Five players have won multiple Mastercard Player of the Match awards at Rugby World Cup 2023 – but with two matches remaining only three have the chance to claim an eye-catching hat-trick.
Home hero Grégory Alldritt, fellow number eight and All Blacks star Ardie Savea, England fly-half George Ford, barnstorming Ireland centre Bundee Aki and Argentina’s goal-kicking wing Emiliano Boffelli are the players to have won two awards to date.
But with Ireland and France now out of the tournament, Aki and Alldritt are no longer in contention for another award – leaving the way clear for Savea, Ford and Boffelli to treble up as we approach the final weekend.
Alldritt has been a regular standout with his top-end performances for both club and country in recent years and he became the first of 41 players to receive the Mastercard Soundtrack trophy for his outstanding contribution to France’s opening match win over the All Blacks.
Cheers for the memories
Each Mastercard Soundtrack trophy contains a musical montage which encapsulates the story of the match in question through broadcast highlights, fan cheers, and Mastercard’s unique Sonic sound composed by acclaimed French music producer, Surkin.
The bespoke instrumental soundtracks were mixed with the lyrics and performances of French emerging music artists Philippine and SONGØ. While the trophies were designed by emerging French designers, Natacha and Sacha, using local materials and traditional French craftsmanship in an innovative and contemporary approach.
It is a unique prize worthy of the recipients who, very often, have had to produce outstanding once-in-a-lifetime displays such as Nicolas Martins’ unbelievable display on both sides of the ball for Portugal in Os Lobos’ epic win over Fiji.
For others, RWC 2023 has merely served to underline the player in question’s enduring class. Take Levani Botia, for example, his turnover skills have long been admired but the Fijian’s breakdown work against Georgia still had to be seen to be believed.
As with Botia, you know what type of performance to expect from Alldritt and having hit the ground running against New Zealand, the La Rochelle man followed up with another tireless display in France’s record win against Italy.
Alldritt, still only 26, completed all 14 of his tackles as well as showing up well in attack, beating three defenders and producing a match-high 20 carries.
Like Alldritt, Ardie Savea has been a model of consistency for a period of time now and the number eight has translated his form from The Rugby Championship into Rugby World Cup 2023, albeit after a relatively quiet opening match by his own very high standards.
As a player who doesn’t know how to take a backward step, Savea claimed the Player of the Match award in the All Blacks’ record win over Italy and did so again in the heat of battle against Ireland in the quarter-finals.
10s put their best foot forward
They may wear 10 on their backs but special fly-halves are not 10 a penny, as the old saying goes.
Often the match-winners, fly-halves tend to get their fair share of glory and, not too surprisingly, it is the position which has received most Player of the Match awards (10).
George Ford hasn’t put a foot wrong in France and has been named Player of the Match in both of his starts at RWC 2023, firstly for his kicking masterclass against Argentina, which included three drop goals, and then in the win against Japan, when he contributed 14 points from the tee.
Owen Farrell, who replaced Ford as England’s 10 once he was free from suspension, was named Player of the Match for the 20-point contribution he made to their 30-24 quarter-final win over Fiji, while Wales duo, Dan Biggar and Gareth Anscombe both made a big impressions in injury-hit campaigns.
England’s other Player of the Match award recipient, Henry Arundell, got his for scoring five tries against Chile and is one of seven wingers to get their names on the list, including Argentinian points-machine Emiliano Boffelli and Darcy Graham, who equalled Gavin Hastings’ Scotland record for most tries in a Rugby World Cup match when he touched down four times against Romania.
Boffelli was the leading points-scorer in world rugby in 2022 and the Los Pumas star has maintained his deadly form in front of goal over the past six weeks, amassing 57 points heading into this Friday’s bronze final against England.
He is only the fourth Argentine to score a half-century of points in a single tournament and could yet catch France sharpshooter Thomas Ramos (74 points) and become the tournament’s leading points scorer outright, although Farrell (59 points) has a slight advantage over him in the race for the golden boot.
As for the remaining multiple Player of the Match award winner, Bundee Aki was in the form of his life during the pool stage as Ireland marched triumphantly into the quarter-finals on the back of his huge midfield busts and four tries.
Aki won the first of his two awards against Tonga and a second in the crucial win over South Africa and, at one point, was the tournament’s leading try-scorer before settling for five overall, three behind New Zealand’s Will Jordan, who is conspicuous by his absence from the Player of the Match list, despite his tournament record-equalling eight tries.
Twos in good company
The Pool B defeat to Ireland was the only match in which a South African player didn’t get their hands on the Soundtrack trophy. Ironically, four of those awards were received by players in two of the most-talked-about positions – hooker and fly-half.
Deon Fourie, who was pressed into action as an emergency hooker following Malcolm Marx’s tournament-ending knee injury, gained the accolade in his first test start in the number two jersey against Tonga. First-choice Springboks hooker Mbongeni Mbonambi then got the nod for his role in South Africa’s epic quarter-final win over France.
Ox Nché could have easily joined him as a Player of the Match award winner for his mighty scrummaging display against England. Instead, the verdict fell in favour of an equally creditable candidate in Handré Pollard, who got South Africa over the line with the coolest of late penalty kicks. Manie Libbok – chiefly for his ‘no-look’ cross-field kick assist – and Makazole Mapimpi were the other Springbok recipients.
Now there are only two matches left for a prop to ensure every position is represented in the Player of the Match roll of honour. But when push comes to shove, you should look no further than a team’s 10 as the favourite to catch the eye. The light has shone on them every bit as brightly as it has done, and continues to do so, on French culture and craftsmanship over the duration of RWC 2023, thanks to the lovingly created Soundtrack trophy.
Mastercard Player of the Match awards by position
Fly-half (10): George Ford (twice), Manie Libbok, Dan Biggar, Jerónimo Portela, Gareth Anscombe, Nicolas Sanchez, Lima Sopoaga, Owen Farrell, Handrè Pollard.
Wingers (8): Makazole Mapimpi, Damian Penaud, Emiliano Boffelli (twice), Henry Arundell, Duhan van der Merwe, Darcy Graham, Mateo Carreras.
Flanker (7): Peter O’Mahony, Theo McFarland, Jac Morgan, Michele Lamaro, Levani Botia, Tommy Reffell, Nicolas Martins.
Number eight (6): Grégory Alldritt (twice), Ardie Savea (twice), Lorenzo Cannone, Rob Valetini.
Centre (5): Bundee Aki (twice), Josua Tuisova, George Moala, Jordie Barrett.
Scrum-half (4): Maxime Lucu, Cam Roigard, Santiago Arata, Jamison Gibson-Park.
Full-back (3): Ben Donaldson, Lomano Lemeki, Damian McKenzie.
Hooker (2): Deon Fourie, Mbongeni Mbonambi.
Second-row (1): Amato Fakatava.