Star performers from the Rugby World Cup 2023

The Rugby World Cup is in the books with South Africa claiming their fourth crown after edging out New Zealand by a point in the final in Paris.

The Rugby World Cup is in the books with South Africa claiming their fourth crown after edging out New Zealand by a point in the final in Paris.

The tournament in France produced a host of dramatic finishes, some sensational tries and breath-taking skill.

For those who have got the rugby bug, it is just three months until the 2024 Guinness Six Nations gets underway.

So if you are going to be attending in person, or following on television, here are six players who caught the eye in France and will be looking to kick on in February:

England – Ben Earl

Ben Earl had not started a Test until August but has been one of the main beneficiaries of Steve Borthwick’s arrival and continues to thrive on the faith placed in him.

The No.8 was England’s standout player in France. Only Argentina’s Marcos Kremer made more tackles than Earl’s 80, while his 64 carries included seven clean breaks, one of which saw him storm nearly the length of the field to gain the field position which effectively saw his side over the line in the quarter-final against Fiji.

Earl capped his memorable tournament with his first Test try against Argentina in the third-place play-off and, at 25, still has his best years ahead of him.

Expect him to be a central building block in Borthwick’s plans for the 2024 Guinness Six Nations and beyond.

France – Damian Penaud

The top try-scorer in the 2023 Guinness Six Nations continued his remarkable try-scoring run during the Summer Nations Series and then the Rugby World Cup.

Now 27, Damian Penaud has scored nine tries in his last six Tests, including six at the World Cup, to move to 35 Test tries, second only to Serge Blanco for Les Bleus.

At the World Cup, he was denied one score in the second half against New Zealand before making sure shortly afterwards.

After that, he notched a first Test hat-trick against Namibia with two more against Italy to seal France’s place in the knockouts.

Add in a try assist in the one-point defeat in the quarter-finals, and it is fair to say that Penaud is a player at the peak of his powers right now and he is coming for that Blanco mark.

Ireland – Bundee Aki

Ireland’s backline is set for a refresh following the retirements of Johnny Sexton and Keith Earls but Bundee Aki will continue to be at its heart.

The centre signing a new deal will have been music to the ears of Irish fans in any circumstances but particularly in the wake of a World Cup in which he cemented his status as a world-leading inside centre.

Braces against Romania and Tonga set the tone before Aki delivered a Player of the Match display in the pool stage win over eventual champions South Africa.

Another try followed in the quarter-final against New Zealand and though his side fell just short against the All Blacks, Aki will now join his teammates in placing his focus on sealing a second consecutive Grand Slam next spring.

Italy – Lorenzo Cannone

Dubbed ‘Florence Dallaglio’ by Rugby World’s Alan Dymock during the 2023 Guinness Six Nations, Lorenzo Cannone has continued to impress for Gli Azzurri.

Still only 22 years old, he got Italy’s World Cup campaign up and running with their first try after just 11 minutes against Namibia.

He played all 80 minutes of that game, and despite paying the price for Italy’s indiscipline in the first half of the clash with Uruguay, he got another try as Kieran Crowley’s side came from behind to earn a crucial win.

While heavy defeats to New Zealand and France ended Italy’s hopes of reaching the knockout stages for the first time, Cannone played every minute of both matches and never stopped punching holes and getting over the gain line.

With new coach Gonzalo Quesada taking over from Crowley for the 2024 Guinness Six Nations, expect Cannone to be an even bigger part of Italy’s future.

Scotland – Darcy Graham

Darcy Graham is a man who knows his way to the try-line, and he reminded everyone of that fact again during Scotland’s World Cup campaign.

Having already scored three tries in two warm-up games against Italy and France, Graham added five more in four games during the tournament.

The pick of the performances came against Romania, with Graham running riot, showing both his dazzling feet and searing pace on his way to four tries.

In doing so, he became only the second Scot to score four tries in a single game at a World Cup, following in the footsteps of the great Gavin Hastings, who did so against Ivory Coast in 1995.

Alongside Duhan van der Merwe and Blair Kinghorn, Graham is part of a devastating back three who will spearhead Scotland’s charge in the 2024 Guinness Six Nations.

Wales – Jac Morgan

Hailed as “Wales’ Antoine Dupont” by Sam Warburton, Morgan’s star continues to rise.

Warburton’s natural successor in the No.7 jersey and as captain, Morgan has enjoyed a similar breakthrough tournament to that of his celebrated predecessor in 2011, even earning praise from two-time World Cup-winning captain Siya Kolisi.

Described as a hybrid of both the former skipper and Justin Tipuric by assistant coach Jonathan Thomas, Morgan has showcased his full range of skills in recent weeks, dominant in defence and dangerous in attack while not being shy of putting a skilful boot to ball.

Still just 23, the Ospreys man’s potential is frightening and Warren Gatland will need the back-rower at his destructive best if Wales are to begin challenging for top Guinness Six Nations honours again.