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A combined Springboks-All Blacks' 23 based on the Rugby World Cup

By Adam Julian
Will Jordan of New Zealand is tackled by Pieter-Steph Du Toit of South Africa during the Rugby World Cup France 2023 match between New Zealand and South Africa at Stade de France on October 28, 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by Gaspafotos/MB Media/Getty Images)

The debate following the controversial Rugby World Cup final between the Springboks and the All Blacks has continued unabated since the full-time whistle.

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Who would make a combined XV of both countries? Some big guns have missed the cut in this squad.

15. Will Jordan (All Blacks) – The leading try scorer at the World Cup didn’t play a single game at fullback but many pundits suggest that Jordan is wasted on the wing. There is less time, space, and chance to involve World Rugby’s most gifted attacking player. Neither Beauden Barrett or Damian Willemse set the world on fire.

There is a criticism that Jordan’s kicking game is insufficient but watching Barrett kick ad nauseum, and with less effectiveness than Ben Smith and Israel Dagg in the past, Jordan at fullback is an exciting alternative and of course, would be allowed to grow a kicking game if given a chance. There are other kicking options in this team too.

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14. Kurt-Lee Arendse (Springboks) – With 13 tries in 16 Tests, Lee-Arendse is the Springboks most lethal finisher. Adept under the high ball, solid on defense and an occasional kicker he’s made an epic start to what looks like a long career.

13. Jessie Kriel (Springboks) – Had Lukhanyo Am been available Kriel might not have featured as regularly. All Blacks opposite Reiko Ioane might be flashier, but Kriel in tandem with. Damian de Allende is a pair not prone to error and very hard to breach. Kriel is rock solid on defense, carries powerfully and employs a grubber kick to good effect.

12. Damian de Allende (Springboks) – With 78 Tests under his belt de Allende has become a real mainstay of the Springboks midfield. Played a brilliant quarter final scoring a vital try. In the final nothing was getting past de Allende. His hard and direct running is ideal in a game of congested defense. In 33 runs at the World Cup, he beat 17 defenders and made 144 meters.

11. Mark Telea (All Blacks) – The World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year was perhaps the only player who consistently looked like breaching the Springboks defense in the final. Busy, bustling, and a scorer of tries, Telea possibly overachieved in 2023. The charge down of a French conversion by Cheslin Kolbe was perhaps the most important moment of the World Cup, but his yellow card in the final could have been the most untimely too.

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10. Richie Mo’unga (All Blacks) – Two missed kicks were costly for the All Blacks in the final but otherwise Mo’unga enjoyed a fine tournament. Set up a classic try for Will Jordan which went a long way towards winning the Irish quarter final. His break and pass to put Aaron Smith over for a try in the final might have created a very different narrative in the aftermath, but incompetent officiating ruled that out.

9. Faf de Klerk (Springboks) – The master of controlling the pace of a game with his varied, probing, and demanding kicks. Can swing swiftly onto the attack and hurt the opposition with swift distribution and calculated snipes. A crucial ankle tap on Dalton Papalii late in the final prevented potential strife for the Springboks.

8. Ardie Savea (All Blacks) – The World Rugby Player of the Year is an obvious selection. Ranked in the top 20 at the Rugby World Cup for carries, tackles, and turnovers. At his best Savea is a force of nature.

7. Pieter-Steph du Toit (Springboks) – When you google search Pieter-Steph du Toit one of the first questions that now emerges is how many tackles he made in the Rugby World Cup final. His performance was legendary with 14 in each half and nine alone on the All Blacks main midfield threat Jordie Barrett. Steph du Toit was immense in the narrow quarter-final victory against France and like Savea is simply a force of nature.

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6. Siya Kolisi (Springboks) – Undoubtedly the most charismatic skipper in international rugby Kolisi is an inspirational and intimidating presence at the same time. Was lucky to avoid a red card in the final but it seemed preordained that Kolisi would join Riche McCaw as the only other captain to win the World Cup twice. Which Hollywood actor would be best suited to capture his box office story on the big screen?

5. Sam Whitelock (All Blacks) – Wasn’t a regular starter in the World Cup but it’s hard to look past a record 153 Tests and 125 wins. Whitelock won the turnover which secured the All Blacks victory against Ireland and his contributions were typically strong in the final. His memorable steal in the 2015 Rugby World Cup final against the Springboks is part of All Blacks folklore.

4. Eben Etzebeth (Springboks) – The prospect of Sam Whitelock partnering with Etzebeth is enough to make one salivate. The 119-Test veteran was a beast at the World Cup. His sheer muscle won the quarter-final against France, his solo try a display of raw grit. In the final, he levelled Richie Mo’unga early and that set the tone for a typically disruptive performance. The industrious and brutal Franco Mostert is unlucky to miss selection.

3. Tyrell Lomax (All Blacks) – Injury threatened to ruin his tournament but he recovered strongly and wasn’t bettered by any opponent at the tournament. Has experienced enormous growth since the arrival of Jason Ryan as All Blacks forward coach.

2. Dane Coles (All Blacks) – The fire remains as strong as ever with Coles renouncing his retirement shortly after the World Cup for a stint in Japan. Preformed with accuracy, aggression and consistency in 2023 and his experience and ability to get under the opposition’s skin would have been very useful in the World Cup final.

1. Steven Kitshoff Springboks) – Won an early penalty in the World Cup final and went about his work all tournament with brutal efficiency. When it comes to the ‘dark arts’ Kitshoff is a legend. Ethan De Groot did battle for 66 minutes in the decider, an honourable effort after a red card earlier in the tournament threatened to derail his campaign.

Reserves

16. Codie Taylor (All Blacks) – Waywardness with his lineout throwing was costly early in the final. Generally, 2023 was very good for Taylor. His set-piece was largely accurate and his work around the field is always top-notch.

17. Ox Nché (Springboks) – Destroyed England in the semi-final lifting South Africa to an improbable victory. If ever there was an individual that was a metaphor for the ‘Bomb Squad’ it’s beast Nché who famously quipped, “Salads don’t win scrums.”

18. Tamiati Williams (All Blacks) – The heaviest All Black of all time covers both sides of the scrum and it was perhaps surprising he didn’t see more time in the World Cup. Had the Springboks much-vaunted scrum wilting towards full-time in the final.

19. Scott Barrett (All Blacks) – His red card against the Springboks before the World Cup was hardly endearing but his whole body of work in 2023 has been outstanding, so much so that he broke up the old firm of Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retalick.

20. RG Snyman (Springboks) – Simply a monster at 2.06m and 131kg. His try against England won the semi-final and his bullying presence is ideal late in a match.

21. Kwagga Smith (Springboks) – The best impact player in world rugby. Covers all three positions in the back row and has the speed and skill to

22. Jordie Barrett (All Blacks) – Tried his darndest to puncture the Springboks defense in the final but couldn’t make a telling break. For the time being, however, Barrett has firmly secured the All Blacks 12 jersey and his versatility and goal-kicking are an undeniable asset.

23. Aaron Smith (All Blacks) – Perhaps the most extraordinary feat in Smith’s career is that he started 114 of his 125 Tests, achieving 100 wins. He was rarely challenged for his starting spot and at this World Cup flourished behind an All Blacks pack that after a sluggish start found its groove.

 

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