1. Steve McDowell
2. Phil Kearns
3. Olo Brown
4. Victor Matfield
5. John Eales
6. Willie Ofahengaue
7. Thierry Dusatoir
8. Wayne Shelford (c)
9. Fourie Du Preez
10. Jonny Wilkinson
11. Va'iga Tuigamala
12. Jamie Roberts
13. Sonny Bill Williams
14. David Campese
15. Francois SteynThe write up
First of a big thanks to Sarge, because this sparked some thought about the game of the kind I don't think I've ever stopped and done before - thinking about the kind of players and qualities you like in a side, and how you'd have liked them to play the game.
I grew up watching a Scotland side that played scrummaging beasts on both sides of the front row simply in order to get two more back row forwards into the second row, so they could play more of a dynamic game. That part always worked well in successive sides and was let down by a lack of size and penetration in the running from the backs - Scotland always had good half backs and I was always frustrated at us not being able to capitalise on that platform properly, even in the years we won Grand Slams and Triple Crowns.
So my side kind of works along those lines, albeit even the two props are mobile and skilful like back row forwards. So - to it.
The idea is a side that will apply relentless pressure, both with and without the ball. Save for Campo, they're all BIG, and it's fair to say that all 15 tended never to be on the back foot in their careers, so we'll look to take the game to the opposing side, but we've got the raw power and hitting to cope if we're ever under pressure ourselves.
In the back row, the half backs, and both centres, we've got big hitters who are gonna force turnover ball and penalties on a regular basis.
Then we have Jonny Wilkinson who will slot pretty much everything on offer in that respect, and enjoy any pocket of space he gets behind a dominant pack.
Behind him at full back we have Francois Steyn. Even the most run-of-the-bill tactical kick looking for field position leaves a side vulnerable to a drop goal when he's fielding it, even from beyond half way.
So opposing sides might be tempted to kick for touch instead; but we have enormous lifters, and two of the best lineout specialists the game's ever seen in Eales and Matfield. And of course Kearns, whose throwing and understanding with Eales in particular was laser-guided and/or telepathic.
In the scrum, we have about as good a solid technical scrummaging platform in the front 3 as you can get, (without compromising power, stamina and footballing skill in the loose), two enormous giants in the engine room, and three of the most powerful back row beasts in the history of the game, who all have the power and intelligence to attack off the back of the scrum, even when turned or on the back foot. Clever players who make good decisions. Loose head - Steve McDowell
World Cup winner in 87, and foundation stone of *that* All Black side.David Sole sums him up best
. "He was the prototype for the sort of open, running prop of the modern era. He had a pair of hands that weren’t used for fighting - he had great ball-handling abilities, pace, power, and was a good technical scrummager. Steve was an integral part of New Zealand’s unprecedented success, he was great with ball in hands, a good tackler, powerful scrummager, and a decent guy to boot. I remember when we played in New Zealand after the Cavaliers tour of 1986. They went through an incredible period between 1986 and 1990 unbeaten in international rugby - just an incredible record. Steve picked up a World Cup medal along the way. He was just a fantastic prop - the full package."
(6 foot, 16 stone.)Hooker - Phil Kearns
World Cup winner in 91 and 99, decade at the head of *that* Wallaby side, and generally acknowledged as second only to Futtzpettrak in the pantheon. Keith Wood sums him up best
. "I played against Phil on my Ireland debut. I remember the first time I introduced myself to Phil, I punched into his head, and in the second or third ruck, he pulled my jersey over my head and pummelled me within an inch of my life. What was even more embarrassing, my captain then ran over to him and shouted, ‘Jesus Kearnsy! Leave him alone he’s only a child…’ Phil was a very big powerhouse sort of player. He was a really big man, a good leader for the team, and a very big ball-carrier. It’s amazing to think he was plucked from a third team and plunged straight into the Test team and he couldn’t throw at all. Mind you, when Fitzy started he couldn’t either, and that was always the lovely thing about the great hookers such as Phil and Sean because I couldn’t throw either when I first started. He showed a rouse to get over his difficulties and that inspired me when I first joined up with Ireland."
(6 foot 1, 17 stone)Tight head - Olo Brown
Ousted Richard Loe from the All Black side and gained 56 caps, winning a Lions series and reaching a World Cup final before injury cut his career short. A thinking man's pick for the anchor at tight head. Nothing's shifting this guy. And he's a natural at getting involved in the loose the way I need him to. His profile at 'Samoan Bios' includes some glowing references.
