So… the World Cup is over for another 4 years. Congratulations to New Zealand on a great tournament, and a well deserved win in the end. Most commentators, pundits, and bloggers thoughts now start to turn towards who should be included in the best XV of the World Cup, so I thought I’d put mine together… There were some tough decisions for certain positions, and there might be a few surprises in there, but that’s the great thing about these tournaments, rarely would anyone agree on someone elses best XV. So why not have a look at my carefully considered side, including the subs, and see what you make of it. Think you can do a better job? Bring it on…
1 – Cian Healy (Ireland)
‘Church’ had a fantastic World Cup. He almost single handedly took apart the Australian scrum in the pool match, and generally did an all round cracking job at the back and going forward. He makes big tackles and hard yards look easy, and him ending Quade Cooper was easily one of my favourite moments of the whole tournament (see the video of the monster hit here). What a guy to have in your front row, in my humble opinion he was the best loosehead at this year’s tournament.
2 – Kevin Mealamu (New Zealand)
Hooker was one of the positions I agonised over most, mostly because I didn’t think there were many standout performances besides a couple of notable exceptions (Mealamu and Bismarck Du Plessis – I’m not sure why Smit still started most of SA’s games). That actually made the selection harder, but Mealamu was so consistent in the lineout, always eager to get involved, and never shirked from making a few hard yards taking the ball forward. A good solid, consistent tournament from the AB’s number 2, with a few try line threats thrown in for good measure, saw him into my best XV of the tournament.
3 – Adam Jones (Wales)
‘Hairbear’ is fast building a reputation as one of the most feared tightheads in world rugby. He had a great tournament, but his standout performance in my opinion was against Ireland in the quarter finals. He managed to pretty much take Cian Healy out of the game altogether, and given Healy’s current form that took a massive performance from the hairy prop. A big scrummager, always at the breakdown, super lineout play, and a really consistent tournament is why I picked Jones as my number 3.
4 – Sam Whitelock (New Zealand)
Whitelock grew as the tournament went on I thought. He didn’t have the most confidence building start for the Blacks, but by the final he was an absolute rock alongside Brad Thorn in the second row. The Canterbury lock was solid in taking his own ball at lineouts, and seemed to be at every breakdown in play, wherever it was on the field. He’s athletic, and quick for a guy of his size, and although he wouldn’t be an obvious choice in any RWC best XV, I thought he had a fine tournament and deserves a bit of recognition. If the game is won and lost in the front 5, then Whitelock is a man who can definitely win you the big games, as he proved this year.
5 – Victor Matfield (South Africa)
What can you say about the Boks’ talismanic lock that hasn’t been said before? He really is one of the greats of the modern game. 110 test caps for the Springboks, and as recently as Saturday was nominated for South African Player of the Year, the man once dubbed “The Lineout King”, announced his retirement from international rugby with effect from the end of South Africa’s tournament in the defeat against Australia in the Quarter Finals, leading to a gushing tribute from his captain John Smit who said, “He’s a huge player. In my opinion, the greatest Springbok that’s ever been.” High, but worthy praise from Smit, for a man who dominates lineouts, puts himself on the line week in week out, and uses his leadership skills to inspire his team every time he takes to the field… how could there be no place for Matfield in a team like this?
6 – Sean O’Brien (Ireland)
The European Player of the Year, nicknamed “The Tullow Tank”, absolutely beasted the RWC this year. He lead the charge for Ireland against Australia, turned the back row attention away from David Pocock, and had an absolute blinder of a game against Italy (for which he was voted man of the match). He formed a formidable back row partnership with Stephen Ferris after David Wallace was ruled out of the tournament, and he’s pretty handy going forward too. O’Brien’s “never say die” attitude, and his sheer physical bulk always make him a force to be reckoned with in any game. A finer blindside, I would suggest, it is hard to find at the minute.
