PARIS, 30 September – Pool A boasted reigning champions England but it was the South Africans who stamped their authority early and the Tongans who thrilled the crowds.
Jonny Wilkinson again showed his importance to English rugby, the fly half pulling the strings against Samoa to kick-start the defending champions' tournament on his first appearance after recovering from an ankle injury.
Full back Jason Robinson was a bright light in the disappointing 36-0 loss to South Africa before injuring his hamstring, while wing Paul Sackey scored England's first two tries in their final match against Tonga to add to his double against Samoa.
Bryan Habana announced himself on the world cup stage with a bang, the flying wing scoring four tries in South Africa's opener against Samoa, while prop Os du Randt was still going strong as the sole member of their 1995-winning team.
Full back Percy Montgomery also left his mark on the pool stages, ending them as the leading point scorer with 67 points and having become South Africa's most capped player, passing Joost van der Westhuizen's 89 against Tonga.
RWC 2007 was Brian Lima's record fifth, but the Samoan icon saw his career end in a suspension after being cited against England, meaning he missed their only victory - 25-21 - against USA.
Full back Gavin Williams had scored all of Samoa's points in their first two matches before becoming one of many to join the casualty list, while number 8 Henry Tuilagi was a constant threat with his barnstorming runs.
They missed out on the quarter-finals after losing to England, but Tonga leave the tournament with the rugby world singing their praises.
To a man they gave all they had in every match. Nili Latu was an inspirational figure as captain, as was his fellow flanker Hale T Pole and number 8 Finau Maka, who motivated himself for matches by banging his head against a wall. Fly half Pierre Hola and centre Sukanaivalu Hufanga also impressed.
Eagles prop Matekitonga Moeakiola will remember his try against England in the opening match, while wing Takudzwa Ngwenya was a threat with his pace and captain Mike Hercus was, as always, a controlling presence at fly half.
The rugby fraternity was relieved number 8 Fifita Mounga didn't suffer serious injury after being carried off against Samoa, while Thretton Palamo became the youngest player (19 years, eight days) in an RWC match after coming off the bench against South Africa.
- England »
- South Africa »
- Samoa »
- Tonga »
- USA »
- Hola Raymond Pierre »
- Tuilagi Henry »
- Hercus Michael »
- Sackey Paul Henry »
- Maka Finau »
- Hufanga Sukanaivalu »
- Habana Bryan Gary »
- Stanfill Louis »
- Langilangi Otenili »
- Tu'uhoko Tevita Hale Nai »
- Mounga Fifita »
- Williams Gavin Lloyd »
- Ngwenya Takudzwa »
- Palamo Thretton »
- Moeakiola Matekitonga »