"Brown was known to be the cornerstone of the pack with his technique and straightness of back and was rated by scrummaging experts as one of the finest props to play for New Zealand at any time. His provincial and test teammate, Sean Fitzpatrick, swore by his prowess and few scrums anchored by Brown were ever bettered. He was also a competent player capable of playing at hooker position." [/i]
(6 foot, 17 stone 4)Lock - John Eales
Needs no introduction. Three World Cup campaigns, two wins, one as the most illustrious of skippers.Here's his bio
. "They say nobody’s perfect, but John Eales wasn’t far off. His Australian team-mates were so convinced of this that they gave him the nickname ‘Nobody’. Eales had pretty much every skill the modern-day rugby player requires and was a born winner. ...Eales was mobile, had fantastic handling ability and work rate and he even kicked goals, hence his enormous 173 international points. He was a leader of men also, able to delegate and tactically aware. It comes as no surprise that the Wallabies' best era coincided with the Eales years. The Brisbane-born lock made his international debut in 1991 in a 63-3 thrashing of Wales, before heading off to England for the 1991 World Cup. He had a stunning tournament, particularly at such a tender age of 21, playing a pivotal role in Nick Farr-Jones’s Wallaby side that edged out England 12-9 in the final. Eales joined Farr-Jones as a World Cup-winning captain in 1991, when his Wallabies side lifted the Webb Ellis trophy to cap a superb tournament of defensive brilliance and clinical play. He retired in 2001 as the most capped lock in history, although that record has been surpassed since by a number of players. Eales was one of those people who had sporting talent that just wasn’t fair"
(6 foot 7, 18 stone 2)Lock - Victor Matfield
How do you follow that? Well, with this I suppose. "Victor Matfield won the man-of-the-match award in the 2007 World Cup final and was easily player of the tournament. Most locks don’t get near the talents of John Eales but Matfield does... The South African is widely regarded as the best second row in the world currently, and has been a key figure for the Springboks since his debut against Italy in 2001. Since his international bow, Matfield has racked up a mammoth 105 appearances for his country and with his form as good as it is at present, he shows no sign of letting up. Renowned for his meticulous pre-match preparation, Matfield is the heart and soul of South Africa’s outstanding pack... He was picked for the 2003 World Cup, featuring in four games... It started with the Tri-Nations victory in 2004 – the country’s first since 1998 – and reached its zenith in 2007 as South Africa deservedly won the World Cup in France. Matfield played in all seven matches and put in a spectacular performance against England in the final. Now the gauntlet has been laid down: can Matfield follow up the 2007 success at this year’s tournament and usurp Eales as the greatest second row in history?"
(6 foot 6.5, 17 stone 5)Number 8 - Wayne Shelford
Again, needs no introduction. The first rugby player I ever saw who put the fear of God into me. Here's a profile
. "New Zealand became an unstoppable force in the late 1980s under Wayne ‘Buck’ Shelford's guidance. He put his body on the line time after time and had an undying commitment to the cause – a true competitor if ever there was one... His debut came against France in 1986, where New Zealand won 19-7, paving the way for the infamous ‘Battle of Nantes’ in the second test. Shelford was the unfortunate victim of an errant French boot in a ruck 20 minutes into the game, leaving him with a ripped scrotum and the loss of four teeth. But if ever there was test for showing how ‘hard’ you are, what Shelford did next saw him pass it with flying colours. Calmly calling for the physio, he had the injury stitched up before remarkably returning to the field of play. He then suffered a blow to the head which left him concussed and was forced to come off. France eventually won the game 16-3, and Shelford still has no recollection of the match whatsoever. "
He's my captain, obviously. I'll let Zinzan Brooke, his successor in the All Black side, have the last word
. "He was ruthless, just a dog, and Buck did all the right things at the scrum. He varied his game going from the loose to the tight, and when he needed to keep it tight, he'd tuck the ball up and drive it through the guts. He never liked playing on the back-foot and because he was so competitive and such a raw talent, he very rarely was. Buck knew how to play right on the line of the law. He was one of the greats. Buck was bloody powerful he always seemed to make the right decisions - he was a leader of men."
(6 foot 2.5, 14 stone 9)Open side flanker - Willie Ofahengaue
Pace, power, and smarts. Willie O started his test career as a 'new breed' of back row forward in the open side slot, but played in all three slots as his career progressed. Every time he took to the field, you felt Bill McLaren might have an aneurism.
