Planet Rugby’s Alternative Dream Team of the Year after World Rugby’s farce

Jared Wright
Rugby World Cup stars Ardie Savea and Pieter-Steph du Toit with an image of the World Rugby Dream Team.

Rugby World Cup stars Ardie Savea and Pieter-Steph du Toit with an image of the World Rugby Dream Team.

The 2023 World Rugby Awards evening saw the Dream Team of the Year announced, which has been widely criticised.

Rugby World Cup champions South Africa had just one representative in the side in lock Eben Etzebeth, with fellow finalists New Zealand claiming four spots in the line-up.

It is worth remembering that the Dream Team is based on the entire 2023 and not just the Rugby World Cup. This explains why Six Nations Grand Slam winners Ireland boast five players along with France.

In response to World Rugby’s Dream Team, Planet Rugby writers have selected their own team, making several changes to rugby’s governing body’s selections.

Planet Rugby’s Dream Team

15 Thomas Ramos (France): One we feel the selection panel got spot on. The French full-back was outstanding during the Six Nations and carried that form throughout much of the Rugby World Cup. Hugo Keenan came in a close second.

14 Damian Penaud (France): While Cheslin Kolbe was excellent for the Springboks in the play-off matches of the World Cup, overall, Penaud was better and scored an impressive 14 tries this year.

Some change

13 Jesse Kriel (South Africa): Our first change to World Rugby’s team as we switch Ireland’s Garry Ringrose with South Africa’s Kriel. The Springbok back had an incredible year, particularly after the injury to star centre Lukhanyo Am. His defence was heroic throughout the World Cup and he produced his best outings in the crucial play-off matches, which edges him ahead of the Ireland star.

12 Bundee Aki (Ireland): Three clear standouts for the number 12 jumper, but Aki was the right choice from World Rugby’s panel. Jordie Barrett had an unbelievable year for the All Blacks, as did Damian de Allende for the Springboks, but Aki was one of the best players at the Rugby World Cup despite Ireland’s early exit. He was also stellar throughout the Six Nations.

11 Will Jordan (New Zealand): A word for World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year Mark Tele’a, who also could have claimed a spot on the wing, but Jordan was again the clear front-runner. He continues to post a ridiculous strike rate in international rugby and equalled the World Cup record of eight tries in a single tournament. World Rugby selected two right wingers in their XV, but one cannot argue with their picks.

Same half-backs

10 Richie Mo’unga (New Zealand): Strong argument here for Johnny Sexton after he guided Ireland to yet another Six Nations Grand Slam but was unable to do so in the World Cup. Conversely, Handre Pollard kicked the Springboks to their fourth Rugby World Cup title, but injuries limited him to just four appearances in the year. Meanwhile, Mo’unga was a driving force for the All Blacks throughout the Rugby Championship and lit up the World Cup, crucially setting up a try against Ireland in the quarter-finals.

9 Antoine Dupont (France): Again, World Rugby got this one right. The French captain was superb in the Six Nations and continued that form in the World Cup despite his injury. Aaron Smith was sublime this year as he bowed out of Test rugby and was incredibly close to beating Dupont to a place.

Two changes to the loose trio

8 Ardie Savea (New Zealand): The World Rugby Player of the Year and thoroughly deserved. It was always always going to be a coin flip between him and Etzebeth. Comfortably the best number eight this year.

7 Levani Botia (Fiji): World Rugby’s panel effectively selected two blindside flankers in Charles Ollivon and Caelan Doris, the latter actually played more at number eight for Ireland than on the side of the scrum. However, the best openside flanker of the year for us was Fiji’s brilliant Botia. After a stellar season with La Rochelle, he was a standout for his country at the World Cup as they reached the quarter-final of the competition. We also have to mention Uruguay’s outstanding Manuel Ardao.

6 Pieter-Steph du Toit (South Africa): The tireless workhorse produced one of the greatest performances in World Cup history in the final against New Zealand and that weighed heavily in his favour as he edged past France’s star forward Ollivon. The Bok back-rower was superb throughout the Rugby Championship as well as he looked to be back at his best after a torrid run of injuries after 2019. A notable mention for Portugal’s Nicolas Martins, who quite frankly should have been nominated for the Breakthrough Player of the Year.

Agreement with the locks

5 Scott Barrett (New Zealand): Again, World Rugby did get several of their selections right, and Barrett is one of them. In 2023, he played to his promising potential and broke up the Brodie Retallick-Sam Whitelock combination. South Africa’s Franco Mostert continues to fly under the radar, but he is our runner-up, while Ireland locks James Ryan and Tadhg Beirne weren’t too far off.

4 Eben Etzebeth (South Africa): Unlucky not to pick up the World Rugby Player of the Year award after another remarkable season. It’s not uncommon for players’ performances to dip once they hit 100 Test matches, but Etzebeth has not as he continues to improve. The veteran was pivotal to South Africa’s Rugby World Cup success.

Changes in the front-row

3 Frans Malherbe (South Africa): With all due to respect to the Ireland tighthead, Tadhg Furlong’s inclusion in World Rugby’s Dream Team was the most puzzling of the lot. It was not a vintage year at all for the veteran prop and he was not better than Springbok tighthead Malherbe or, New Zealand’s Tyrel Lomax, and even France’s Uini Atonio. Much of South Africa’s success this year was down to the work up front and in the scrums, where Malherbe has always shone and did so again in 2023.

2 Dan Sheehan (Ireland): Malcolm Marx was a strong contender before his World Cup-ending injury, while his teammate Bongi Mbonambi also had another strong year. Peato Mauvaka was superb for France, as was Jamie George for England and Dave Porecki in a poor Wallabies side. But Sheehan was consistently one of Ireland’s best and performed to an incredibly high standard throughout the Six Nations and in his World Cup appearances.

1 Ox Nche (South Africa): As alluded to above, World Cup performances should have weighed heavily in the final calls, and for us it did. While Cyril Baille was good for France, Nche was a match-winner in the quarter and semi-finals for South Africa. He was also a standout as South Africa demolished New Zealand at Twickenham, and with Steven Kitshoff not at his dominant best, Nche powered the Boks forward and ultimately to World Cup glory.

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