the Webb Ellis Cup after an 8-7 victory in during the 2011 IRB Rugby World Cup Final match between France and New Zealand at Eden Park on October 23, 2011 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

8. Viliami Ofahengaue (Australia, 1991)

Big Viliami Ofahengaue, or Willie O, had a phenomenal performance in the 1991 Rugby World Cup. The 118 kg no.8 was a force to be reckoned with, providing highlight reel bruising runs and bone-cracking tackles throughout the tournament. None more important than his barnstorming runs late in the first half of the Rugby World Cup final, setting up the only try. This proved to be the difference and led to Australia lifting the Webb Ellis Cup for the first time. Hi is one of the few players to have a winning record against the All Blacks.

9. Joost van der Westhuizen (South Africa, 1995)

Joost van der Westhuizen will go down in history as one of the best to ever play, and arguably the best defensive scrum half to ever play the game. Van der Westhuizen’s defense was on full show during Rugby World Cup 1995, where he was often the last line of defense against the biggest name and the first superstar of rugby Jonah Lomu. In a true David vs. Goliath, van der Westhuizen (with a broken rib nonetheless) came out on top every time, even famously ‘dumping’ the big man in one of this tackles. Van der Westhuizen’s performance was so dominant in the 1995 Rugby World Cup that he was one of the first players to be added to this list.  A true champion of the game who at his time of retirement was the most capped and leading try scorer for South Africa – a massive achievement for a scrum half.

10. Jonny Wilkinson (England, 2003)

Cometh the hour, cometh the man and Jonny Wilkinson was the man. As the clock ticked over to the 100th minute mark in a tense, scrappy match, seconds away from full time Wilkinson sent the ball sailing through the uprights handing England the Webb Ellis Cup and launching Wilkinson into English folklore. In a position that etches legends, Wilkinson is commonly regarded as the best. Wilkinson’s performance in the 2003 Rugby World Cup final saw him lead both from the boot and with ball in hand as his beautiful draw and pass helped Jason Robinson dot over just before half-time. There is not much we can write here that has not already been said about his performance; as a pivotal playmaker Jonny Wilkinson was the first name to be on our list. 

Jonny Wilkinson kicking the winning drop-goal during the 2003 Rugby World Cup Final

SYDNEY – NOVEMBER 22: Jonny Wilkinson kicks the winning drop goal to give England victory in extra time during the Rugby World Cup final between Australia and England held on November 22, 2003 at the Telstra Stadium in Sydney, Australia. England won the match 20-17. (Photo by Dave Rogers/Getty Images)

11. David Campese (Australia, 1991)

A true entertainer on the wing, ‘Campo’ had every magic trick in his arsenal and they were all on show during Rugby World Cup 1991. The RWC leading try scorer, player of the tournament and RWC winner, Campo’s name could not be left off this list. While the ball did not seem to go his way in the final, he still managed to steal the limelight – more for his stretching of the rules rather than his stretching of the defense. That being said no one in Rugby World Cup 1991 deserved to lift the Webb Ellis Cup more than Campo.

12. Stephen Donald (New Zealand, 2011)

“Leave it to Beaver”. When they talk of the heroes of Rugby World Cup 2011, the unforgotten hero is often Stephen ‘Beaver’ Donald. A true Cinderella story, Donald was a down and out dropped All Black, five weeks off the pitch (on holiday drinking beers and fishing). Plenty of missed calls, a text and one injury in the 34th minute of the Rugby World Cup final turned Beaver from a Mr. Nobody into a true Rugby World Cup hero. Beaver guided the All Blacks around the field as if he had been there the whole tournament and with the regular goal kicker, Piri Weepu, having an off day with the boot (0/3), Beaver stepped up and kicked the ugliest successful penalty kick of any final, which became the difference between winning and losing. Normally a fly half, he has the experience and capabilities to slot into inside centre and deliver at the highest level. 

Stephen Donald makes a break during the 2011 Rugby World Cup Final

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND – OCTOBER 23: Stephen Donald of the All Blacks charges forward during the 2011 IRB Rugby World Cup Final match between France and New Zealand at Eden Park on October 23, 2011 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Sandra Mu/Getty Images)

13. Ma’a Nonu (New Zealand, 2011, 2015)

If you were building an ideal midfielder, it would most likely end up being something like Ma’a Nonu. Big, strong, explosive, with a great support game and rock solid on defense are the key to Nonu’s game, and all these attributes were on show in both his Rugby World Cup finals. Nonu’s direct running in both finals, but especially in 2011, ensured the All Blacks always had front-foot ball for attack, and on defense Nonu had an outstanding 95% tackle rate only missing one tackle from both finals (only Kieran Read had a better tackle rate). Nonu’s try in the 2015 final epitomises how he plays, a powerful run through the middle followed by some fancy footwork to turn Beale inside out before blistering pace saw him cross the line for an incredible 50m solo try. 

Ma'a Nonu during the 2015 Rugby World Cup Final

LONDON, ENGLAND – OCTOBER 31: Ma’a Nonu of the New Zealand All Blacks is tackled by Sekope Kepu of Australia during the 2015 Rugby World Cup final match between New Zealand and Australia at Twickenham Stadium on October 31, 2015 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Steve Bardens – World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

14. John Kirwan (New Zealand, 1987)

As part of the team that won the inaugural Rugby World Cup, John Kirwan’s performance in the RWC and in the final was sublime. JK left an indelible impression on all who watched the tournament, scoring one of the first ever Rugby World Cup tries, ‘jinking and jiving’ his way 70m from the kick-off, which has become the most iconic Rugby World Cup try behind Jonah Lomu’s against England. JK finished the 1987 tournament with six tries, making him equal leading tournament try scorer, and was undeniably the player of the tournament. He attributed his Rugby World Cup performance to him ‘attending the gym’, unheard of from players of that era.

15. Matt Burke (Australia, 1999)

Matt Burke was considered one of the best fullbacks and goal kickers of his era, and these skills were on full display for the world to marvel in during the 1999 Rugby World Cup final. While hardly a classic match it was one in which Burke’s goal kicking, positional play and defense were phenomenal. Burke notched up a Rugby World Cup final’s record of 25 points with a masterclass display off the tee nailing nine out of nine. Furthermore, Burke amassed a stat sheet consisting of 57 running metres (team leading), five defenders beaten, no missed tackles and an astonishing three turnovers (team leading). The cream really does rise to the top and in a seemingly dull final Burke’s performance saw him rise above everyone else.


What do you think of this squad? Do you think someone else had a better performance in a Rugby World Cup final and deserves to be in the team instead? Join the discussion online facebook, media, social icon linkedin, media, social icon media, social, twitter icon 

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