Factoring in the best performances from November (and England’s win over Australia in December) here is our all-star XV.
New Zealand, Ireland and England all impressed over the last few weeks, with Eddie Jones and his side ending the year without a loss and Ireland making big history with their win over All Blacks – who responded to that loss in Chicago by winning three games on the bounce.
Unsurprisingly those three teams feature heavily in our thoughts with players from elsewhere putting their hands up.
See who made the cut below.
Team of the November Tests
15 Ben Smith (New Zealand): Showed once again why he is so highly rated with several impressive displays at the back for the world champions. As usual, Smith always looked dangerous with ball in hand which helped his team to gain momentum from the back. Also impressed with his reading of the game and beats out Australia’s Israel Folau, Rob Kearney of Ireland, Scotland’s Stuart Hogg and Kotaro Matsushima of Japan.
14 Israel Dagg (New Zealand): All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen’s decision to move him to the wing, from his preferred full-back berth, has proved to be a great success as Dagg has come on in leaps and bounds in his new position. Dagg was a constant threat on attack and was eventually rewarded with two tries from three Tests. Comes in ahead of Dane Haylett-Petty of Australia and Canada’s DTH van der Merwe.
13 Jonathan Joseph (England): Despite playing off the replacements bench against South Africa, Joseph underlined his value to England’s cause with impressive displays in their triumphs over Fiji, Argentina and Australia. Joseph did well on attack and was rewarded with three tries for his efforts but also caught the eye with some solid defensive performances, especially against Argentina, and is preferred to Tevita Kuridrani of Australia and Scotland’s new sensation Huw Jones.
12 Wesley Fofana (France): Although France lost two of their three Tests, Fofana was sensational and one the main reasons why they remained competitive and pushed Australia and New Zealand. The Clermont stalwart shone as a playmaker in their clashes against Samoa, the Wallabies and All Blacks but also had an eye for the gap and scored a deserved try against Australia. Edges out Ireland’s Robbie Henshaw and Owen Farrell of England.
11 Simon Zebo (Ireland): One of his country’s star performers during their campaign, the Munsterman always posed a threat with ball in hand and also impressed on defence whether on the wing or slotting in at full-back as he did off the bench against Australia. Zebo constantly breached the advantage line with his attacking runs and linked well with his inside backs. Beats out the impressive Virimi Vakatawa of France.
10 Beauden Barrett (New Zealand): Barrett had a fantastic 2016 season which saw him crowned World Rugby’s Player of the Year. He has made the All Blacks number 10 jersey his own and capped off the season with a strong November tour. Barrett made 269 metres during the month of November, scored two tries, beat seven defenders, made 15 tackles and scored 34 points. George Ford also impressed.
9 Ben Youngs (England): Youngs was a key player for England during their November Tests and was a constant threat around the fringes where he kept defences on their toes, most notably with those dummies to Pieter-Steph du Toit and Nick Phipps which created key scores. His box-kicking has also been a real weapon. Conor Murray also had a productive month for Ireland, playing a pivotal role in Ireland’s first ever win over New Zealand in Chicago. Giorgio Bronzini too has been a real find for Italy.
8 Jamie Heaslip (Ireland): Heaslip was outstanding in November, with few other loose forwards matching his work-rate, leading from the front in every game. Now a veteran in Ireland’s back row, he has enjoyed a real resurgence over the last few weeks. Billy Vunipola continues to grow in stature under Eddie Jones’ coaching while Facundo Isa is slowly but surely becoming one of the best number eighths in the world.
7 David Pocock (Australia): Pocock will take a hiatus from rugby in 2017 and there is little doubt Australia will miss his dearly. During November, the versatile loose forward, a tackling machine, made an incredible 63 tackles in five Tests, averaging almost 13 a game. Recalled out of the wilderness by Eddie Jones due to injuries, Tom Wood made the most of his second chance with some strong performances for England. Josh van der Flier and Justin Tipuric also stood out.
6 CJ Stander (Ireland): Possibly Ireland’s standout player of 2016, Stander can now be considered one of the best flankers in the world. His work-rate is impressive and Stander has gone from a newcomer in Ireland’s back row to becoming a key leadership figure. Chris Robshaw enjoyed an excellent run of matches, which is remarkable a year on from when some thought he would never play for his country again, and he played a key role in helping England establish their dominance up front.
5 Courtney Lawes (England): With second-row injuries dominating England’s build-up ahead of the series, Lawes needed to hit the ground running with this chance, which he certainly did. While Jonny Gray got through a mountain of work for Scotland and George Kruis was a presence for England, we go for his team-mate as our number five after a physical month that he should be proud of.
4 Devin Toner (Ireland): To get in ahead of Brodie Retallick takes some doing but Toner deserves his spot. With Paul O’Connell retiring, Ireland needed a figurehead at lock and the Leinsterman provided it in November with some towering displays in green, especially in the wins over New Zealand and Australia. Alun Wyn Jones was outstanding against Argentina too.
3 Tadhg Furlong (Ireland): What a meteoric rise it has been for Furlong this year. He’s taken over from Mike Ross and the Irish have never looked back. So powerful in the contact area as we saw against the All Blacks and the rest this November, the tighthead gets the nod ahead of Dan Cole and Sekope Kepu who were both excellent for England and Australia respectively last month.
2 Dane Coles (New Zealand): Continues to set the bar that other hookers struggle to reach. His speed and skills are like a centre and he followed up impressive Super Rugby, June and Rugby Championship showings to edge Ireland’s Rory Best as our hooker.
1 Mako Vunipola (England): Really has moved up another gear as a player in the past year or so as he pushes hard alongside Jack McGrath for the starting British and Irish Lions jersey in New Zealand. Got through a ton of work in November with his ball skills and scrummaging also solid for England who, like loosehead Vunipola, has enjoyed an outstanding 12 months of international rugby.
Team of the Week: 15 Israel Folau (Australia), 14 Marland Yarde, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Owen Farrell (all England), 11 Sefa Naivalu, 10 Bernard Foley (both Australia), 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 Tom Wood (all England), 6 David Pocock (Australia), 5 George Kruis, 4 Courtney Lawes, 3 Dan Cole (all England), 2 Stephen Moore (Australia), 1 Mako Vunipola (England)