After much deliberation the team has been picked! Fifteen of the top contributors in international rugby over the course of the year, a few certainly debateable, while others pick themselves.
Note that this is not a form team, but an appraisal of the overall contribution of the player over the course of the international calendar. Players like Alex Corbisiero and Fourie du Preez, for example were not considered because of their limited involvement in their respective national sides.
1 – Tendai Mtawarira (South Africa) This was a tough one to choose with a legitimate few contenders, Marcos Ayerza being the closest, but the Beast started nearly ever test match for the Springboks this year and was a major part of their scrum and maul. Consistently performs at a high level and vitally important to his country.
2 – Bismarck du Plessis (South Africa) A clear winner. Returned from his knee injury as if it had never happened. Absolutely world class in all aspects of his play, he is the prototypical modern hooker.
3 – Adam Jones (Wales) Six Nations champion and Lions series winner, it doesn’t get much better than that short of winning the World Cup. The Ospreys pillar had a superb year, though at the age of 32 one wonders how much longer he can go on.
4 – Eben Etzebeth (South Africa) A tip of the cap to Brodie Retallick who enjoyed his finest season to date, but the giant Springbok had a phenomenal Rugby Championship and was one of the best forwards on the planet all year. The frightening thing is that he can only get better.
5 – Sam Whitelock (New Zealand) Nobody has a bigger engine than this bloke. Dominant in the lineout and absolutely tireless around the park. Whether hitting rucks or cover tackling, his support play is second to none.
6 – Tom Wood (England) Overlooked by the Lions but quietly captained England to an undefeated tour of South America. Strong in the lineout, never misses a tackle, his form for both club and country has been exemplary.
7 – Richie McCaw (New Zealand) How can he not be? There are some flashier opensides around but the man captained his country to an undefeated calendar season with some vintage performances. Simply the best.
8 – Kieran Read (New Zealand) For once the IRB have got this one right. The undisputed best player in the world over the course of the year.
9 – Aaron Smith (New Zealand) Really hit his stride with the All Blacks after starting slowly and having an average Super Rugby season. Lightning fast service and accuracy that enables his team to attack relentlessly.
10 – Dan Carter (New Zealand) This could very easily go to Aaron Cruden, but it would be remiss not to acknowledge New Zealand’s first choice flyhalf. Let’s hope he stays fit enough to have a go at the World Cup in two years.
11 – Bryan Habana (South Africa) Back to his very best. Started every test and complimented his natural running game with some superb work in defense.
12 – Jean de Villiers (South Africa) A fabulous season for the ageless warrior. Captained his country and stood out in every game. Another who is aging but should hold on for a couple more years.
13 – Conrad Smith (New Zealand) Missed the year-end tour but his work was already done. Makes it all look easy and has earned a few months of R&R to regenerate.
14 – George North (Wales) Split between the left and right wing this year, he just edges Ben Smith. Who will ever forget his Lions performances? One of the absolute stars of the modern game.
15 – Leigh Halfpenny (Wales) Almost a coin-toss selection over Israel Folau, but his kicking exploits with Wales and the Lions earns him the nod. Superb in all aspects of play and a wonderful ambassador for the sport.