Two Cents Rugby: Team of the Northern Hemisphere named as Ireland edge France for representation while Wales centre a surprise inclusion

Two Cents Rugby
Northern Hemisphere Team of the Year

With the 2022 Test season concluded, Two Cents Rugby has gone through the performances and statistics to pick the top performers from the Northern Hemisphere.

*Note: We’re looking at Tier One players only as they have more comprehensive stats. Also, we’ve filtered out players who played fewer than five Tests in 2022. Japan’s players, despite being from the Northern Hemisphere, will be in consideration for the Southern Hemisphere equivalent to help balance the North v South numbers.

Two Cents Rugby’s Northern Hemisphere Team of the Year

15 Ange Capuozzo (Italy): Capuozzo has had a phenomenal rise over the last 12 months and finished the year with the Breakthrough Player of the Year award. He may not get as much ball playing for Italy as some of the other full-backs around, but he certainly takes the chances he’s given. Capuozzo was second only to Stuart Hogg for average run metres, but did so from fewer carries. He is dangerous on attack with his five tries being the most for any northern hemisphere full-back. The icing on the cake is perhaps the one try assist which set up Italy’s win against Wales, breaking their winless run in the Six Nations.

14 Darcy Graham (Scotland): One of the smallest guys on the pitch, but he’s been breaking tackles like crazy all year. When you think of breaking tackles, you might think of Graham’s Scotland teammate, Duhan van der Merwe, who managed 36 breaks. But in 2022, it’s Graham who leads the way with 43. Graham’s average of more than a clean break a game means he also averages more metres per game than any right wing. When you include his six tries across the season as well, it’s fair to say he’s made himself a real handful for opposition defenders.

13 Gaël Fickou (France): The master of being in the right place at the right team, Fickou reads the game incredibly well. Defensively solid as a rock. 89% for his tackle rate and winning five turnovers, he’s a key part of the stingy French defence. He doesn’t get the same amount of ball as some other outside centres, but his value is what he does with opportunities given. More metres per carry than almost all the northern centres and caps off a great year with a couple of tries as well. Hard to believe he’s still only 28 years-old.

12 Nick Tompkins (Wales): To be perfectly honest this one came as a surprise to me. Tompkins has always been a good player, but this year he’s been called upon to do a bit more than normal. The most tackles per game of any inside centre, perhaps speaks a bit of Wales playing on the defensive a bit. However, on the flipside he also passes a lot for a man in his position. Only Saracens teammate Owen Farrell has been distributing more from inside centre at Test level. He even finished the year breaking more tackles than Ireland’s Bundee Aki. Wales definitely look a better side when he’s starting.

Regular on the wing when fit

11 James Lowe (Ireland): Missed the later part of the year through injury, but until that point was a regular on the left wing in Ireland‘s line-up. Lowe unquestionably has one big boot. No winger is called up to put boot to ball as much Lowe, and most of the games he plays Ireland do well territorially. He also made more runs and metres per game than any wing in 2022. When you add three tries in six games and four more assists, you can see why he has been Ireland’s first choice when fit. Question marks on his defence are not without merit – a tackling rate of 69% is certainly below average – but perhaps not as drastically bad as sometimes made out.

10 Johnny Sexton (Ireland): Another nomination for World Player of the Year for Sexton on the back of a history making year. It’s fair to say Ireland looked a better side when Sexton is driving things. He saw a lot of ball, which is to be expected with Ireland’s relentless style of play. 23 passes per game is among the highest for fly-halves, slightly below Dan Biggar and Finn Russell. Where Sexton is still able to excel more than Biggar and Russell though is in his carries. Despite the 37-years on the clock, he’s still able to get through more metres with every carry than most fly-halves. Add to that his love of a good tackle, more than seven per game at 92% completion and you’ve got a guy who isn’t looking like falling of the pace just yet.

9 Antoine Dupont (France): Probably one of the easiest picks with any rugby awards right now is picking Dupont. At times it felt like he just cruised to another World Player of the Year nomination. I think part of him seeming to cruise is the fact we’re just used to seeing him do the incredible. He has 32 run metres per game, the next best scrum-half averaged 18 metres, so it’s not even close. Nine tackles per game at 93%, again the next closest player is a couple tackles behind and at a lower rate. That’s combined with the fact he does his core distribution and directs his pack around as any top scrum-half should means he truly is something special.

8 Gregory Alldritt (France): A coach’s dream Alldritt as he just keeps looking for work. 13 carries per game makes him the top dog for all players in 2022. With all those carries it’s perhaps not surprising he tops the run metres for loose forwards with just under 50 per game, which is insanely high. He breaks tackles more than any other northern hemisphere number eight and it’s not just the offensive part of his game which impresses. 12 turnovers won matches that of Caelan Doris’ effort and he’s another one who gets into double digits with tackles made per game.