7 – Jerome Kaino (New Zealand)
Kaino was pretty much an automatic selection for this team. He played almost every minute of the tournament for the AB’s, made some massive hits, and scored a couple of really good tries into the bargain. If anybody had any doubts about his ability before this World Cup (can’t see why they would have to be honest, but for argument’s sake…) then Kaino really will have blown them all away with his performances this year. An absolute monster of a man, Kaino plays hard, runs fast, has amazing vision, and his support play is second to none. For me, he would command a place in any starting XV in the world.
8 – Imanol Harinordoquy (France)
This was another position I was agonising over until the final 4 matches of the tournament. Harinordoquy didn’t have the greatest of starts to the World Cup, but then again I’m not sure anyone in a French jersey did. As the tournament went on though, the real leaders in the French team came to the fore, and thankfully, Harinordoquy was amongst them. In the semi final against Wales, and particularly in the final against New Zealand, he was a brick wall in defence, and a tower in the lineout. If France hadn’t had Harinordoquy or Dusatoir (who really narrowly missed out on selection for this team) in their back row, their challenge for the Webb Ellis Cup would have ended long ago. His form in the final really sealed his place in my best XV, 8 lineout takes and arguably a man of the match performance handed him the no. 8 jersey for my team.
9 – Piri Weepu (New Zealand)
Ok, so he didn’t kick well at all in the final, and he even struggled in the semi final, but Weepu was the real hero of New Zealand’s World Cup for me. A nation in panic at the demise of Dan Carter had their fragile nerves shattered when Colin Slade limped off against Argentina… Step forward Piri Weepu. He nailed his kicks to land 23 of the All Black’s 33 points against the Pumas, was awarded man of the match, set up a semi final against the Aussies, and eased the collective tension of 4.5 million Kiwis. No pressure then. Weepu successfully averted a crisis in the New Zealand camp with that performance, and went on to guide them home right through to the final. His link up play with Aaron Cruden was great, and he covered for the relative inexperience of the third choice fly half with some intelligent play at times. Taking all of that into consideration, Piri Weepu easily deserves the starting scrum half position in the team of the tournament. As the t-shirts selling in droves after the quarter final reminded New Zealanders everywhere, “Keep calm, Piri’s On”.
10 – Aaron Cruden (New Zealand)
In a tournament where out halves noticeably struggled for form, Aaron Cruden was a surprise package. Drafted into the new Zealand squad following a tournament ending injury to Dan Carter, Cruden got his chance a lot sooner than he would have expected when Colin Slade hobbled off in the quarter final against Argentina. Cruden was composed, showed great vision and a good head for the game, and coped immensely well with the pressure put on him by panicking All Black fans. It’s a shame that we didn’t get to see more of his goal kicking abilities given Weepu’s poor form in from of the sticks in their last 2 games, but New Zealand players and fans have a lot to thank Cruden for, given his composed and intelligent play in the quarter and semi finals which calmed nerves and showed what a great player he really is. It was a massive shame that a hyper extension in the final ended his tournament prematurely as the “curse of All Black fly halves” struck again, but what a brilliant couple of games he had. I think even given the way he coped with the weight of expectation placed on him, and how he passed every test anyone threw his way with flying colours, means that he deserves the number 10 spot in a tournament which was otherwise unremarkable for the men in this pivotal position.
11 – Cory Jane (New Zealand)
At the risk of just letting Graham Henry pick my team for me, Here’s another All Black for the lineup. Cory Jane had a barnstorming tournament. He was brilliant both in attack and defence throughout his appearances, even when Australia decided to bombard him for the entire match with high balls, Jane took almost every one with bravery and confidence, and was one of the key players in a solid performance for the All Black defensive line. Cory Jane possesses pace, power, vision, and bravery in abundance, and he played a vital role in bringing the World Cup back to New Zealand again. I’m not sure I could have picked another winger from this whole tournament over him.
