Players of the Rugby World Cup
Brent Pope selects his player of the tournament for each Rugby World Cup since 1987, and the single player who will determine the winners of the 2007 World Cup.
1987 Michael Jones (New Zealand)
Maybe the greatest rugby player ever. Called the “Iceman” because of his cool disposition. He scored the first try of the first world cup in 1987 and the first try in the second world cup in 1991. He played in all three positions in the back row. Because of strong Christian beliefs he refused to play on Sundays and, as a consequence, was not included in the New Zealand squad for the 1995 tournament because the quarter finals and semi finals were scheduled for Sundays.
He was a superb line-out jumper at a time when “lifting” was illegal. He had an extraordinary spring, although only 6'2''. He was brilliant on the ground, fantastic temperament, never put a foot wrong. His career was severely affected by injuries.
1991 David Campese (Australia)
Surely the greatest wing three quarter ever, bar one (see below)? He was capped by Australia 101 times and held the world record for tries in test matches until last year (on 14 May 2006 the Japanese player Daisuke Ohata scored his 65th try). He was famous for a “goose step”, a hitch-kick motion which left opponents stumbling behind him. One of his most famous tries was in Lansdowne Road in 1991 in the semi final against New Zealand. He was full of guile and courage and athleticism but often a nightmare for his fellow-players. A great finisher, an outstanding counter-attacker, invariably in every match he attacked at least once from close to his own try line. He was outspoken, often about his team mates which made him unpopular but David Campese was one of the greatest players ever.
1995 Jonah Lomu (New Zealand)
Another about whom one writes maybe the greatest rugby player ever. He made a profound impact on the game in a very short time. He was 6 foot 5 inches, and nearly 19 stone and was one of the fastest players in the game – he could run 100 meters in 10.89 seconds. Aged 19 in 1994 he became the youngest ever All Black in a test against France. He had won just 2 caps when chosen for the 1995 World Cup. He scored seven tries in five matches – two against Ireland in the first match, four against England in the semi-final in a performance that dazzled the rugby world. After the game the England captain, Will Carling said: “He is a freak, and the sooner he goes away the better”. Lomu's attacking style was one of pure power; he ran straight into or over defenders. In that World Cup New Zealand lost to South Africa. Entire opposing teams geared the defence around stopping Lomu.
He devised the blueprint for many wing three quarters since. Most teams now have a player of huge physicality playing on the wing (Shane Horgan for Ireland being one), it dates back to Lomu.
At the end of 1996 he was diagnosed with a rare kidney disorder, from which he has not fuly recovered. Indeed while playing he was suffering from the disorder, which meant he could play to only 80 per cent of his capacity!
He was a quiet spoken, graceful person off the field. He said last year it was his intention to get back on to the All Blacks team but in reality time has passed by and the game has changed.
1999 John Eales (Australia)
Remembered as “Mr Nobody”, because nobody is perfect. One of the greatest second row players ever and certainly one of the greatest captains – he captained Australia 52 times. He was also one of the game's greatest goal kickers. He scored 173 points in all for Australia, 2 tries, 99 penalties and 69 conversions. He is one of only five players to have won the Rugby World Cup twice. He was very disciplined, well liked, well spoken. He was a superb line out player, great athlete and his captaincy was a crucial ingredient in Australia winning the 1999 world Cup ahead of the favourites New Zealand.
2003 Martin Johnson (England)
Clive Woodward was the coach but it was Martin Johnson who ran England's 2003 team. He was a special leader, inspiring team mates to extraordinary effort and brilliance because of his own determination and fearlessness. He was superb in the line-outs, did all the tough work in the rucks and mauls, rarely indulged in the flashy stuff. Like John Eales, the had the perfect demeanour as a captain, commanding enormous respect among his players and with the coolness to read the game, however tempestuous.
2007 Riche McCaw (New Zealand)
This is the player who will determine who wins the World Cup. He is maybe, along with Michael Jones, the best back-row player ever. The only doubt about him is whether the burden of captaincy and the expectation of the New Zealand nation will overwhelm him. He is a fantastic player. An international referee recently said that Richie McCaw is the only player he could give a 100 per cent rating to. He studies the game meticulously, so much so that opposing players think at times he is cheating. He reads the game better than anybody.