2. Silverback Gorilla
3. Grizzly Bear
6. Polar Bear (c)
9. Tazmanian Devil
The All Blacks are overwhelming favourites for this year’s Rugby World Cup, and it will take something quite extraordinary to defeat them in the competition. With that in mind, I’ve been pondering over selection for the ultimate ‘Animal XV’ that might be able to give the All Blacks a good game.
At the cornerstone of the pack, I would choose the Walrus. Comfortable in wet or dry conditions, the walrus would bring experience and guile to the front row rather like Jason Leonard, the world’s most capped forward. While a lack of mobility and not the silkiest of hands lets him down slightly, his strength and power will more than make up for it.
On the other side of the scrum is the Grizzly, with its fearsome strength and relentless workrate in the loose, whilst at hooker, the Silverback Gorilla gets the nod, combining sheer size and strength with surprising dexterity.
In the engine room, the giraffe is a shoo-in, and the elephant will dovetail nicely, offering as much force as the giraffe’s height.
Competition in the back row is strong, but the Polar Bear is preferred at blindside flanker and will captain the side – he will be a rock in defence and offer Schalk Burger-esque aggression, whilst being a respected captain in the ‘lead-by-example’ mould of Martin Johnson. At openside, a ruthless scavenger is required – a player that lives on the edge of the law, and the Hyena fits the bill perfectly. The King of all animals starts at Number 8. The Lion will bring leadership to the pack, as well as strength and speed off the mark from the base of the scrum.
This formidable forward pack ticks all the boxes in strength, mobility, experience and determination and will undoubtedly provide a strong platform to release some exciting backs.
The half-back partnership is crucial to the team’s performance. At scrum-half needs to be strong, yet compact, with a feisty streak bordering on the irritating – the Tazmanian Devil fills this role comfortably.
At fly-half, the chimpanzee – the world’s most intelligent animal – will control the game. Supported by a full-back that will take on the kicking duties, the Chimpanzee will be the primary decision-maker with excellent distribution to provide the wide players with quality possession.
In the centres, there is again fierce competition, but the dolphin is selected at 12 with a proven track record of ball-carrying and renowned intelligence able to relieve the fly-half of pressure when required. The Tiger will then marshall the outside centre channel, ferocious and quick in attack, yet strong in defence.
The primary criterion for back-three players is out-and-out pace, hence the appearance of the Cheetah and Gazelle on the wings – indisputable speed. At full-back, the race horse combines speed with strength – important for the last line of defence – whilst offering the quiet confidence required for an exciting counter-attacking threat and undoubtable kicking prowess.
Power and pace, dexterity and determination – this is a formidable team. Are there any other animals worthy of consideration for a place in this team?
By James Hutchison
The Polar Bear – blindside flanker and captain of the Animal XV