7 Josh van der Flier (Ireland): It’d be hard to not pick World Player of the Year Van der Flier, but it’s worth checking his numbers to see how he stacks up with the other players in the seven jersey. He’s a tackling machine, that much is clear. By my count, just over 10% of all Ireland’s tackles made this year were made by Van der Flier. However, Van der Flier isn’t just about tackles, he’s been backing it up with some great offensive play. He’s scored four tries this year while averaging more than 22 metres per game. For context guys like Tom Curry and Hamish Watson average 10 and 16 metres respectively.

6 Caelan Doris (Ireland): Doris has floated between the blindside and number eight for Ireland this year, but whatever number he has on his back, his impact is obvious to see. For loose forwards he’s not only proven himself very capable at the breakdown, with 12 turnovers won, but also in the air where he has won 10 lineouts. Just over 13 tackles a game is also a massive plus for the 24-year-old, which looks even better considering his completion rate is 96%.

5 Tadhg Beirne (Ireland): He may not be quite as physically large as teammate James Ryan, but Beirne’s impact on the pitch this year has been nothing short of world class. For locks, he has the most run metres, passes, clean breaks and even kicks from hand. For turnovers won he is clearly the leading player in the world with 15, the next best all have 12. Add to that his tackles, aerial work and even a try assist, Beirne is an easy pick for one of the best players in 2022.

Mobile second-row combination

4 Maro Itoje (England): It’s easy enough to discount England’s players with their most recent result against South Africa still fresh in our minds. But looking at Itoje‘s numbers for 2022, his class still shines through. One of the premier lineout operators in world rugby, Itoje is second only to Adam Beard for lineout takes this year. He also continued his knack of pilfering opposition ball. No longer an area dominated by openside flankers, it’s lock/loose forward hybrids who seem to be leading the way. Itoje is second only to Ireland’s Beirne for turnovers won, and just ahead of teammate Courtney Lawes.

3 Tadhg Furlong (Ireland): Furlong has been world class for so many years it’s genuinely baffling he has never had even a nomination for World Player of the Year. In 2022 he kept his world class standards and even played more game time than the year before. Furlong can scrummage, that part of his core role he does exceedingly well. But apart from that core role, he loves getting his hands on the ball. The most passes of any tighthead in 2022 and the top tighthead from the north for breaking tackles. Defensively he makes the most tackles in his position with nine per game, and even won a couple of turnovers. Absolutely one of Ireland’s most important players.

2 Julien Marchand (France): Marchand is another key man in that French front-row, alongside club teammate Cyrill Baille. Some hookers may be great scrummagers or great around the park, but have an unreliable lineout throw. Others may be defensively solid but lack any punch on attack. Marchand can seemingly do it all. He won more turnovers than any other northern hemisphere hooker on defence, while going forward makes more carries per game than any other hooker this year. He popped up with a try and an assist and more importantly, the French lineout operated at 92% this year. Marchand is genuinely hard to find a weak spot with.

1 Cyrill Baille (France): France’s premier loosehead prop and one of the best scrummagers in the game. It takes a pretty special player to play a full international season and only concede two penalties. Most of the looseheads who played regularly this year are close or well into double figures on that count. Baille also has a great skillset around the park. His eight offloads are double his nearest rival. Combine that with the highest metres per carry rate of the northern hemisphere looseheads and a tackle count of 53 made and only two tackles missed, you’ve clearly got something special.

Replacements:

16 Dan Sheehan (Ireland): Perhaps the most dynamic ball carrying hooker in 2022, he ran Marchand close for the number two jersey.

17 Andrew Porter (Ireland): Great scrummaging work since his move to loosehead. Fantastic at the breakdown.

18 Kyle Sinckler (England): The fly-half trapped in a prop’s body, he has a fantastic passing game for a big man but can scrum with the best of them.

19 Niccolò Cannone (Italy): Maybe a bit leftfield but had a great year. A tackling machine, great in the air too.

20 Taulupe Faletau (Wales): One of Wales’ bright spots in a poor year. Great go-forward ball and gets through his tackles.

21 Jamison Gibson-Park (Ireland): Key part of Ireland’s relentless passing game, finished the season with five try assists.

22 Finn Russell (Scotland): Somehow still vying for the starting job in Scotland colours, the man can pass a ball like nobody else. Managed a crazy four try assists in one game against Argentina.

23 Damian Penaud (France): Perhaps the unluckiest not to start. Finished the year with eight tries and arguably a better defender than any of the outside backs chosen ahead of him.

READ MORE: State of the Nation: Scotland’s inconsistencies resurface but Finn Russell’s return proves fly-half jersey is his to lose