Victor Matfield made the World XV; Tom Palmer didn’t
As the dust settles on the Autumn International series, thoughts return to the real point of the exercise. While many of the players may claim that their driving motivation over the past month has been national and personal pride, playing for the shirt and teammates with one eye on the World Cup in 12 months’ time, the reality is they were all striving to gain a spot in The Rugby Blog’s Post Autumn International World XV. Well their waiting is over, the suspense at an end. The results are in.
The pre-autumn selection was based upon performances since the start of the year. The new team is based purely upon showings in the autumn internationals. Therefore certain individuals such as Imanol Harinordiquy who barely figured are ineligible for retention. I should also point out that we did not see all of every game here at HQ so there may be some standout performers who have been overlooked. I am sure you will let us know what we got wrong.
There are 10 changes from the original team, reflecting the depth of talent in certain positions, the paucity in others and the fact that, in such a busy international schedule it is very tough to maintain a consistently high level of performance.
As you would expect, the team is dominated by All Blacks. They provide six of the team with Mils Muliaina, Sonny Bill Williams, Brad Thorn and Jerome Kaino only narrowly missing out. Kurtley Beale has taken Muliaina’s spot, no reflection on the Kiwi who continued his excellent form, but a tribute to the outstanding ability of Beale who served notice that he is now a major force in world rugby. His first try against England showed a crucial ability to conjure something from nothing in a defeated team.
Chris Ashton displaces Tommy Bowe after a couple of outstanding performances against Australia and Samoa. He is not the finished article, especially in defence, but if he continues his rate of progress he could be pretty special. He holds off George North who did not help himself by running into touch on numerous occasions against Fiji demonstrating that while he has huge promise he has much to learn too.
Conrad Smith was outstanding throughout and is now joined in the centre by the remarkable Seilala Mapusua who was the linchpin for Samoa’s highly promising autumn. Sonny Bill showed some memorable touches but falls just short. Meanwhile Hosea Gear’s try-scoring exploits see him edge ahead of James O’Connor who, among a couple of strong showings, went completely missing against England.
World record points scorer Dan Carter was simply imperious for New Zealand although it must be said that he had the ultimate armchair ride with an exclusive diet of quick ball on the front foot. Quade Cooper’s defensive shortcomings were brutally exposed although he remains one of the players you would pay extra to go and watch.
Ben Youngs sneaks the scrum half jersey, despite a poor display against South Africa. His performance against Australia was one of the finest from anyone this autumn. Kahn Fotuali’i caught the eye for Samoa, as did Ruan Pienaar for South Africa, whilst Will Genia fell slightly from the heights he set over the summer.
In the pack the abrasive Bismarck Du Plessis, a man I would stay as far away from as possible on a rugby field, takes the hooker jersey. The extraordinary Victor Matfield remains a shoo-in in the second row but is now joined by Courtney Lawes who exceeded even the most optimistic expectation this autumn. He needs to contribute more in the lineout but around the park he showed himself to be the type of forward for whom England have been yearning but so rarely produce. Brad Thorn was unlucky to miss out.
In the back row the exceptional Juan Smith, who probably should have been in the team originally, prevents an All Black clean sweep. Jerome Kaino has had a magnificent month but Smith is more multi-dimensional and has become to South Africa what Richard Hill once was to England – the man who is always in the right place at the right time and whom you notice most when he is not there.
Richie McCaw retains his place – in the Ireland game especially I was staggered that one man could spend quite so much of a game offside but for as long as he continues to get away with it he will remain the game’s most influential player. Alongside him Kieran Read advanced into the top echelon of modern number 8s, providing New Zealand’s first world class performer there since Zinzan Brooke. Kelly Brown, John Barclay, Tom Croft, Dan Lydiate, David Pocock and Jamie Heaslip all showed well in the back row.
So there it is. Plenty to disagree with. Three England players have muscled their way in but there are no representatives from the Celtic nations. Scots in particular may have a thing or two to say about that. Is there anyone glaring who has been missed out? If so, make your case for them below.
The Rugby Blog’s Post-Autumn Internationals World XV:
15. Kurtley Beale
14. Chris Ashton
13. Conrad Smith
12. Seilala Mapusua
11. Hosea Gear
10. Dan Carter
9. Ben Youngs
1. Tony Woodcock
2. Bismarck Du Plessis
3. Nicolas Mas
4. Victor Matfield
5. Courtney Lawes
6. Juan Smith
7. Richie McCaw
8. Kieran Reid
By Stuart Peel