With all the talk around professional rugby seemingly focused on the transfer market and with hundreds of players moving between clubs, countries and hemispheres it seemed a pertinent time to pay homage to those who aren’t so nomadic, who are devoted to the team that developed them and the town, city or region they call home.
To qualify for this team, the players had to meet the following criteria:
- They must have played for their club/province/region for at least four years. This is to prevent the team being filled with up-and-coming players who could well sign for other teams;
- They must be established internationals;
- Players must have only represented one club, province or region. Super Rugby franchises and Pro 12 regions superseded provincial clubs (e.g. Ospreys are counted above Swansea). Only professional clubs and teams were counted; amateur sides were excluded.
Without further ado, here is the team.
1) Tendai ‘The Beast’ Mtawarira
An awful number of Springboks find it hard to fight the financial allure of Japanese Top Rugby, but ‘The Beast’ has stayed loyal to the Sharks, the team he has represented his entire rugby career. Although originally from Zimbabwe, Tendai is the embodiment of the Sharks’ spirit and strength and when he eventually retires he will be remembered as one of the greats of South African professional rugby.
2) Dane Coles
A World Cup winner, Coles has already amassed 36 caps and has spent his entire career playing for Wellington and the Hurricanes. His silky handling skills were a highlight of the 2015 World Cup and at 29 years old he still has a few years to add more caps and trophies to his collection.
3) Dan Cole
No relation to the hooker in this team, Cole is arguably the first name on the teamsheet for Leicester and has been playing there since 2007. He quickly made his England debut are impressing in his first full season for the Tigers and has since gone on to amass 61 England caps and three for the Lions.
Despite increasing pressure from rivals like Kieran Brookes and Paul Hill, Cole started every match for England in their recent Grand Slam-winning campaign.
4) Alun Wyn Jones
Despite much confusion in the non-Welsh media about the spelling of his full name and clarification over his actual surname, Jones is a talisman of rugby in Wales and a ferocious warrior for the Ospreys.
Even though he has received a plethora of offers to join English and French clubs, Jones has been dedicated to his region and he represents everything that is good about the game. You will find few rugby fans across the world that have anything negative to say about this giant of the game.
5) Sam Whitelock
At just 27, Whitelock has already won two World Cups and earned himself 73 All Blacks caps. Throughout this entire time he has only ever represented Canterbury and the Crusaders, amassing 88 Super Rugby caps in the process.
Kiwi players that head abroad because of the financial appeal of the Euro, the Pound or the Yen seem to be getting younger and younger, but Whitelock has turned them all down, opting to stay true to the only team he has ever known.
6) Seán O’Brien
A powerful blindside flanker that has also excelled at openside for the national team, O’Brien has made himself into a household name across the rugby world, achieving 42 Ireland caps and two for the victorious British and Irish Lions team of 2013.
At Leinster – where he has been since 2008 – the ‘Tullow Tank’ is a Heineken Cup winner and integral to the province’s success.
7) Justin Tipuric
Even though he has spent much of his career in Sam Warburton’s shadow, Tipuric has still accumulated 42 Wales caps and a solitary cap for the Lions. Many fans believe he should be given more opportunities to start for the national side, but it highlights the strength in depth Wales have in the back row that they can afford to leave him on the bench for many internationals.
In his entire career Tipuric has played for Aberavon and the Ospreys, and even though clubs across the European continent would love him to sign on the dotted line, he has stayed true to his region.
8) Kieran Read
At 30 years old Read has established himself as arguably the world’s greatest number eight actively playing. With 121 Super Rugby appearances for his beloved Crusaders and 84 for the All Blacks, Read has already won two World Cups and was named as the new All Blacks captain to replace now-retired legend Richie McCaw.
These are somewhat colossal shoes to fill, but if there is anyone out there capable of doing it it is Read.
9) Ben Youngs
Despite there being a lot of quality options at scrum half in the world of rugby, very few have stayed at one club. Youngs, however, has been devoted to the club that developed him at its academy.
One of Leicester’s most talented players, Youngs is a Premiership winner, Grand Slam champion and has beaten every team in the world except South Africa. His actions led to the match-winning try against France in the Six Nations finale and his sniping runs and quick-thinking have won him many fans across the globe.
10) Beauden Barrett
Still relatively young, Barrett has found his chances for the All Blacks limited due to New Zealand having impressive depth at fly-half, with both Dan Carter and Aaron Cruden competing for the coveted number 10 jersey.
Yet this has not stopped Barrett from representing his Super Rugby team on 70 occasions. With Carter having announced his retirement from international rugby and once again upping-sticks to gold-laden France, Barrett now has a glorious opportunity to cement himself as the All Blacks’ first choice fly-half for the foreseeable future.
11) Julian Savea
A ferocious and furious force, Savea has taken the world by storm since he made his debut. Although he is very much in demand from clubs across the world, who would be willing to pay top dollar for him, Savea has stayed true to the Hurricanes.
His power and strength is the envy of nations across the world and he was inevitably involved in everything good about New Zealand’s World Cup in 2015.
12) Manu Tuilagi
It seems inside centres are very much in demand, with the likes of Ma’a Nonu, Matt Toomua, Jamie Roberts and more having spent time overseas. Yet having recently converted to inside centre for both club and country, Tuilagi is making waves for Leicester in the position and his world-class abilities have helped the team move easily into the Champions Cup semi-finals with a destructive swatting-aside of Stade Francais.
Still only 24, Tuilagi has spent his entire professional career at Leicester and recently negotiated a new contract, ignoring titanic offers from Worcester and a whole host of French clubs.
13) Tevita Kuridrani
There are many qualities outside centres such as Conrad Smith, Wesley Fofana, Jonathan Davies, but all have played elsewhere in their careers. Yet Kuridrani has only played for the Reds and has made a dramatic impact for the Wallabies since making his debut back in 2013.
He was an important cog in Australia’s march to the World Cup final in 2015 and will be pivotal as they face England in a three-test series later in the summer.
14) Maxime Medard
Very few French players have stayed loyal to one club, with more and more high profile names switching allegiances with surprising regularity. Yet Medard is a dedicated Toulouse player and even with their recent league and European Cup woes he has stayed on to help bring the former Heineken Cup winners back to their old glory.
A wonderfully talented individual, he has often struggled to express himself in a Les Bleus team stifled by a lack of freedom. However, the people of Toulouse genuinely treasure him.
15) Stuart Hogg
After lighting up the latter stages of the Six Nations, Stuart Hogg has once again found the kind of form that propelled him into the Lions squad for the 2013 tour of Australia. If he is able to maintain his current rich vein of form, which includes electrifying pace and creativity, then he is favourite to start for the invitational side on their tour of New Zealand in 2017.
Hogg is one of the leading lights of an improving Scotland side and an advert for the improving quality of Glasgow Warriors, with whom he has spent his entire career.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena
Heineken Rugby Club celebrates and rewards real supporters who make the game what it is.