Post-Autumn Internationals – The World XV revisited

Victor Matfield

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

Photo: Patrick Khachfe/Onside Images

28 thoughts on “Post-Autumn Internationals – The World XV revisited

  1. Ben Youngs at 9 in a world XV? sorry but the delusion continues.

    He, like many of the England team, looked good against Australia where he was given front foot ball. Vs New Zealand he was at best average and vs South Africa pretty poor. How does 1 performances buy you the 9 jersey?

    Lawes above Brad Thorne? Madness.

    Surely Adam Jones deserves at least a mention – he hasn’t failed to beat his opposite number in years. Really never gets the plaudits he should.

  2. Who would you put in at 9 based on their performances this Autumn? As the article says, most other contenders were fairly weak.

    Lawes v Thorn is a close one, but could be argued both ways. He had a good game on Saturday as part of a pack that struggled against the Boks…stick him in the Kiwi pack and he could well outshine the All Black lock.

  3. Lawes is very talented – but in a close call I would give it to the guy who has been amongst the best performers in the world over many years.

    Same for 9. 1 performance is not enough to oust anyone, if you were selecting a team based on this autumn would you pick the guy who only looked good when given front foot ball? This is my issue with Ben Youngs – not so much him, who I think is very talented and has a huge amount of potential – it is the huge amount of press that goes with him.

    Newspapers, fans, blogs, forums – I have seen people saying if the Lions were picked tomorrow he would be the certain starter, if the world XV were picked tomorrow he would be a certain starter. Why? Because he has looked good in a couple of games vs the Aussies when given front foot ball? When teh pack has failed to dominate he has looked a shadow of himself.

    He is very good, he will get better, but based on the AI’s I would rathe rPienaar and based on choosing a team I would pick quite a number ahead of him.

    Ashton is the Englishman who is, for me, a fair choice. He was continually superb. That is harsh on Tommy Bowe who yet again did a lot of good things – and again if it came to picking a world XV I would rather take Bowe, but Ashton is understandable. The George North comments were harsh – look again vs fiji and he was repeatedly forced into touch by Hooks lateral running and some shocking passing/decision making – but wouldn’t put him forward for the team anyway.

    I’d make one or two other changes – Muliania at 15 for example, but I can understand those choices. I certainly don’t understand Youngs and to a lesser degree Lawes. Both very good players, both with a MASSIVE amount of potential… but world XV? Not yet.

  4. Ha, can’t believe Matthew Rees was in the original XV! Glad you’ve made amends by including du Plessis in this team – Servat is his only real competition (though I must confess to not having seen him play since the 6 nations).

    Agree with Rugby Nick that Adam Jones never seems to get the credit he deserves, though the usually immense Gethin Jenkins was rather quiet during this set of internationals.

    du Preez would surely be everyone’s 1st choice at 9, were he fit to play, but I must admit to having been quite disappointed with the more experienced 9s (and I’ll include Genia, there) during the autumn, so happy enough to see tyro Youngs take the shirt. Saying that, I didn’t get to see Parra play this autumn, and I generally regard him as the best 9 in the Northern Hemisphere.

    My word, there are some great blindside flankers out there at the moment. Ferris and Kaino are phenomenal defensively, but agree with you that Juan Smith is far more multi-dimensional.

    Kieran Reid is prob the right choice at no8, but special mention must go to Heaslip for his incredible performance against the ABs.

  5. OK, so perhaps the title is misleading, but the article spells out the parameters for selection, and that is the performances in the Autumn Internationals. If the next Test against Mars was next week, I’d probably opt for someone like Genia at 9, or perhaps Ruan Pienaar, but based solely on performances this month, Youngs has to be picked.

    I hear what you are saying about front foot ball, and looking much better behind a dominant pack, which is obvious, but there aren’t many standout contenders based on the last four matches. du Preez would probably have been a shoo-in if he were playing…

  6. “but based solely on performances this month, Youngs has to be picked.”

    I’m still confused by performances

    Youngs has had 2 very good internationals this year, but it is no surprise they were against Australia where his pack would give him the space and quick ball to do what he does. This autumn 1 very good game was backed up by far less convincing games

    Pienaar was more consistant – never quite outstanding but good in every game he played. I would pick someone who is good in every game against someone who has one outstanding game and then disappears.

