Six of the best - World Cup ‘unknowns’ who have made their mark
Every Rugby World Cup delivers a new group of players to emerge as stars on the global stage, and England 2015 has proved no exception.
Here, we identify six relative international newcomers who shone in the World Cup arena.
HANDRE POLLARD (South Africa)
It is barely 16 months since Pollard claimed the Springboks fly-half role but even at the tender age of 21, he is a player who looks totally at ease in the rarified atmosphere of Test match rugby. A prolific goalkicker, he is also tactically accomplished and rarely seems to be ruffled, however big the occasion. South Africa head coach Heyneke Meyer knows he has a gem of a player to build future teams around.
GARETH DAVIES (Wales)
When Rhys Webb was ruled out of the World Cup after suffering a tournament-ending injury during Wales’ final warm-up game, Wales fans might have wondered whether it was too big a blow to recover from. But Scarlets scrum-half Davies stepped forward with aplomb, going on to score five tries in five games - including touchdowns during huge games against England and South Africa - and proving a livewire threat for all opposition defences.
NEHE MILNER-SKUDDER (New Zealand)
He only started playing Super Rugby earlier this year, but All Blacks wing Milner-Skudder has continued to take every challenge in his stride. A prolific try-scorer and elusive runner, he has claimed five touchdowns during the World Cup and plays with a smile on his face. New Zealand will be saying farewell to some big names after the tournament, but Milner-Skudder is unquestionably one for the future.
ANTHONY WATSON (England)
Host nation England had precious little to cheer during a tournament that saw them eliminated just three games and 16 days into the competition, but Bath wing Watson proved a shining light amid the gloom. He oozed star quality, scoring three tries and proving himself as a world-class finisher. At 21, a long Test match future seemingly awaits a player who bowed out of the World Cup with his reputation enhanced.
SCOTT SIO (Australia)
Wallabies prop Sio is barely two years into his Test match career, but he has already made a significant impact in helping to transform the quality and image of Australia’s scrum. The key set-piece area used to be a considerable perceived weakness of the Wallabies, yet 24-year-old Sio showed they meant business in that department throughout the tournament. Looks like he will be around for a long time.
MARK BENNETT (Scotland)
Came through as a player of outstanding quality during the World Cup. The Scotland centre was a consistent midfield threat, scoring two tries during an impressive victory over Japan and then touching down in the controversial 35-34 quarter-final defeat against Australia. Just 22, Bennett could prove to be a fulcrum of Scottish international back play for several seasons to come.