Rugby World Cup
Greg Growden names his five favourite Rugby World Cup players
Greg Growden
September 17, 2015
Lomu performs haka in London

Greg Growden has covered every one of the Rugby World Cup tournaments. He lists below the five players who have made the most lasting impact on him.

Jonah Lomu

His feats did not secure the All Blacks a World Cup but he certainly enlivened the 1995 tournament in South Africa, when he almost singlehandedly won New Zealand the title. There were many expressive moments - none more than when Lomu basically defeated England by himself in Cape Town, Gigantor-like mincing anyone and anything who got into his way. His enormous 119kg, 196cm frame was simply too much for too many. Strangely Lomu almost missed the World Cup due to concerns about his fitness, finding himself in the New Zealand Sevens team just before the tournament. A late injury to Eric Rush prompted Lomu to be brought in - and with it a World Cup legend was produced. No wonder one All Blacks fan sent the team a telegram during the tournament, providing a short piece of advice. "Just give the ball to Jonah."

© Simon Bruty /Allsport

Tim Horan 

On the eve of the 1999 World Cup semi-final against South Africa at Twickenham, he was suffering a severe bout of food poisoning. He was so seriously ill that he was delirious, and his team-mates thought he was near death. Horan nevertheless took the field and produced one of the most exhilarating performances a touring Australian has ever given ... until his legs finally gave in just before full-time. This display, probably the most courageous and remarkable solo effort by a Wallabies player, was just one of many from the Queensland utility, who was justifiably named the 1999 World Cup Player of the Tournament. We must also never forget his involvement in the 1991 Australian triumph - including his role in the famous Hail Mary pass from David Campese against New Zealand in the Dublin semi-final.

© Getty Images

David Campese 

Of the goose-stepping Campo, Nick Farr-Jones once famously said: "His mind doesn't know what his feet are doing." That was the exasperating charm of Australia's best winger; if Campo didn't know what was going to happen, what chance did his opponents have? In 1991, the whole world discovered what extraordinary talent he possessed. His wizardry on the wing had amazed the rugby world for some time, although it sometimes failed him and he experienced numerous dreadful moments. But he was far and away the best player over the six weeks of the 1991 tournament, scoring several extraordinary tries. His performance against New Zealand was perfect, and the memory of Campese angling across the field and bewildering the All Blacks' defence to score in the sixth minute will forever remain vivid with anyone who was at Lansdowne Road that day. It led to New Zealand departing from the tournament, and Australia merrily heading to their first World Cup title triumph and a ticker-tape parade down George Street when they returned to Sydney.

David Campese of Australia runs with the ball
David Campese of Australia runs with the ball© Mike Hewitt /Allsport

Jonny Wilkinson 

It's how you handle the pressure moments that determine whether you're a hero or a hoax. The sight of Wilkinson kicking a field goal in extra-time to win the 2003 World Cup final will forever haunt Australian supporters, but it was a defining moment when he showed he could handle any form of pressure. The England team had been targeted by the Australian media - which sometimes went to embarrassing lengths to distract their opponent - but they held firm and Wilkinson became England's biggest sporting hero since Geoff Hurst at the 1966 soccer World Cup. The final-winning drop goal was not Wilkinson's only important feat in the tournament, with his excellent midfield kicking and precise play enabling England to cruise to the final. England's triumph led to chaotic celebrations - both in Australia and in the Mother Country. Their coach Clive Woodward was knighted, and all of the England squad featured in the New Year Honours list.

© 2003 AFP/2003 AFP

Sir Nicholas Shehadie 

No, big Nick never played in the Rugby World Cup but the former Australian Rugby Union president and Wallabies forward was one of the biggest players in the tournament actually coming into being. Without Sir Nick's involvement, the Rugby World Cup would not have eventuated and would not now be one of the world's most important sporting events. During his time in charge of the ARU, Sir Nick pushed hard for a world event to ward off a threat of Australia losing its best players to a proposed professional World Rugby circus.

He eventually joined forces with New Zealand, and worked hard with the initial support of Cec Blazey and then Dick Littlejohn in convincing skeptical Northern Hemisphere officials of the worth of such a tournament. It was a tough battle, as there was enormous resistance from the Home Countries. Scotland and Ireland were vehemently against the proposal, and one Scotland official said it would happen "over my dead body". Some years later, at the 1991 World Cup, the same Scottish official escorted Princess Anne onto the field. This prompted Sir Nick to approach him and pinch him to see if he was actually alive.

The southern hemisphere persisted in its pursuit of persuading the north not to be pigheaded. They eventually won by working on splitting the England and Wales vote when the final decision was made at an IRB meeting in Paris in March 1985. John Kendall-Carpenter of England and Keith Rowlands of Wales sided with the south. The final tally was: Australia two for, New Zealand two for, France two for, Wales one for, one against, England one for, one against, Scotland two against, Ireland two against. The true believers won 8-6 and the World Cup was born.

Besides all that, Sir Nick, husband of the much-loved former Governor of New South Wales, Dame Marie Bashir, is a great man and the best of company.

© Dennis Oulds/2012 Getty Images/Stringer/2012 Getty Images/Dennis Oulds
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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