Pre-Autumn Internationals World XV

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

18 thoughts on “Pre-Autumn Internationals World XV

  1. Damning state of affairs when (quite rightly) not a single Englishman can get in a world XV so close to a World Cup. Saying that though, the young guys you’ve picked out are definite genuine candidates for being in or around the mark post-RWC, will just be a bit easier for them to shine if we’re not getting hammered by the Kiwis/Aussies in the preceeding year.

  2. Surely Servat and Bismarck du Plessis are far better than Mathew Rees, even Flannery…. Also brad thorn ahead of Sharpe

  3. I’d have Servat there or thereabouts, although he does get talked about a lot and it’s not always clear to me why (I’m no front row expert). I don’t regularly see him in action though, which probably explains it.

    I think Pocock could well feature in the post-AIs team. He was pretty close anyway, and is beginning to eclipse McCaw for me as the best openside in the world. If Moody is fit he has a massive challenge for the next two weeks.

  4. I would say servat is the most important player in a massive Toulouse scrum, he’s very good around the park and his darts are spot on, i would also say heaslip is very much up there.

    My team would be along the lines of:

    15. Mils Muliaina
    14. Tommy Bowe
    13. Conrad Smith
    12. Ma’a Nonu
    11. James O’Connor
    10. Dan Carter
    9. Ben Youngs or Morgan Parra (not massively impressed with Genia, it was Burgess’ quick thinking and sharp passing that had NZ losing their defensive shape in the final stages of the Hong Kong game)

    1. Gurthrö Steenkamp
    2. William Servat
    3. Nicolas Mas
    4. Victor Matfeild
    5. Brad Thorn
    6. Rocky Elsom
    7. Richie McCaw
    8. Jamie Heaslip (red card aside, has alot to prove this autum and is in great from after leinsters fantastic october month)

  5. Take your points about Servat. To be honest, knowledge of hookers is not exactly my forte (in a rugby context at least). However I haven’t heard people waxing particularly lyrical about Guthro Steenkamp – a lot of aggression, not a lot of product seems to be the consensus of many.

    And while I rate Heaslip highly, Harinordiquy is in a different league I’m afraid. He’s not far off the complete player. Did think about Brad Thorn but on 2 occasions this season he has been completely outplayed by Sharpe which swung my vote.

    And not playing since March is just lazy from Paul O’Connell. Definitely doesn’t deserve his place.

  6. Ha! maybe i was a bit Generous to old Guthro (he at least has the best name in rugby, not to mention goatee!) He holds his own in the scrum, never goes backwards, is very aggressive when hitting rucks and when taking the ball from close range the man is tough to stop. All the things i admire in a prop. Woodcock was very solid but i think dominante player in that AB front row is Owen Franks. Serious player for his age. Its a shame France has such a soft schedule this November, i feel this will come back to haunt them during the world cup the after Australia on Nov 27th the next time they play a tri nations team will be New Zealand in the pool stages.

  7. Also Steenkamp was SA’s top try scorer in the tri nations with a team boasting Jaque Fourie and Bryan Habana thats no mean feat.

  8. ps quade cooper is an accident waiting to happen in every game he plays.

    All you need is one or two hits (late if need be) on him early doors and his game folds.

    England (moody) will target him as they did in australia, first 5 mins Moody smashed him and he didnt look right all game.

  9. Roberts has been injured all year so, as the team’s based on recent performances, he didn’t get the spot. When fit I definitely rate him above Nonu and he probably would have been in there. I very nearly picked James Hook there actually.

    Re Cooper, I think the Aussies have got it right playing him there with an experienced calm head like Giteau outside him. If the game needs calming down, Giteau can step in and run it, if they want to play their normal high tempo game, Cooper runs the show. And they’ve got Berrick Barnes on the bench if either of the starting 2 are misfiring. I think they’ve got all the bases covered in that area (would that it were so with England). A lot of the pressures normally on a 10’s shoulders have therefore been removed from Cooper and he has been fantastic all season. Everyone’s allowed a slight off day but he has done it against the best side in the world more than once. That’s enough for me.

  10. Stuart – we cant of been watching the same game?
    Cooper was mercurial and needs to be shut down which NZ didnt do.

    Giteaus kicking was awful (he is even more flakey than Cooper), barnes didnt do much and a 20 year old saved the day!!!!

    I agree with 22dropout – Beale (and O connor) are the aussies stand out players.(Elsom is so influential, i assume hes mentioned even when not!)

  11. also – elsom is better than ferris, pocock outplayed mccaw (has he lost a bit of speed?) and Kieran Read is currently my no 1 No 8.

    and we have easter…….

  12. I’m not just talking about Saturday’s game (I actually wrote the article before I’d seen the game so it didn’t really come into it). Throughout the Tri-Nations, Cooper was impressive, more impressive than Carter in my book.

    Beale snuck up on the outside, he had a wobbly first half of the Tri-Nations and was outstanding for the rest of it. But Muilaina was consistently excellent and at the present moment I would rather have him in my team. The AIs could change all that, really looking forward to seeing more of what Beale can do. If he carries on his current form he could edge out Muliain when we do it all agin in December. I wonder is he a truly class player or is he just a good player in excellent form (a question I’ve been asking about Delon Armitage for 2 years and remain to be convinced that he is the former, but that’s by the by).

  13. Elsom has been a little off his game this season – he’s very influential but hasn’t quite hit the heights he did at Leinster. And I’ve got Kearnsy in my corner on this one. I’m increasingly impressed with Ferris every time he plays.

    Agreed, Pocock is the coming man but you can’t underestimate how important McCaw is to NZ. Pocok is probably better over the ball but McCaw has developed his game hugely in the past 12 months or 2 years. He has added a George Smith style link man element to his play. The number of times he is one of the last men to handle before NZ score is no coincidence.

    Very very impressed with Kieran Read this season but Harinordiquy is different gravy.

  14. was it James O’Connor who could have gone for Oz, NZ or SA nationality and opted for Oz? Great work whoever made him sign with Australia, he is brilliant.

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