Who were the greatest players to grace the turf since the dawn of the professional era in 1995? We reckon it was this lot…
We got into an argument here at PR about this a while ago. Not much came of it, as there were things like Lions tours to concentrate on.
But with the Tri-Nations done and dusted and the November Tests and Heineken Cup still some time away, we figured we'd throw this debate open to the public: What has been the greatest international XV since 1995, the year when it was not only the grass that was tainted with green in the world of rugby.
A great XV from the past ten years. Think of the choices! Do you pick Carter or Wilkinson? Hayman or De Villiers? Gregan or Van der Westhuizen?
We are willing to bet that not a single one of you will agree with us on the results of those – and other – choices in the side, but here it is – think back to some of these players and enjoy!
15 Christian Cullen (New Zealand) – Nobody has yet mastered the art of surreptitiously slipping into an attacking line and then tearing out of it for a score like the former Hurricane and Munsterman. Unbelievable pace was hidden in this long and languid stride that left you gaping every time.
14 Doug Howlett (New Zealand) – The record Super 14 try-scorer, New Zealand's record try-scorer… that's the kind of guy you want on the wing
13 Brian O'Driscoll (Ireland) – Europe's rugby statesman finally added the Heineken Cup and a Grand Slam to an already-impressive list of achievements last season. Good enough to re-invent his game after age sapped his pace, he has become one of the all-round greatest ever.
12 Tana Umaga (New Zealand) – Ironic, considering his partner is the man who accused Umaga of crocking him out of a Lions series with a spear tackle. But it's the same Umaga who rushed to Colin Charvis' aid when the latter had been knocked out on New Zealand turf, and who once famously responded to a refereeing call of heavy no-arm tackling: “we're not playing tiddlywinks here mate!”
11 Rupeni Caucaunibuca (Fiji) – How can you leave out Jonah and Bryan Habana, never mind Shane Williams or even Christophe Dominici!? But the Fijian with the flawed temperament did things on a rugby field that nobody else will probably ever do. Just put his name into You Tube and watch.
10 Dan Carter (New Zealand) – a three-way tie between Carter, Wilkinson and Stephen Larkham if we were honest. But the team needed a goal-kicker as well as a playmaker, so Carter's total points were just higher than the other two. The greatest ever?
9 Gus Pichot (Argentina) – Again, how do you leave out Gregan, who has the most Test caps of any player, or the scintillating Joost? But Pichot brought qualities to scrum-half play, so often in adversity and so often with the extra responsibility of leadership through the adversity, that neither of the others had. We always wonder what his talents would have done for a team like New Zealand, but his rugby is so responsible for Argentina's accession to senior Test status that we'd not have it any other way.
8 Lawrence Dallaglio (England) – Another close-run thing, with Sergio Parisse snapping at Dallaglio's heels, but the Italian's blotted disciplinary copybook – we know Lol is no angel, but he never gouged – saw him relegated to second. And let's face it, would you not like to go into battle with Dallaglio on your side?
7 (openside) Richie McCaw (New Zealand) – Undoubtedly the greatest exponent of openside play there has been. George Smith deserves a mention, and maybe Heinrich Brussow will eclipse McCaw in a few years, but until then the All Black captain is in a class of his own.
6 Richard Hill (England) – The most unsung of all English rugby heroes, but he'd have it no other way. If you didn't see him much, it was he was forever at the bottom of the ruck, putting limb and digit where others feared to put but many trod…
5 Martin Johnson (England) – The biggest, darkest and most brooding of the driving forces behind England's World Cup win. We reckon the moment when he hoisted Bill was the first time he had smiled on a rugby pitch! Now bringing that menace to England's national team, Johnno takes the captain's armband in this team as well.
4 John Eales (Australia) – This one will have Saffers everywhere raging; how can we leave out Victor and Bakkies? Because Johnno's meaner than Bakkies, and because Victor was not nicknamed 'Nobody' as Eales was (because Nobody's perfect), despite his obvious talents. We felt Eales offered perhaps just a little more grunt. We're now running for cover…
3 Carl Hayman (New Zealand) – This one was much easier. Hayman has been peerless at tighthead for some time now – New Zealand still miss him.
2 John Smit (South Africa) – Has now won every honour going in the game except for the Super 14. We know he plays tighthead now, but for a solid anchor in the scrum, an extra dose of leadership and some pinpoint line-out throwing, Smit's the man – just edging out Rafa IbaÃ±ez.
1 Rodrigo Roncero (Argentina) – The Argentine beefcake was so close to being our player of the 2007 Rugby World Cup after a series of stellar performances. Discipline remains an issue, but you'd be hard-pushed to find a number one in the world who has contributed so much so regularly to his team's loose play.