    This is into meant to be some witch hunt – I just can not understand this constant overhyping that follows Youngs around. I will be interested to see him turn in a top performance when he hasn’t been constantly fed quick ball on the front foot – i.e. against a team that isnt Australia.

  7. And Rory – to be fair Gethin was superb vs Australia, winning a number of turnovers. But he was then injured for the next 2 games and obviously wasnt up to speed vs NZ, brought back a tad too early simply because he is so important to us

  8. So one incredible performance (yes, behind a dominant pack, but he was responsible for dictating the pace of the game) and three reasonable ones. I agree there is probably too much hype about him, but you could say the same about George North. And Gavin Henson but that’s a different type of hype.

    Youngs has shown a lot of potential. A lot to learn still, and over-hyped, but he does deserve his place in this team!

  9. reasonable ones? I disagree even in the article it was stated youngs had a poor game vs SA, and I have to agree with that assessment.

    Average in the other 2 (didn’t particularly think he was up to much vs NZ but I will take common acceptance of average there) whilst Pienaar was consistently good from what I saw of him.

  10. Youngs at 9 – no chance. He showed at the weekend he can’t perform when his pack is off form. Genia plays week in and out with a poor performing pack, and still turns it on. My only other issue is the wings. While I agree that both Gear and Ashton were brilliant, you are missing a trick by ommitting OConnor, who as well as having a good autumn, is a playmaker as well as a finisher. Finally, as much as it pains me, I am suprised Sheridan isn’t in the team.

  11. If that was Genia “performing” behind a beaten pack v England then you guys are in trouble. Youngs was poor v NZ? I must have missed that.

    V good “team of the autumn”. Kaino and Muliaina would have been good shouts I reckon.

    Sheridan’s had a very good autumn as well and could have maybe made the cut? Woodcock’s great but not really seen much of him this autumn.

    Probably a controversial call… but I reckon Flood could have got an honourable mention at 10. He’s had a brilliant autumn.

  12. Not sure about Flood at 10, he has a good month but never really sparkled, and wasnt flat enough at times. . The front row looks about right, but Sheridan deserved some mention at least. Second row looks good as does the Back row. based on these internationals i would have Youngs, he had flare, and admittably had 1 questionable game against SA but was good in all the other games. No brainer with Carter although some of his goal kicking wasnt great. Not sure Smith and Mapusa would work well together, Smith needs someone to work off and not sure that Mapusa, as great a player as he is, would be able to get Smith playing at his best. What about Sean De Villiers? Back three look right although Mils would be a definite starter for the team, but i can understand choosing Beale, based on the internationals.

  13. Personally I think Youngs is amazing – but he is still learning and far from being a finished product. He shines when his forward pack is playing well, but needs to develop his game when they are not (e.g ENG vs SA). Agree that Pienaar has been more consistent in the AI’s, but I’d rather have somone that can produce magic at 9, instead of someone that simply plays consistent rugby. Of course, thats just my opinion.

    Can’t really disagree with any of the selections, though I’d be interested to see who makes the bench. Possible suggestions:

    16. Matthew Rees 17. Andrew Sheridan 18. Adam Jones/Dan Cole 19. Brad Thorn 20. Imanol Harinordoquy/Jermain Kaino/Jamie Heaslip 21. Ruan Pienaar/Will Genia 22. Quade Cooper/Toby Flood 23. James O’Connor/Adam Ashley-Cooper/Sonny Bill Williams

  14. As a token Jock it’s still hard to argue against any of your selections there. Usually I would take any one of three over Youngs, but our 9s had a quiet Autumn and no-one really stood out elsewhere save for Genia. Our standout players of the series were Jacobsen, Barclay, Morrison and to a certain extent Parks, and while you wouldn’t put Parks near a World XV through the limitations on his game, Barclay would probably be in with a shout if McCaw or Pocock suddenly broke their legs. Gray is probably where Lawes was last year ie rated, but without a consistent run for experience.

    Overall we are pretty happy with our team’s performances, but are under little illusion about suddenly all being world class. Unlike certain sections of the English Punditry-Industrial Complex!

  15. Wow Rugby Nick, you’ve written more than I did in the article. Key point is this is based on autumn internationals only so saying ‘in a close call I would give it to the guy who has been amongst the best performers in the world over many years’ is irrelevant I’m afraid, that’s the opposite of what I’m doing. Right, here goes:

    15. Huge fan of Muliaina and picked him in the first place but in Beale I think Australia have unearthed something special. Nothing to choose between them.

