Following on from the ‘Fast XV’ world’s fastest rugby team article, we now turn on the razzle dazzle and select the 15 most skilful, leap-off-the-sofa brilliant players in their positions in World rugby. Who are the players who can do it all?
15 Ben Smith (All Blacks)
Ben Smith in a flair XV? Sure, he isn’t the flashiest player in World Rugby, but that says more about his humility than his actual skills. Watch any highlights package and you’ll see his exemplary all-round skills setting up or scoring tries. Who set up Barrett for the final try in the 2015 World Cup? Ben Smith. Offloads, high kick takes, chip kicks, tackles -he’s got it all. He’s scored 27 tries himself and has established a brilliant connection with Beauden Barrett.He edges out Stuart Hogg who has a fine running game but less
He edges out Stuart Hogg who has a fine running game but less all-round skills, and ahead of the electric young All Black firefly Damian McKenzie who perhaps just needs more experience to step into Smith’s boots.
14 Nehe Milner-Scudder (All Blacks)
NMS is a special player who set the 2015 rugby season alight with his freakish footwork and passing skills. Unfortunately struck down with a shoulder injury and in 2017 a foot injury, the world waits for more from the Hurricanes hotstepper. In a long list of talent, Milner-Scudder keeps out comrade Israel Dagg, Argentinian Santiago Cordero, Liam Williams of Wales and Dane Haylett Petty from the Wallabies.
13 Israel Folau (Australia)
The Rolls Royce of rugby is a sublime runner and simply the best high ball catcher in the game. He hasn’t always performed to the peak of his talent, but the sight of Folau gliding through a gap is one of the greatest sights in rugby. Huw Jones (Scotland) Tim Nai Nai Williams (Samoa), Anton Lienert-Brown (New Zealand) and Robbie Henshaw (Ireland) are other skilled operators at centre.
12 Sonny Bill Williams (All Blacks)
SBW is a champion athlete who thrives on the big occasion. Probably the best offloader in the game, he uses instinct, strength and subtlety to create opportunities other players simply wouldn’t attempt. He palms off England’s Owen Farrell and the sporadically brilliant Wesley Fofana (France).
11 Nemani Nadolo (Fiji)
Some stiff competition for this position, but for sheer wow factor, the huge Fijian genius Nadolo must be selected. He was a superstar for the Crusaders Super Rugby team and a huge presence in the Fijian World Cup team. He is a goalkicker and has a exceptional offloading and chip-kicking game. He edges out the multi-talented Elliot Daly of England and the brilliant Simon Zebo and Keith Earls of Ireland.
10 Beauden Barrett (All Blacks)
One player made more All Blacks fans spill their beer in celebration than any other in 2016: Beauden Barrett. Electric pace, killer instincts, a radar-like short kicking game and a brilliant offloader – the place kicking is the only skill where the superlatives dry up. The 2016 IRB Player of the Year sails ahead of other contenders Johnny Sexton of Ireland and Aaron Cruden (New Zealand) who have strong skills but not the running threat Barrett possesses.
9 Baptiste Serin (France)
Any so-called ‘flair XV’ must have a dose of French joie de vivre and mad genius. Baptiste Serin is a throwback to the eccentric French talents of the 1980’s and his impetuous behind the back flick pass to set up a French try against the All Blacks last year was an example of what this ‘modern magician’ can do. He dummies past Aaron Smith and TJ Perenara (New Zealand), Martin Landajo (Argentina), Fijian flyer Nikola Matawalu, Rhys Webb (Wales), Will Genia (Australia) and Conor Murray (Ireland).
8 Sergio Parisse (Italy)
The 126 test Italian captain is a multi-skilled warrior who is probably singularly responsible for the Italians mounting any sort of international competitiveness in international rugby. A very complete, classy all-round game, especially his offloading. He nudges ahead of All Black captain Kieran Read, French captain Louis Picamoles, Japanese captain Michael Leitch and Argentinian sensation Facundo Isa.
7 Justin Tipuric (Wales)
A tough one to pick but Tipuric’s all-round passing and kicking skills in combination with his pace and footwork edge him just ahead of All Black dynamo Ardie Savea and Aussie workhorse Michael Hooper.
6 Jerome Kaino (New Zealand)
Not a position for flashy types, Kaino is an All Black legend and his linking and passing skills do not receive the recognition they deserve. He mauls the position from the grasp of Ireland’s CJ Stander and Wales’ Dan Lydiate.
5 Leone Nakarawa (Fiji)
Flair and Fiji are a natural combination and no one embodies this natural exuberance more than Leone Nakarawa. The 29 year old had the highest number of offloads and turnovers in the group stages of the 2015 World Cup out of all players. He outdoes Joe Launchbury and Maro Itoje (England).
4 Brodie Retallick (New Zealand)
At just 25, Retallick is already an All Black great and his intelligent brutality and skillful open play won him the 2014 IRB player of the year. At times he plays like a midfielder, with deft passes putting his team mates into gaps. Other times – well, let’s just say he does a good impression of a marauding cyborg.
3 Charlie Faumuina (New Zealand)
Charlie will be a big loss to the All Blacks when he takes up a European contract at the end of this season. Strong in all the core duties, he also has a step and excellent passing skills – all this at about 130kg. Francisco Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro (Argentina) is another talented prop who smashes a few stereotypes.
2 Dane Coles (New Zealand)
Many people consider Dane Coles to be unlucky to miss out on IRB Player of the Year for 2016. His superb offloading, giving try assists in the midfield, and running cutting lines a centre would be proud of – it almost feels strange judging him in his role as hooker when he is so much more. Inspirational Puma captain Agustin Creevy is another dynamic and classy rake.
1 Mako Vunipola (England)
It seems that Polynesian and Pacific Island talent rule in this ‘flair’ XV. Mako’s deft offloading skills rounds off the team. This team definitely won’t die in the tackle and won’t die wondering what could’ve been.
Country count: New Zealand 8, Fiji 2, France 1, England 1, Italy 1, Wales 1, Australia 1.
Kaal Kaczmarek, Pundit Arena