Mind Games: Players who made it happen

2013-12-15 10:50

As another rugby season reaches a hiatus, in the Southern Hemisphere at least, thoughts turn to those who stood out – the players who made it happen.

It’s a favourite pastime of fans to pick a World XV and the question must be: Is it even possible?

For instance, how do you compare the job Willem Alberts does for the Springboks to Liam Messam’s role for the All Blacks?

Morné Steyn, Aaron Cruden and Quade Cooper all play in the No?10 jersey for their respective countries, yet their styles of play are completely different – in fact they’re not built alike and don’t even look alike.

Yet they’re key to the success of their teams.

These were my arguments when I was buttonholed to pick a team to play Mars but as continued avoidance could have been construed as lacking the courage to lay down my opinions in black and white, I agreed to give it a go.

In an age when insightful comment is rapidly being reduced to 140 characters on Twitter, one of the key moments came on May 4.

That was when the Waratahs smashed the Southern Kings 72-10 in Port Elizabeth and Israel Folau, a player who had recently switched from rugby league, showed what the hype was all about.

By the end of the season the debate was whether Folau might be the best-ever convert from the 13-man code.

His exceptional skills set makes him my No?15 in the World XV.

The right-wing goes to the most prolific try-scorer of the season, New Zealand’s Ben Smith.

There really is no argument about left-wing Bryan Habana; the Springbok having now moved his try-scoring record to 53 and his caps to 95.

Centre is harder. Different players were tried by different countries in the outside channel but to me the most consistent was Wales’ Jonathan Davies with Springbok skipper Jean de Villiers in at No?12 as a reward for exceptionally steady and influential performances.

10? With Dan Carter fighting chronic injuries it has to be the diminutive All Black Aaron Cruden who, if the truth be told, might by now even be New Zealand’s first choice.

And having settled on fly half, scrum half is easy – Fourie du Preez.

I was one of those who questioned Heyneke Meyer bringing Du Preez back from Japan but was well and truly silenced.

Loose forward depends on the style a team would prefer to play but one man stands out as No?8, Kieran Read – but who to team up with the IRB’s Player of the Year with so many fine flankers in all the teams?

McCaw and Messam? Louw and Alberts?

Sir Richie’s captaincy and around the field capabilities give him the edge and as blindside South Africa’s “Bonecrusher,” a player who puts fear into the opposition.

Eben Etzebeth has the No?4 jersey locked down with Brodie Retallick as his partner.

The big battleship, Bismarck du Plessis, is an automatic choice at hooker but the props to shore up the scrum is a little more complicated.

Tight head is a problem for coaches all over the world but for me Coenie Oosthuizen has the makings of a prop who can dominate for years to come.

He has the size and strength, is slowly coming to terms with the scrummaging demands and is clearly ahead of the rest with his ability to carry the ball and make an impact.

On the loose head side Tendai Mtawarira has been short of his best, time is catching up with Tony Woodcock but the Kiwis still prefer him to Ben Franks?… so perhaps turn to the land of the “bajada” scrum and nominate Marcos Ayerza of Argentina.

And this is how it pans out:

15 Israel Folau (Australia), 14 Ben Smith (NZ), 13 Jonathan Davies (Wales), 12 Jean de Villiers (SA, vice-capt), 11 Bryan Habana (SA), 10 Aaron Cruden (NZ), 9 Fourie du Preez (SA), 8 Kieran Read (NZ), 7 Richie McCaw (NZ, captain), 6 Willem Alberts (SA), 5 Brodie Retallick (NZ), 4 Eben Etzebeth (SA), 3 Coenie Oosthuizen (SA), 2 Bismarck du Plessis (SA), 1 Marcos Ayerza (Argentina).

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