With the northern hemisphere season over, the June series all played out and the southern hemisphere season approaching its showpiece events, the Rugby Championship and the Super Rugby playoffs, what better time than this to put together a World XV?
We have gone heavy on recent form, so there are plenty of top players who have missed out – yes, we’re looking at you, England – and the recent dominance of Ireland in the northern hemisphere and South Africa’s resurgence under Rassie Erasmus has seen them record significant representation alongside the ever-impressive All Blacks.
Do you agree with our XV? Who would have made the cut in your team?
- Willie le Roux, South Africa and Wasps
After a stunning season with Wasps, in which he led the league in try assists, le Roux has successfully translated that form from club to country, shining with the Springboks and helping ease two debutant wings into international rugby either side of him.
Both Folau and Smith have been playing well of late, but if we stay true to our commitment to form, the nod must go the way of le Roux.
- Waisake Naholo, New Zealand and Highlanders
Honourable mentions for Keith Earls and Jonny May, two players not deemed ‘superstars’ yet amongst the most consistent performers for their respective sides, but the All Black just nudges ahead of them.
One-on-one with a defender, there is no more potent finisher in the game as stands, with Naholo capable of beating his man with brute force, speed or with his impressive footwork. He works hard as a support-runner, too, as well as eagerly looking for work off of his wing.
- Semi Radradra, Fiji and Toulon
That said, Radradra has been destructive, particularly for Toulon in the Top 14 and Champions Cup, but also for Fiji, in their recent win over Georgia, and the Barbarians, in their defeat of England at Twickenham. We could include his impressive showing at the London 7s, too, though that lies outside the remit of this, ahem, XV.
- Kurtley Beale, Australia and Waratahs
Beale’s return to form has been a source of great optimism for Wallabies fans and he’s done enough in recent months to see off Owen Farrell at this position, who has been one of England’s few shining lights in a testing period.
Beale’s decision-making has been particularly impressive for Australia, with the versatile centre invariably making the right choice as to when to pass, run or kick in their recent series with Ireland, as well as having the composure to execute those skills with precision.
Without Beale pulling the strings outside of Bernard Foley, Ireland would likely have found the series a much easier proposition.
- Rieko Ioane, New Zealand and Blues
The Six Nations form of Jacob Stockdale keeps him close but Ioane is on a different level at the moment, something which, admittedly, hasn’t been made easier by the Blues’ decision to move him inside to 12 and 13 semi-regularly.
It’s not just his finishing and predatory instincts for an intercept, two areas in which Stockdale is certainly a match for the Kiwi, it’s also his industry in defence and in support of attacking breaks by his international and club teammates. There are no weaknesses to his game and, at just 21 years of age, that is a scary prospect.
- Jonathan Sexton, Ireland and Leinster
Maybe this is unfair on Beauden Barrett, who has yet to play in the Rugby Championship this season, and puts too much focus on Sexton’s achievements in the Six Nations and Champions Cup, but it just feels is if the Irishman is in slightly better nick than the Kiwi.
He pulls the strings of his back lines at international and provincial levels with aplomb, has made countless pivotal one-on-one tackles on adept carriers and inevitably nails the crunch kicks in tight games. This is not to do a disservice to Barrett, who can create moments of magic that even Sexton cannot dream of, but the Leinsterman gets the nod as the form 10 in a World XV.
- Conor Murray, Ireland and Munster
If any Kiwis reading weren’t in a full-on rage after the omission of Barrett, the decision to go with Murray over Aaron Smith may well tip them over the edge.
Smith is unarguably the best all-round nine in world rugby, but Murray has the edge on him in form right now and the Irishman’s biggest competition was posed by the rejuvenated Will Genia and the effervescent Faf de Klerk. As good as they have both been, in a tight game, the control of tempo and challengeable kicking game that Murry brings to the mix wins him the nod.
- Dany Priso, France and La Rochelle
Mako Vunipola may be the benchmark at the position and Steven Kitshoff certainly shone against England, proving too much for both Kyle Sinckler and Harry Williams, but Priso has quietly raised his game down in New Zealand.
After a fine season with La Rochelle, Priso backed up that club form by being one of the French players to come out of the 3-0 series loss to New Zealand with their stock improving. As a playmaker on the gain-line, there were shades of Vunipola to Priso’s play, whilst his scrummaging was not far short of the destructive job Kitshoff did on the Highveld.
- Codie Taylor, New Zealand and Crusaders
He’s not as explosive as either Coles or Marx, but he does what is required of him at the set-piece, offers a potent carrying threat, supports his teammates’ breaks and contributes significantly at the breakdown.
- Tadgh Furlong, Ireland and Leinster
No mention of competition here, with Furlong having taken the tighthead position to another level over the last couple of years.
He didn’t start the revolution of the position, with many other mobile, ball-handling tightheads coming before him, but he has certainly been the most impressive. For all he offers as a carrier and at the contact area, Furlong is arguably also the best scrummaging tighthead in the international arena, something which separates him from all others at time of writing.
- James Ryan, Ireland and Leinster
This young second-row is going from strength to strength right now and his growing reputation was further enhanced by winning both the PRO14 and Champions Cup, and swiftly following it up with Ireland’s first series win over Australia since 1979.
He was pivotal, too, in Australia, packing down in the engine room for all three matches and making telling contributions in both the tight and the loose.
- Scott Barrett, New Zealand and Crusaders
A mention here for Franco Mostert, who’s international form has been excellent, and Maro Itoje, who finished the club season in rampant form for Saracens, but neither quite matches up to Barrett at this moment in time.
He beats brothers Beauden and Jordie to a spot in this XV and will be giving Steve Hansen a headache as to what to do when a trio of Barrett, Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock are all fit and available.
- David Pocock, Australia and Brumbies
Pocock’s duel with Peter O’Mahony was a very enjoyable subplot to Ireland’s tour of Australia and it was the Irishman who posed the biggest threat to usurping Pocock’s spot here.
At defensive breakdowns, there is no better operator in world rugby than the Australian who, once he has latched on to the ball, is all but impossible to remove. He also makes an impact on attacking breakdowns, clearing out defensive players with precision and force and allowing his team to prosper with quick ball. Probably underrated by many as a ball-handler, too.
- Siya Kolisi, South Africa and Stormers
Sam Cane, James Davies and Dan Leavy were all close and some may say Kolisi’s impact on the field has been overexaggerated because of his accomplishments off the field, as the Springboks’ first black captain. Those people would be wrong.
Kolisi has exemplified the calm, composed and clinical play of the new-look Springboks under Erasmus and though the Stormers have been struggling in Super Rugby, the flanker has consistently played at an elevated level in the club game.
- Duane Vermeulen, South Africa and Toulon
Unfortunately, Billy Vunipola still looked a way off his best as he continued to recover from injury late in the northern hemisphere season, but that should take nothing away from the return to the international arena of Vermeulen.
He has been a solid performer for Toulon in the Top 14 but it has been his recall to the Boks that has seen him return to his dominant and marauding best. He tore into England across all three Tests this month and the men in white had no answer to stop him in the first two contests.
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