Last week we brought you our Northern Hemisphere selection, which stirred its fair share of debate. Here is our Southern Hemisphere selection. Enjoy the read, while we dive for cover in the impending debate.
15 – Israel Folou
The Australian saw off stiff competition from his Kiwi namesake, Israel Dagg, for the full-back position. While Australian rugby may be at arguably its lowest point of the professional era, and there is a real worry that they may not get out of their World Cup pool, Folou is a class act.
The former Rugby League star has an all-round footballing game, and is the standout threat of the Australian back-line. With just 29 caps to his name, Folou has recorded an impressive 17 tries. Power and pace is a lethal combination, and the 26-year-old has both in abundance.
14 – Willie Le Roux
Although he is playing international rugby at full-back at present, Le Roux is a potent winger. He is slowly becoming one of the most feared attackers in the southern hemisphere at present, and it is not difficult to see why.
Seven tries in his 25 caps is a number which will sky-rocket during the World Cup, and the 25-year-old is one of South Africa’s hottest properties.
13 – Ben Smith
Ok, we might be cheating in leaving Smith at outside centre, but it would be an injustice to leave the Kiwi out. Predominantly a fullback or wing, it is not alien for the 28-year-old to appear in the midfield.
Although he did not feature in the 2011 World Cup triumph, it would appear that Smith is very much in coach Steve Hansen’s plans for the Autumn.
12 – Kurtley Beale
Beale’s versitality, paired with Australia’s recent issues at out-half means that he has not consistently featured at first centre, while he can also appear at full-back and wing.
We have made space for him in the 12 channel here, as he has shown time and time again for his country what he is capable of. Controversies aside, Beale is a class act, and would be an asset in the midfield on any side.
11 – Julian Savea
Savea is the latest in a long line of great Kiwi wingers, and looks set to be around for a long time to come. The winger scores tries, and lots of them.
Just ask England fans; the 24-year-old has registered eight tries in just five tests against the Red Rose. Recognised as world rugby’s best winger at present, this was a non-decision.
10 – Aaron Cruden
This was a tight call. On form, Cruden is the Southern Hemisphere’s top out-half, considering Dan Carter’s fitness issues. Carter returned in the November series, but struggled for form. He may be back to his best for the World Cup, but on present form, the all-time test points record scorer is not in the picture.
South Africa’s Handré Pollard put himself in contention having scored 22 points against New Zealand to help bring the All-Blacks’ 22-match unbeaten run to an end.
He was, however, humbled by Jonny Sexton on their trip to Dublin in November, proving the young Springbok has a long way to go. Meanwhile, Cruden is the ideal candidate, and has expertly steered New Zealand in Carter’s absence of late.
9 – Ruan Pienaar
Aaron Smith, Nick Phipps, and Will Genia all come in for consideration, but it is the Irish-based South African who gets the nod at nine. The Ulster scrum-half can stand in at ten, and is a real play-maker.
Throughout last year’s Rugby Championship, Pienaar acted as a father figure to Handré Pollard, on the 21-year-old’s debut season with the Springboks. Pienaar brings a blend of experience and skill, and his kicking game would offer any side a real edge.
1 – Tendai Mtawarira
This was one of the tightest call of the side, but The Beast just gets there ahead of Wyatt Crockett, and Marcos Ayerza.
With ball in hand, he is destructive, and is an effective scrummager to boot. He can cause damage around the park, and is well versed to plying his trade on the other side of the scrum to Jannie du Plessis.
2 – Bismarck du Plessis
Du Plessis joins his brother in the front row. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it, and Bismarck is probably the form hooker of world rugby at present.
Between scrummaging, throwing, and general play, he is an all-round hooker. Agustín Creevy of Argentina had an impressive campaign last year with Argentina, while indeed Du Plessis’ countryman Adriaan Strauss pushes him hard.
3 – Jannie du Plessis
South Africa have arguably the best scrum in rugby at present, so there would be little logic in omitting their first choice tight-head prop in this side.
Du Plessis is at the heart of the Springbok scrum, and is revered around the world as one of the best in the business. Owen Franks could feel hard done by, but his South African counterpart gets the nod here.
4 – Brodie Retallick
Reigning World Rugby Player of the Year and 35 international caps; you could be forgiven for not believing Retallick is just 23.
The lock is set to be around for a long time to come yet, and has been outstanding throughout his professional career to date. While many of the world’s leading second-rows are on the wrong side of 30, Retallick is going to be around for a long time to come.
5 – Eben Etzebeth
It would be hard to select any player at lock other than the Etzebeth following an impressive 2014. The experience of his fellow Springboks Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield make a case for selection, but Etzebeth is at the right end of his career, and like Retallick, looks set to get better.
6 – Jerome Kaino
The All-Blacks back-row are supreme, and when the trio of Read, McCaw, and Kaino get together, there are few who can live with the side, as witnessed in the 2011 World Cup. This still rings true, and when Kaino is fully fit, he is up there with the world’s best blind-side flankers.
7 – Richie McCaw
At 34, he may be in the Autumn of his career, but Richie McCaw is as important as ever for the All-Blacks. The New Zealand captain is king of the breakdown, and whatever people may say about favourable treatment from referees, an unprecedented three IRB Player of the Year awards speak for themselves.
David Pocock has showed promising signs, returning from serious injury, but he has not done enough to be considered, although Michael Hooper has made the Wallabies number 7 shirt his own.
Toulon’s Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe has shown time and time again that he is a class act, but is not held in the same esteem as the Kiwi captain.
8 – Kieran Read
First selected in 2008, Reid replaced Rodney So’oialo as the All-Blacks regular number 8 the following year.
Formerly recognised as a blindside flanker, the Crusaders back-row has grown into perhaps the finest 8 in World Rugby. In 2013, he received IRB Player of the Year, the first number 8 to be awarded the accolade. This selection is a non-contest.
Brian Barry, Pundit Arena.