The Rugby World Cup is currently underway in France, and the best players on the planet are vying to get their hands on the sought-after Webb Ellis Cup. As always, individuals can be the difference between a good side and a World Cup-winning side.
The likes of France’s Antonie Dupont, South Africa’s star winger Cheslin Kolbe and Ireland’s Johnny Sexton will be hoping that their performances can guide their respective nations — who are the favourites in the World Cup odds — to glory.
So, as those aforementioned players and plenty of others look to earn legendary status both in their home country and across the globe, let’s look at some of the standout players who have already left a huge mark on the Rugby World Cup.
Francois Pienaar – South Africa
A player who made a massive impact both on and off the pitch. Francois Pienaar not only guided the Springboks to World Cup glory on home soil on their maiden appearance in 1995, but the South Africa captain played an influential role in helping unite the entire nation following the Apartheid.
Pienaar’s leadership spurred South Africa to a shock 15-12 win over New Zealand in extra-time at Ellis Park in Johannesburg. President Nelson Mandela presenting the Springboks captain with the Webb Ellis Cup was a monumental moment in the country’s history, and one of the most iconic moments in all sports.
Richie McCaw – New Zealand
The only captain in Rugby World Cup history to lift the Webb Ellis Cup on two occasions, Richie McCaw was at the heart of New Zealand’s back-to-back successes in 2011 and 2015 as the All Blacks became the first team to win two World Cups in a row.
McCaw’s leadership on the pitch and in the dressing room during that successful era cannot be overstated, but he also gave his all on the pitch and is very high on the list of the best players to ever don a New Zealand jersey.
Dan Carter – New Zealand
Considered the best fly-half ever by many pundits and fans alike, Carter’s 2011 World Cup campaign was ended early after picking up a groin injury in the pool stage. However, he more than made up for it four years later when he helped the All Blacks defend their crown.
Carter was named Player of the Tournament and picked up the Player of the Match award for his performance in the final against New Zealand’s rivals Australia in Auckland — scoring four penalties, a drop goal and converting two of three conversions. On the topic of New Zealand, Jonah Lomu also deserves a mention before we move on.
Jonny Wilkinson – England
England are the only side from the northern hemisphere to win the World Cup at this point, and while Martin Johnson was the man who captained the side to that success down under in 2003, Jonny Wilkinson is the one who gets most of the credit.
The fly-half ended the tournament as the top scorer with an impressive 113 points thanks to 10 conversions, 23 penalties and eight drop goals. It was in the final against host Australia that he confirmed his place in folklore, as Wilkinson slotted home a drop goal on his weaker right foot with just 30 seconds left of extra-time, to give England a 20-17 win.
John Eales – Australia
While McCaw remains the only person to have captained a side to two World Cup successes, John Eales was one the first players to win two renewals of the tournament. The lock first won the Rugby World with Australia when they beat England at Twickenham Stadium in 1991 and he captained the Wallabies to a second victory eight years later when they beat France in Cardiff — becoming the first team to win the World Cup on two occasions.