Whilst the legislators tried to erase the colour and gag the opinionated out of RWC 2011, there were nevertheless some truly memorable moments and perhaps the most absorbing final ever played.
So much was wrong about the way the organisers censured anything in the least bit contentious, from Warren Gatland’s honest admission of being tempted to cheat, to fining France for advancing towards New Zealand’s haka.
But some men refused to be kept quiet, either through the sheer beauty of their performances or the emotion and intensity with which they lit up the competition.
Rugby correspondent Brian Dick picks XV who left a lasting impression.
15 Israel Dagg (New Zealand)
Talented but flaky before the tournament, a world star in the making after it, Dagg’s performances effectively ended the reign of All Black legend Mils Muliaina. During the group stages he slashed and burned with his incursions from full back and when his team was under pressure in the final he stepped forward and took responsibility for territorial kicking.
14 Chris Ashton (England)
Finished joint top try scorer despite playing two matches less than the other main contenders, Cory Jane, George North and Digby Ioane and in an awful, awful England side in which he was the only bright spot. But it wasn’t just the six tries that stood out, it was his all-round display in the crucial, loser-goes-home match with Scotland in which his positional kicking was outstanding and his timing could not be faulted.
13 Aurelien Rougerie (France)
If Dusautoir was the heartbeat of the forwards, Rougerie was his equivalent in the backs. Gets in ahead of Conrad Smith on the basis he outplayed him in the final and produced the off-load for Dusautoir’s try which won me my ESPN Fantasy League and the £60 first prize.
12 Jamie Roberts (Wales)
Back to his 2009 Lions best the Cardiff midfielder was the ball-carrying beast to the beauty of Leigh Halfpenny and Shane Williams. He was also the perfect foil for Rhys Priestland and was the focal point for his team’s attacks, smashing them over the gain-line and offering quick ball. The perfect modern-day inside centre.
11 Vincent Clerc (France)
Genius. In a sport populated by 6ft 6ins monsters, Clerc proved there is life beyond Identikit gym-monkeys and that it matters not how fast or hard you run but when and where you do it. Like Ashton he suffered for playing in an ordinary team when he deserved to appear in a side as ambitious as the All Blacks or Australia.
10 Rhys Priestland (Wales)
Like everything worth having you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone and the injury which deprived Priestland of a Rugby World Cup semi-final was just as big a blow to the Welsh as Sam Warburton’s red card. Which is all the more remarkable given the fact just a few weeks before the tournament the 24-year-old was third choice and was only given a chance just a few minutes before the warm up game with England.
9 Mike Phillips (Wales)
Piri Weepu is the sentimental option and as well as the Kiwi played in the quarter-final, his place kicking and skill-set almost let him and his team down in the closing stages. A scrum half needs more than a natty line in pre-game dancing and Phillips has it. Brilliant try against Ireland and when Wales were down to 14-men it was the Bayonne-bound Phillips who picked his team up.
?Next page: Numbers 1 – 8
1 Tony Woodcock (New Zealand)
The 30-year-old had nothing to gain and everything to lose going into a Final in which his opponent Nicolas Mas was supposed to demolish him. His response? The game’s only try, a rumble through treacle in diving boots, and a gutsy showing under difficult circumstances in the scrum.
2 Mario Ledesma (Argentina)
Six years on from the Lions tour and I just can’t bring myself to forgive or pick Keven Mealamu for the GBH he perpetrated on Brian O’Driscoll. So it’s a tearful farewell to Argentina’s Mario Ledesma, a veteran who doesn’t flinch when Courtney Lawes knees him in the head but breaks down like a little girl when talking about retirement.
3 Nicolas Mas (France)
All I want my tighthead to do is scrummage and Mas is the best in the business as he proved in effectively ending Matt Stevens’ international career as a loosehead. The fact he played the final couple of matches with concern over a hamstring makes him doubly impressive.
4 Brad Thorn (New Zealand)
As well as Luke Charteris did I like my second rows experienced, wizened and nasty and as the oldest man ever to play in a final Thorn is certainly that and more. He was also superb at the front of the lineout, hit rucks and made his tackles. The consummate nuts-and-bolts player.
5 Paul O’Connell (Ireland)
Burned briefly but so, so brightly. His performance against Australia was not only Herculean it blew the whole competition wide-open and for that the world must be thankful. Unfortunately for Ireland he was not able to reproduce the intensity against Wales but it was nevertheless the best showing by any lock in the competition.
6 Thierry Dusautoir (France)
New Zealand’s Jerome Kaino was a cast-iron certainty for the No. 6 shirt - and then Dusautoir roasted him on the highest stage. At times the indomitable Toulouse back-rower cut a careworn figure but he never let it affect his performances and if anyone deserved a winners’ medal it was the heroic French captain.
7 Richie McCaw (New Zealand)
The 30-year-old became the only the seventh man in history to lift the Webb Ellis trophy and this selection is based as much on his body of work over the last five years as his performances in this tournament. That is not to say, however, he didn’t play extremely well especially in the latter stages when he was supposed to be injured and came up against David Pocock and knocked the young pretender into a cocked hat.
8 Imanol Harinordoquy (France)
For all those tipping James Haskell to be the best No. 8 in the competition, just take a look at Harinordoquy to see how far the Englishman has to go. For me the Biarritz-loosie should have been man of the match in both the final and the semi-final because of the way he ran the French set-piece and dominated in the loose. When the pressure and tension was at its highest the Basque barely made a mistake. A king among men.