12 – Jamie Roberts (Wales)
Some would argue that Nonu was the logical choice for 12, but given the volume of All Blacks in this team, I decided to look elsewhere. Nonu did have a great tournament, and was great going forward, proving almost impossible to stop. I plumped for Roberts though, because he was just so good. Wales came into the tournament not really fancied to do much damage. Runner up in the group and then out against Australia in the quarter finals it was thought. Super performances in their own pool, and Ireland managing to win pool C opened up the tournament for Wales though, and Jamie Roberts was one of their key players in their run to the semis. Roberts is the classic 12, like a tank going forward, he can punch holes in almost any defence due to his sheer power, and in defence he’s not slow to empty anybody stupid enough to run straight at him, or anywhere near him for that matter. Roberts’ defence in the quarter final against Ireland was immense, and to be honest he was hard done by in the semi final against France. It was painful watching him holding the tears back on TV after that game, but what a cracking tournament he had. Dangerous against Fiji, immovable against Ireland. Roberts takes my number 12 jersey.
13 – Sonny Bill Williams (New Zealand)
Ok, so he didn’t play all the games, and he didn’t score as many as Nonu, but Williams was brilliant this World Cup. I know Nonu and Conrad Smith have a record breaking partnership for the All Blacks, but for me, I would have started Sonny Bill at 13. He is such a threat with ball in hand, and is probably one of the most dangerous players to be caught short against, because even if you bring him down, chances are you won’t stop him offloading the ball to a waiting team mate. Sonny Bill had a brilliant tournament, and I think it’s a shame that we didn’t see more of him at the business end of the World Cup. He always gets the crowd going when he’s barging upfield, he’s always exciting to watch, and he’s always keeping the opposition defence guessing. I would have liked to have seen more of him against the French in the final, but Graham Henry seems to still have the jury out on him. I, on the other hand, am all in. Sonny Bill Williams is one of the most exciting and entertaining players I’ve watched for a long time. He’s always dangerous going forward, and he isn’t shy to put in big hits at the back… Just what you need from a good 13. I think him and Roberts would be a terrifying pairing in the middle.
14. James O’Connor (Australia)
Left out early on after being a naughty boy back in August (he missed the Walabies’ World Cup squad announcement after a heavy night out), James O’Connor really proved his worth to Australia in this World Cup. Pace, power, a cool head for a 21 year old, and accuracy with the boot when it was needed most meant that O’Connor slowly won back over his coach Robbie Deans, and won a lot of respect from across the world in the process. His consistency on the wing allowed Adam Ashley-Cooper to move into the centre, where he had a great few games, and O’Connor proved that he isn’t just useful with the boot, showing his try scoring prowess as early on as the first game against Italy, after he had come off the bench. He’s one to watch for the future, but he’s also dragged a largely unimpressive Australia side to a third place playoff win, and could now be in line to take the number 10 spot off the injured Quade Cooper. O’Connor has had a fine few weeks in the gold shirt, and rightly takes his place on the wing for my best XV of the tournament.
15. Israel Dagg (New Zealand)
Ok, I couldn’t finish without including one more All Black, but let’s face it, Israel Dagg has been utterly immense in this tournament. He had a flying start, scoring 2 tries against Tonga in the opener for New Zealand, and he never looked back since. He always seemed to just be in the right place at the right time in defence, and he popped up frequently in the All Blacks attacking lines, Dagg is a fullback who has it all. It seemed that Graham Henry was going to revert back to Mils Muliaina when he named the veteran fullback for his 100th test cap against Argentina in the quarter final, but injury ruined Muliaina’s night, and Dagg was recalled to the starting lineup in the semi final. If anyone still doubted that he was up to the job he soon put them right with solid performances in that game, and Sunday’s final, to help the All Blacks to their first World Cup win in 24 years. Dagg was one of the revelations of the tournament for me, and will need to keep up his good form in the All Black shirt, as Muliaina retires from the New Zealand side to go and play his club rugby in Japan. Big shoes to fill, but Dagg is the man to do it.
16 – Martin Castrogiovanni (Italy)
17 – Bismarck Du Plessis (South Africa)
18 – Brad Thorn (New Zealand)
19 – David Pocock (Australia)
20 – Sergio Parisse (Italy)
21 – Mike Philipps (Wales)
22 – Rhys Priestland (Wales)
23 – Ma’a Nonu (New Zealand)
24 – George North (Wales)
25 – Vasily Artemyev (Russia)