With the Autumn Internationals roaring into view and the Rugby World Cup only a year away, thoughts can turn to which players might light up the game’s showpiece in a year’s time. Picking dream teams is a pretty pointless and frivolous exercise but it saves us sports fans from having to think about boring things which actually matter, so let’s do it.
Here at The Rugby Blog, we’ve been pondering what a World XV would look like and how much that might change over the course of the coming weeks. Therefore we are picking a World XV before the internationals and will revisit it in December and we would be very interested to see what people think about it. And so that the debate can rage on a level playing field, we should mention that we are not trying to pick a balanced team, but are picking the best player in each position in the world. We are also basing it on form in the past 6 to 9 months so reputation goes out of the window.
Inevitably, some top players will miss out and some controversial calls have had to be made. In some positions there is an embarrassment of riches while in others the talent pool is rather more sparse. But anyway, here goes.
At full back, Mils Muliaina has been incredible this season. He is being pushed by the likes of Israel Dagg and Cory Jane for the All Blacks birth and has responded with some of the best rugby of his All Black career.
On the wings we have Tommy Bowe and James O’Connor. Bowe has been setting the standard for wing play over the past 18 months while O’Connor has been simply sensational, revelling in the free role afforded him by Robbie Deans.
In the centres, Conrad Smith was hugely influential in the All Blacks outstanding Tri-Nations. I still can’t figure out why he is as good as he is but he simply has an excellent rugby brain.
The 12 position was one of the harder selections as there are few stand-outs in this position at present.
Ma’a Nonu has come of age this season and, although he could soon be threatened by Sonny Bill Williams, he just edges out the Welsh duo of James Hook and Jamie Roberts to make it an all New Zealand centre partnership. Yannick Jauzion and Jean De Villiers are on the downward curve, Matt Giteau has not been at his best, Gordon D’Arcy and Riki Flutey have struggled with injury. We could put Quade Cooper in there next to Dan Carter at 10 but that would be breaking the rules. The dark horse would be Seilala Mapusua, the outstanding player in the Premiership, and it will be interesting to see if he can make an impact for Samoa.
Quade Cooper however, based upon his electric form this season, edges out Carter for the 10 shirt. Carter has not quite been at the top of his game this year but remains a class act. At his absolute best he would probably get the nod. The Juan Martin Hernandez of a couple of years ago would also have been considered but injury has blighted his recent past.
At nine, Will Genia benefits from the injuries suffered by Fourie Du Preez this year. Du Preez is a truly outstanding player and probably Genia’s superior all things being equal but he loses out here. This was one of the most competitive positions. Mike Phillips could have been selected but he too has suffered with injuries and is not quite back to his best, Tomas O’Leary has gone from strength to strength and France have a huge stable of outstanding scrum halves.
In the pack Tony Woodcock starts on the loosehead side and continues to set the standard in that position. On the other side is the potentially devastating Nicolas Mas. Hooker was a tough selection as there is no really outstanding player in that position at present. John Smit and Kevan Mealamu are both past their best, Stephen Moore could be the standout by the World Cup but needs a little more consistency, and Dimitri Szarzewski was also mentioned but the vote went to Matthew Rees.
In the second row the nod goes to two old stagers in Nathan Sharpe and Victor Matfield who have both defied the years to have outstanding seasons. Paul O’Connell has been slightly below standard, Alan Wyn Jones likewise and Simon Shaw is not the force he was 12 months ago.
In the back row Stephen Ferris edges out Rocky Elsom, Juan Smith and Tom Croft on the blindside and the phenomenal Imanol Harinordoquy certainly takes the 8 shirt ahead of Kieran Read, Jamie Heaslip and Sergio Parisse.
The world is overflowing with top opensides and at any other time David Pocock or Thierry Dusattoir could have found themselves in the side. But of course there is Richie McCaw, probably the most influential player in the world, and he takes the captain’s armband into the bargain. Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe was left out with reluctance.
You may have noticed the slightly depressing absence of English players in the team and to be honest very few were even mentioned in discussions. Tom Croft, Riki Flutey and Simon Shaw would not let anyone down and hopefully come the World Cup, Ben Foden, Chris Ashton, Ben Youngs, Dan Cole and Courtney Lawes could all be challenging. But for now, 5 Kiwis, 4 Aussies, 2 Irishmen, 2 Frenchmen, a Welshman and a South African will be representing Earth in the Galaxy Cup this year.
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
What are your thoughts? Has anyone been overlooked?
By Stuart Peel