Stars and villains of the World Cup

Juan martin Fernandez Lobbe of Argentina. Photo / Getty Images
Juan martin Fernandez Lobbe of Argentina. Photo / Getty Images

Best Game

South Africa versus Wales. This had a bit of everything: some genuinely good rugby from both teams but particularly the Welsh; controversy thanks to referee Wayne Barnes who said a penalty that appeared to go over, hadn't gone over; a hero in Springbok wing Francois Hougaard who scored a memorably good try late in the piece and added drama when Ryan Priestland missed an easy drop goal and James Hook a late penalty to win it for Wales.

Best Performance

The All Blacks were focused and ruthless in the semifinal against the Wallabies. This was clinical, mistake-free rugby that started with a hiss and ended with a roar. For 80 minutes, the All Blacks had their foot on the throat and squeezed the life out of Australia.

Biggest Meltdown

Scotland were in control of their pool game with Argentina, having taken a 12-6 lead with six minutes to go.

Then they had 30 seconds of madness, allowing Pumas wing Lucas Amorosino to dance his way through three weak tackles. Defeat was plucked from the jaws of victory and the Scots were effectively eliminated.

Second Biggest Meltdown

Nigel Owens lost the plot when he was refereeing the Wales versus Samoa clash. He failed to award Samoa what appeared to be a legitimate try; sent off fullback Paul Williams for a soft infringement and then panicked himself into trying to balance things by yellow carding Springbok captain John Smit for a supposed deliberate knock-down. Any hopes he had of refereeing the final ended that night.

Biggest Disappointment

For all the joy that was had in baiting Quade Cooper and turning him into a pantomime villain, the World Cup would have been a better tournament had he been on top of his game. The fact he was so poor robbed the World Cup of a potential superstar.

Second Biggest Disappointment

The Samoa versus Fiji game was one of the least exciting and featured approximately no running rugby whatsoever.

Worst Idea

Introducing bonus points made no sense and meant that France qualified for the playoffs despite winning only two games. It felt entirely wrong that they could be spanked by the All Blacks and then humiliated by Tonga and yet still go though on the basis that they scored four tries against Canada and Japan. Scotland had to play Georgia in the pouring rain in Invercargill; England played Georgia under a roof in Dunedin. Utter nonsense.

Second Worst Idea

Cory Jane and Israel Dagg decided to head out for a major night on the sauce just a few days before the quarter-final clash with Argentina. Dagg wasn't playing but Jane was and it was a quite spectacular lapse in judgement.

Best Threat

NZRU chief executive Steve Tew tried to pressure the IRB into a radical overhaul of the World Cup commercial model. With rugby's most powerful executives all here during the World Cup, Tew said it was possible that the All Blacks wouldn't play at the next tournament unless there was a radical change. He said: "That's obviously a last resort and our style is to be consultative, collaborative and to try to work with everybody to find a solution. It's putting pressure on the balance sheet and frankly, in the current environment, we just can't afford to run a World Cup-year loss, nor do we think it is necessary." IRB chief executive Mike Miller responded by saying: "Does the World Cup need the All Blacks? Everyone is replaceable."

Best Individual Performance

Pumas No 8 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe was spine-tinglingly good when he played against England in Dunedin. Athletic and brave, he's exactly the sort of player who will make Argentina a welcome addition to the international landscape in 2012.

Biggest Surprise

The All Blacks holding on to win a crucial World Cup game. Seriously, how many other times have they played badly in a knockout game and lost? To finally play badly and win ... maybe it was down to the laws of probability - but more likely it was due to courage, experience and vastly improved leadership.

Biggest Berk

Mike Tindall has to win this one, but only just. Some of his team-mates were not far behind. Manu Tuilagi jumped off a ferry before it docked and there were the three clowns involved in the unsavoury business with the Dunedin hotel worker. Lewis Moody being fined for deliberately wearing the wrong mouthguard was an incredible mix of arrogance and defiance. However, Tindall, as well as being just a bit crap on the field, was supremely disruptive off it. His memory was sketchy about where he had been with a mystery blonde when he talked to coach Martin Johnson, but seemed to improve after the English media helpfully published a more accurate version of his night out than the one he remembered.