    14. O’Connor possibly the best winger in the world but in the Autumn Internationals Gear was unstoppable and Ashton outstanding. O’Connor was not at the level he was in the Tri-Nations so misses out.

    9. Didn’t think many 9s stood out this autumn but Youngs’ performance against Australia and to a lesser extent against Samoa were outstanding. Yes he was on the front foot but most England 9s have been on the front foot for the past 5 years and have done nothing with it. He was the spark for England’s best performance for 7 years. Nothing less. He received a lesson against SA and he is nowhere near the finished article. But I’d suggest that dismissing him is rather less balanced and more sensationalist than most of the media are being. Noone is saying he is perfect and noone’s not getting carried away, they are just excited about what he could become.

    3. Adam Jones nearly made the cut and I will concede a fairly glaring lack of knowledge of front row play. Sheridan was excellent in the loose if a little short of his best in the tight. He was also there or there abouts.

    4. Courteney Lawes is just about the most multi-dimensional lock we’ve had in England and in my view showed more than Brad Thorn who is very very good at what he does but is more limited. Anyone who can look as good as Lawes did on Saturday in a beaten pack deserves the nod over someone who was never really tested.

    Just to repeat, this is not necessarily the best players in the world, it is those who caught the eye particularly over the autumn. Therefore it’s that little bit more subjective. Wouldn’t expect any 2 people to come out with the same team which is what makes it al quite interesting.

    And agree there are some awesome 6s around. Didn’t even mention Rocky Elsom, Kelly Brown is playing the rugby of his life, Ferris, Croft, Kaino, Smith.

    Alos, must be the first time in about a decade that in a discussion about a World XV nobody has even mentioned Brian O’Driscoll.

  16. Chris, I agree,m though Jean De Villiers was very influential against England. Didn’t really try to pick a balanced team though, just the most eye-catching players.

    Rory, great to see Scotland on the comeback, your middle 5 look particularly impressive. Not sure anyone predicted that ~Dan Parks would still be pulling the strings but he’s had a cracking 12 months. You are particularly spoiled for 9s but none of them seem able to string together more than about 3 internationals without getting injured which is a shame.

  17. You’re right no one will agree, but that’s the beauty! For what it’s worth Id have SBW instead of Mapasua and Cueto is worth considering as well, in place of Ashton, try or no try.

    Also – Scotland on the come back? Woeful against new zealand, horrendous against Samoa and did the usual mugging job against the Saffers based on poor weather and an accurate kicker. Not scored a try in 8 of their last 12 games. still a way to go!

  18. Absolutely but Scotland have now beaten 2 Southern Hemisphere teams in 12 months, won a series in Argentina and beaten Ireland in Ireland and they have learned to dog out a tough win (other than against England). They are forming a good foundation. Still miles to go obviously but they haven’t competed consistently for about 5 years really.

  19. Youngs does have great potential – it’s POTENTIAL. He still needs work. I’m a massive fan and think he adds so much to the England game, but from those performances I’d still give the spot to Genia. Youngs played well against Oz and was alright against NZ, but you can’t just throw him in there because he’s a bright spark for England.
    I can understand Reid at 8 – it’s a fair call, but Heaslip certain deserves an argument – he’s the player who’ll take on the captaincy of Ireland after BOD leaves and he’s shown his drive for the last couple of years. I know he wasn’t incredible in the AIs but you’ve got to want Pocock in your team – he’s a better defender than Smith for one thing.
    Ashton had a couple of great performances, but James O’Connor still has more tricks up his sleeve, and I’d want that extra pace.
    Good team though, don’t get me wrong!

  20. Kieran Read is NZs first world class number 8 since Zinny?? That’s a bit of a slap in the face to Rodney So’oialo…

  21. Never thought So’oialo was that great to be honest, too loose to be in the top drawer. Another player who looked better than he was because he was playing in such a good team.

  22. Can’t argue with the backs. Ashton’s only loose game was SA and that was only after the bash on the head. Young’s certainly isn’t the finished article yet but is improving all the time and showed what England have lacked in a long while – the balls to believe in himself and go for it. On that alone he’s worth a shout.

