Best of the rest
Skysports.com selects a star team that has already headed home from the RWC.
By Gareth Evans
Last Updated: 12/10/11 1:42pm
All eyes may be fixed on the Rugby World Cup semi-finals taking place this weekend, but while four teams are still in the running for glory, some extremely talented players have already been sent home.
With this in mind skysports.com casts an eye over those that have already been discarded from the tournament with our "Best of the Rest XV".
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15 Rob Kearney (Ireland)
Ireland may well be out of the tournament, but a major plus for Ireland moving forward has to be the re-emergence of Kearney. In 2009, he was set to be the Lions starting full-back, but a succession of injuries and some indifferent form have characterised his Ireland career over the last few years. In the latter stages of the group games especially, Kearney was a threat every time he had the ball in hand, kicked well and was solid under the high ball.
14 Vladimir Ostroushko (Russia)
One of the rising stars in the Russian side and it would be a surprise not to see him given a chance in the Top 14, Aviva Premiership or RaboDirect PRO12. He scored tries against Australia and Italy and had a willingness to get involved at every opportunity.
13 Manu Tuilagi (England)
In a sea of mediocre performances, Tuilagi stood out for England. There were concerns prior to the tournament regarding Tuilagi's ability to deal with the pressure of being an international starter at such a young age, but he proceeded to allay those fears with each barnstorming performance. He has much to learn, especially regarding picking the right options and offloading, but in terms of sheer individual impact, he was one of England's few bright sparks.
12 Frans Steyn (South Africa)
Steyn's absence from the Springbok side due to injury was telling against Australia. With all their territory and possession, the Springboks lacked the cutting edge that Steyn's move to 12 provided in the pool stages. His range of passing, astute kicking, tactical awareness and the threat that he posed to the defensive line were transformational to the Springbok side in the pool stages.
11 Francois Hougaard (South Africa)
Peter de Villiers may well have decided to stick with Bryan Habana in the wing position for their quarter-final clash with Australia, but Hougaard outperformed Habana at every given opportunity during the World Cup. In the pool stages, Hougaard's pace and footwork were devastating and opposition defences were incapable of dealing with him in a one on one situation. Hougaard was one of South Africa's most telling attacking threats throughout the tournament.
10 James Arlidge (Japan)
Japan may not have won a game at the Rugby World Cup, but few fly-halves can claim to have had the impact on their team that James Arlidge had. His individual performance against France in the pool stages was one of the most memorable of the tournament, breaking the line at will, scoring two tries and playing some astute tactical rugby.
9 Kahn Fotuali'i (Samoa)
In a World Cup full of mediocre performances from No.9s, Samoa's Kahn Fotuali'I was exceptional. His try against Namibia showed his individual brilliance and he caused Wales a plethora of problems in the first half of their pool stage encounter before being moved to centre in the second half. Full of energy and pace, Fotuali'i's versatility will make him a welcome addition to the Ospreys this season.
8 Sean O'Brien (Ireland)
He may not strictly be a No.8, but we had to shuffle O'Brien around to accommodate a few other players in the backrow. O'Brien was unquestionably one of the standout performers in the Rugby World Cup pool stages. His carrying especially was devastating and there were few capable of stopping him with ball in hand. The Welsh backrow kept him uncharacteristically quiet in the quarter-final, but he still had an exceptional tournament, playing a starring role in Ireland's defeat of Australia.
7 Todd Clever (USA)
He may not be able to lay claim to being the best 7 in the tournament, but in terms of sheer impact and influence on his team, Clever makes it into our XV. Throughout the pool stages, even when the USA had their backs firmly against the wall, Clever's work-rate was extraordinary. He turned over ball, made an innumerable amount of carries and tackled like his life depended on it. Without Clever, the USA would have been a much weakened proposition; such is his value to the team.
6 Jacques Burger (Namibia)
Namibia may have had a torrid tournament, but the performances of Burger were nothing short of inspirational. Constantly on the back foot and on the wrong end of some big score lines, Burger was tireless. His defence especially was world class and he continued the impressive form he showed for Saracens at the back end of last season.
5 Paul O'Connell (Ireland)
A typically solid set of performances from Paul O'Connell during this campaign. His performance against Australia in the pool stages saw him roll back the years and prove he is still one of the fiercest competitors in world rugby.
4 Patricio Albacete (Argentina)
Albacete completes the selection of a very powerful engine room. Albacete's highly spirited performances during the Rugby World Cup epitomised the passion and verve that Argentina play with when they are at their best.
3 Martin Castrogiovanni (Italy)
Castrogiovanni performed largely as expected, but that doesn't take anything away from his contribution. One of the best tight heads in world rugby, his scrummaging may not be as destructive as it once was, but he is still hugely disruptive in both the loose and tight, proving again during the World Cup that he is still one of Italy's most valuable assets.
2 Bismarck du Plessis (South Africa)
The decision by Peter de Villiers to start John Smit ahead of du Plessis is still perplexing. Smit may have been Springbok captain, but du Plessis is currently the best hooker in world rugby. His work rate is huge, he is an excellent carrier, and his ability to turn over ball at the contact area would be a welcome addition to any side. Honourable mention must go to Mario Ledesma who retired after the last-eight defeat to New Zealand.
1 Rodrigo Roncero (Argentina)
Marcos Ayerza is one of the world's best loosehead props, but the decision to drop him to the bench after Roncero was passed fit to start Argentina's quarter-final game against New Zealand speaks volumes about Roncero's quality and the esteem with which he is held in Argentina. Roncero is a disruptive influence at the scrum and despite his age stills works hard in the loose, making him an asset to any international set up.