How do you follow the profile for Buck? Again, I'll let Zinzan Brooke do the talking for me (even though he's talking about that 'extra' he offered behind the set piece)
. "Willie possessed all of Buck [Shelford]’s qualities and more. He was a big defensive player. You knew when he'd hit you because he loved making those big tackles. He was like a new breed of No.8. It wasn't always about the feeder of ball, whose role was to control it, Willie would pick it up and attack off it. No.8’s along with the half-back’s should be the most important and skilful players in a team, because you need to know how and when to operate at all times, especially under pressure, and Willie had all that in abundance."
(6 foot 4, 19 stone 10)Thierry Dusatoir
The current IRB World Player of the Year, this guy made more tackles than the entire All Blacks side when France's knocked the All Blacks out in the Q/F of the 2007 World Cup in Cardiff.
In the rugby World Cup final just past, Dusautoir put in the kind of performance that gets talked about decades later in 'legendary' terms. He was up against arguably the finest back row forward in the history of the game in McCaw, but as The Telegraph
reported, "Dusautoir was man of the match on Richie’s pitch. McCaw respects the France captain above any other flanker and on Sunday we saw why. When New Zealand were on top early on Dusautoir raged all over the field and looked likely to exceed his ridiculous tackle count of 38 in the quarter-final victory four years ago. Then when his pack got on top Dusautoir led the charge into the heart of the New Zealand defence."
We've all seen what he can do on these shores. Not a bad player eh?
(6 foot 2, 15 stone 10)Half back pairingFourie Du Preez
I originally wanted Gary Armstrong as my scrum half for this comp, but when I thought about it, while he was ideal for the game I hoped to play, he was a. relatively 'wee', and b. prone to a 10 man game (that's harsh, and possibly a by-product of the paucity of the Scottish back division at the time, but I wanted a bigger lad with the pace and awareness to frighten sides with his line breaks, and the footballing nous to bring the men behind him into play. Hence Fourie Du Preez - after thinking about it, behind the obvious choices of big Joost and Gareth Edwards, he's the next most illustrious for me.
We've seen him win a World Cup and a Lions test series, so we know how good he is
. "Arguably the best scrumhalf, nay, rugby player in the world. Screw Richie McCaw, Fourie du Preez makes an immediate and major impact on the game as soon as his studs touch the pitch. It’s not for idle reasons that he has been nominated as SA player of the year 3 times and winning twice. So far 2011 has been a watershed season due to injury, all the more reason to be wary of his sniping kicks in RWC 2011."
(6 foot, 14 stone)Jonny Wilkinson
What can you say? It was him or Dan Carter, then the rest. Two World Cup finals, one as the matchwinner. Started out his test career often playing at centre, where his attacking qualities were to the fore, he then settled into the pivotal role for *that* England side, who played something close to the game I'd like my side to play (in my imaginary test matches). Here's a short profile
. "Perhaps the most driven rugby player of his generation, Wilkinson’s focus and willpower made him irreplaceable during the first decade of his international career. When it came to executing a set play, or simply a penalty kick or drop-goal, he would deliver with uncanny consistency, and his strike-rate seemed only to improve when the chips were down.
The most famous instance, of course, came in the World Cup final of 2003, when Wilkinson’s drop kick sailed between the posts to seal England’s victory in extra time. That was the reason he put in endless hours of training, for the chance to apply it on the biggest stage of all. In his attitude to sport, he has always been in sympathy with the “spare no pains” attitude of the England cricketer Graham Gooch.” Wilkinson’s critics say he is not a leader on the field, but he certainly leads by example in the way he has always put his body on the line. His trademark flying tackles make him the best defensive stand-off in the game"
(5 foot 10, 14 stone)CentresJamie Roberts
The Lions' best player in 2009 by a country mile, and since a pivotal figure in Gatland's Grand Slam collecting machine. The partnership he struck with BOD in South Africa left a stain on your brain. In the first test, we saw the trademark gain line puncturing break and feed to BOD, and hey presto, the comeback was on... commit the tacklers, keep it live, and crafty players who run intelligent lines in support will find the space to hurt sides.
Defensively, the fella's a beast - as big as the back row boys and an imposing presence. But he's equally as hurtful to an opposing side with the ball in hand.
(6 foot 4, 17 stone 5)Sonny Bill Williams
Partnering big Jamie, the equally big Sonny Bill. He's only recently come to Union from League, and it's not clear whether he'll hokey cokey back and forth between the codes to ensure the biggest pay packet, but the fact there's such overwhelming demand for him to do that highlights what a freakish talent this guy is.