    Have to take issue with the front row selection though – I would concur with your admission Stuart that you know little about front row play. Woodcock is average, nothing more and over the years has become astute at playing the conditions/the ref rather than his opposite man. When the front row is well reffed he is effectively out of the game as all his little tricks like side-stepping to displace the oppo drive come to nothing. He held his own in all the tests but cannot be said to have dominated anyone. If anything he got a bit of a schooling in the NZ-Wales game. Although he didn’t have the greatest Autumn series Sheridan would have to be picked above him and if Gethin jenkins hadn’t been injured I’m sure that he would have made his mark and have been the obvious first choice loosey. Bismark Du Plessis is a good call. Having seen him play, although a superb and top quality player, Mas is not the man. Agree with Rugby Nick about Adam Jones, tighthead without question has to be Adam Jones. Although he still needs to keep working on his round the park play it has improved immeasurably in the last 3 years and his scrummaging and general set piece play can not be faulted. The measure of the man is that the Saffers felt the need to take him out during the Lions tour and he has played at that same high level ever since.

    The back row and second rows pretty much pick themselves. I don’t think anyone can argue with the likes of Matfield, Juan Smith or McCaw. Courtney Lawes has certainly established himself as the coming man. How it took Johnson so long to pick him is anyone’s guess.

  23. This team was obviously chosen from an English view point. After watching this Autumn series there should be ONLY Southern Hemisphere players in the team (mainly All Blacks with a sprinkling of South Africans and Wallabies). Northern Hemisphere teams are consistently thrashed by Southern teams and yet they still say they did well. England and the like will never seriously threaten Rugby from down under, If they keep playing the plodding brand of rugby they are so adept at. Lawes,Flood,Hape and Jenkins would be lucky to make a super 15 team, let alone an ITM cup team.
    To be honest England,Wales,Ireland and Scotland is like an end of year training excursion for the All Blacks. These trips are purely to line the Rugby coffers of the visiting sides,while teaching Northen teams a lesson in rugby. Unfortunately it seems Northern teams are not learning quick enough.

  24. Not sure if you read the title of this discussion tom jones (or maybe you’re too arrogant to know how to read), but its who would make the POST AUTUMN INTERNATIONALS – WORLD XV REVISTED. The idea of this was to select who was believed to be the best player in each position before the tournament, and see who performed the best in each position during the tournament. Basically this means who have been the stand out players of this tournament, and this tournament alone. Its not about which TEAMS win, but which PLAYERS have performed the best in their position. Your statement of “This team was obviously chosen from an English view point” is a load of crap. If you notice, 11 out of 15 players have been selected from the southern hemisphere. Why? Because the general consensus is that those PLAYERS performed the best in their position. Same is said for the 3 English players and the one Frenchman. Its also amusing that the PRE AUTUMN INTERNATIONAL TEAM, only features 10 southern hemisphere players, where the revisted team features 11 southern hemisphere players!

    Original Selection
    15. Mils Muliaina
    14. Tommy Bowe
    13. Conrad Smith
    12. Ma’a Nonu
    11. James O’Connor
    10. Quade Cooper
    9. Will Genia

    1. Tony Woodcock
    2. Matthew Rees
    3. Nicolas Mas
    4. Victor Matfield
    5. Nathan Sharpe
    6. Stephen Ferris
    7. Richie McCaw
    8. Imanol Harinordoquy

  25. Know it’s old, but this is too good to miss ;)
    This team is pretty good, but there are some major oversights I feel, and sorry if this upsets anyone, I love Super Rugby and this will be predominantly Southern Hemisphere.

    15. Kurtley Beale – Okay, but Dagg?
    14. Chris Ashton – Savea, Guildford, O’Connor…
    13. Conrad Smith – Experienced but Ma’a Nonu for me
    12. Seilala Mapusua – Ok but SBW is a clear winner, with Ma’a as well “Monster Midfield”
    11. Hosea Gear – Love the guy but Ioane has been awesome.
    10. Dan Carter – One of my favourite players of all time
    9. Ben Youngs – Genia, all the way

    1. Tony Woodcock – Great choice
    2. Bismarck Du Plessis – Ditto
    3. Nicolas Mas – Sorry don’t know the guy!
    4. Victor Matfield – Bit old, other oldies like Thorn would add a lot of experience.
    5. Courtney Lawes – Young risky, not mature enough for World XV, Whitelock maybe?
    6. Juan Smith – Liam Messam, Pocock at 6, maybe I’m not sure about this one.
    7. Richie McCaw – Love the guy!
    8. Kieran Reid – As above!

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