Biggest Upset

Tonga beating France was the biggest upset - and continued a history of the Pacific teams taking Six Nations' scalps at World Cups.

Worst reaction to defeat

Samoa's high impact midfielder and Tweeter Eliota Sapolu Fuimaono didn't really react to the 13-5 loss to South Africa with much perspective or indeed good spelling, or grammar. He Tweeted: "I can understand the hate!! Haha good luck u racist biased prick. Get s.a into next round. The plan was obvious. Can't wait 2 meet irb members in public. Wasn't about world cup today. RWC has been invalidated when they give us half the rest as the rich. It was about us v world champs. I'm proud to be Samoan! Irb, my bum, kiss it!" He was handed a six-month suspended ban for his outburst. He admitted he had been drinking before he filed it.

Second Worst Reaction to Defeat

There was much made globally about the way New Zealanders whined about the myopic and utterly useless Wayne Barnes when he missed a forward pass that won France their quarter-final in 2007. But the South Africans were far more poisonous and nasty after they lost to Australia - their bitterness and anger reached the stage where New Zealand referee Bryce Lawrence is unlikely to ever be able to control a game in the Republic again. He was the man everyone in South Africa seemingly blamed for their 11-9 loss to the Wallabies. The outrage was led by former test referee Andre Watson, who said: "It's not what you would expect from a referee of his calibre - he didn't referee the breakdown the way he was supposed to. He just didn't step in. He will be punished, but that's up to the IRB. I do not believe we will see him in any Rugby World Cup again."

Most Unexpected Performance

Other than Stephen Donald, of course, the Russian team were surprisingly useful when they had the ball. They scored three tries and 22 points against the Wallabies; they scored three against Italy and 17 points and they scored 12 points and two tries against Ireland. The future of rugby in Russia is massive.

Dirtiest Bastard

The French had been the model of restraint throughout the World Cup - but then blew up in the last few minutes. Aurelien Rougerie lost the plot when he dived into a breakdown to apparently stick his fingers into Richie McCaw's eyes.

Second Dirtiest Bastard

Italian hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini was another with wandering fingers. Against Ireland, he earned himself a 15-week suspension for sticking his fingers into the eyes of prop Cian Healy. Ghiraldini admitted he made contact with Healy's eyes but said it wasn't intentional.

Biggest Cheating Bastards

Well, that was England - only the IRB didn't think so. Somehow England's kicking coach Dave Aldred was able to swap the match balls during the England versus Romania game in Dunedin to make sure that Jonny Wilkinson was always kicking with one he liked. Ah, bless.

Best Single Act

If there was one act that could be viewed as defining in the All Black campaign, it was the weaving run made by Israel Dagg to set up Ma'a Nonu's try in the semifinal. It took a special player to unpick the Wallaby defence; someone with the temperament to revel in the big occasion. That try set the All Blacks on their way to burying a number of World Cup demons.

Second Best Single Act

Former NZRU chairman Jock Hobbs presenting Richie McCaw with his cap to mark his 100th test. Hobbs is a special figure in the game who has been battling leukaemia these past 18 months. It meant everything to McCaw for Hobbs to make the presentation.

Best Sporting Act

It became the IRB picture of the year - All Black lock Brad Thorn reaching down, offering his hand to prostrate Puma Santiago Fernandez at the end of the quarter-final. It's an image that encapsulates the essence of Thorn, a hard but unfailingly fair player.

Second Best Sporting Act

Given all the drama over jerseys ahead of the 2007 quarter-final it was a big gesture by French team manager Jo Maso to declare early in the week before the final that the All Blacks should wear black. It saved a lot of unnecessary arguing and stress.

Best Story

Stephen Donald drinking ... sorry, whitebaiting one week, World Cup hero the next. The most vilified man in New Zealand rugby throughout 2011 became the hero of the hour after not playing for five weeks.

- NZ Herald

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