If you look at the stats for the Super 15 seasons he's been involved in, he's head, shoulders and rippling upper torso above his peers in his combination of line breaks, offloads and carries, while defensively he's a freaking monster. Well, he is the NZ heavyweight boxing champion after all. The other day, Waratahs coach Michael Foley spoke of the need to reinforce their ramparts ahead of facing this guy
: "Sonny Bill at 12 gives another dimension to their attack... It would be crazy for any one guy to assume that role (of stopping Williams). The critical thing is to have that connection either side of the player, defending him and supporting him. With any good midfielder, and someone who is as dangerous as Sonny Bill, that connection is critical."
Zoinks! Go and have a look on youtube if you want to see what he means. Here's what the NZ Herald had to say (in a piece that sums up his 'larger than life' personality too)
. "Williams arrived on New Zealand's 15-man scene with a crash, bang and offload to die for. He seemed to scale a steep learning curve with ridiculous ease. There was nothing it seemed, aside from a left-foot drop kick from 50m, that Williams could not do on a footy field. He was selected for the All Blacks 2010 end-of-year Northern Hemisphere tour and impressed to the point where it was felt he had edged ahead of Ma'a Nonu in the pecking order following a luminous display against the flowers of Scotland. ...What no one will begrudge is that his grab-bag of skills are almost unique in the code. There seems to be no tackler able to prevent him offloading. With good hands and decent speed, Williams could become one of the greats - it's up to him now."
Talented enough of a footballer that teams have tried him in a few positions, so I'll slot him outside Roberts at outside centre and let Inga, Campo and big Francois gorge on the space it creates.
(6 foot 4, 17 stone)WingsCampo Again, no intro required
. "Brash but brilliant, arrogant but awe-inspiring, David Campese had it all. The New South Wales-born wing lit up three World Cups for Australia, including the glorious 1991 campaign, and scored 64 tries in 101 appearances throughout a remarkable career. Campese announced himself to the world in notorious circumstances, inadvertently deriding legendary New Zealand wing Stu Wilson in a pre-match interview before his international debut. Campese was asked how it felt to be marking Wilson in his first ever Test, to which the cocky Australian responded, “Stu who?” Campese later revealed he genuinely did know not of Wilson due to his rugby league background, yet it still caused a stir in New Zealand. Nonetheless, Campese outplayed his older opponent during the match, using a tactic the Wallaby later coined the ‘goose step’. He was part of the Wallabies side that recorded a Grand Slam tour of the Home Nations in 1984 and was a key player in the 1987 World Cup, where Australia made a disappointing semi-final exit. The team bounced back four years later though, as did ‘Campo’ who was named Man of the Tournament as Australia clinched their first ever World Cup. Campese was superb throughout, but his shining moment came in the semi-final victory over New Zealand where he scored a try and set up the other for Tim Horan with a blind throw over his shoulder now recalled as the ‘miracle pass’. Campese was named World Player of the Year in 1992 and went on to play in his third and final World Cup in South Africa in 1995, where the Wallabies were dumped out by Rob Andrew’s stunning drop goal. A controversial figure of immense quality, it’s safe to say there will never be another David Campese."
(5 foot 11, 14 stone)Inga the Winga Before Jonah, there was Inga the Winga
. "When you hear the name Va'aiga Tuigamala you think of one thing - raw power. The man who was the first of the big wingers, Tuigamala struck fear into his opponents with extraordinary physical presence and dazzling runs. We forget that before Jonah Lomu came along, this other powerful force existed. In his early days he was capable of the impossible on the field... in his prime, a modern day comparison would possibly be Alesana Tuilagi at his most potent, putting the head down and charging into opposition, bouncing them off with discontent. Or perhaps because of his height, he's quite similar even to a slim Rupeni Caucau. Whoever you'd like to compare him too, one thing is certain, and that is that back then players of this size, speed and ferocity just didn't exist."
(5 foot 11, 14 stone 11)Full backFrancois Steyn
"Out come the freaks" sang Was Not Was, and Francois completes my merry band of freakishly talented rugby one-offs. The youngest ever winner of the World Cup, he's the same size as Roberts and Sonny Bill, and can play any one of the back six positions - a footballer reminiscent of Zinzan Brooke with his ability to make your jaw drop. Most of us will remember the drop goal double against Australia in the Tri-Nations, winning the match from a losing position with two moments of delicious audacity.
A powerful strike runner who played a blinder with ball in hand in the 'Matfield Final' (two memorable breaks from centre in particular), he'll add the right kind of doubt from deep, either when relieving pressure (he famously once cleared a ball from in-goal area to in-goal area against the Brumbies), or when fielding tactical and clearing kicks, where he's regularly proven himself capable of slotting drop goals from half way and beyond, often from an angle.
(6 foot 3, 17 stone 5)