The lack of international rugby this year has been tough on players and fans. But with the Tri-Nations and Six Nations back in action, there is no better time to create a World XV.
Writer Ludumo Nkabi doesn’t shirk any tough decisions and selects a fascinating Rugby World XV.
15: Jordie Barrett – New Zealand
The youngest of the Barrett brothers, Jordie is probably the most versatile of them all. Not just in terms of playing positions, but in the way he can adapt his play to suit the situation. He can be a kicking fullback when needed, a runner or even a playmaker.
Stuart Hogg is a sight to behold in full flight but blows hot and cold far too often. So by virtue of that Jordie Barrett is our fullback.
Honourable mention: Stuart Hogg
14: Cheslin Kolbe – South Africa
Quite possibly the best player in the world right now, the fact that he is 1.71m and only 80kgs makes it that much more incredible in a game that is supposedly for big men Cheslin Kolbe is an anomaly – an exceptional one at that. Kolbe has been nothing short of sensational in 2020.
There are a few exciting wingers on the right, but none exude the scary potential of Australian prodigy Jordan Petaia. However, even he is nowhere near Cheslin Kolbe’s level.
Honourable mention: Jordan Petaia
13: Semi Radradra – Fiji
It’s not every day you can say the two most exciting players in the gameplay in the Northern Hemisphere, but Semi Radradra (along with our right-wing selection) are simply poetry in motion. The UK crowd are experiencing bustling performances from the Fijian which put him at the top of the centre ranks. Offloads, tackle busts, ridiculous running metres, Radradra is near unstoppable at the moment.
Rieko Ioane’s reinvention at 13 has gone exceptionally well this year while Lukhanyo Am is still a midfield magician. However, Radradra is currently the standard at outside centre.
Honourable mention: Lukhanyo Am
12: Matt Toomua – Australia
That this is the first Australian to get a spot in the World XV is indicative of the massive rebuilding job Dave Rennie has on his hands. Matt Toomua was a standout in Super Rugby AU with the Rebels and operating with a calm and composure. He would have calmed the nerves of Australians after Samu Kerevi left their shores last year.
There are not many great inside centres in rugby right now, but Anton Lienert-Brown is certainly putting his hand up.
Honourable mention: Anton Lienert-Brown
11: Makazole Mapimpi – South Africa
A tough pick here, Marike Koribete’s consistency? Caleb Clarke’s raw power and speed? Jacob Stockdale’s belligerent presence in the wide channels? Or Makazole Mapimpi’s incredible try-scoring rate?
There are merits for each one of these players wing it for the World XV, but since the job of a winger is primarily to score, the first Springbok player to ever score a try in a World Cup final, Makazole Mapimpi, gets the nod.
Honourable mention: Marika Koroibete
10: Romain Ntamack – France
If Richie Mo’unga was able to display his Crusaders form on the Test stage, this would easily be his spot. He is yet to find consistency at Test level, but young French flyhalf Romain Ntamack has not only adjusted to Test rugby but has thrived – more so in 2020. It also helps that he is brilliant in the colours of Toulouse too.
With Beauden Barrett yet to really play flyhalf this year, Richie Mo’unga is closest to the 21-year-old Ntamack.
Honourable mention: Richie Mo’unga
9: Aaron Smith – New Zealand
If this World XV was chosen before Super Rugby Aotearoa, it was no contest Antoine Dupont was having an incredible impact for France while Aaron Smith was faltering with the Highlanders, but his performances in Super Rugby Aotearoa reminded everyone why he is one of the finest to ever wear the no.9 jersey.
With Connor Murray’s dwindling performances, Dupont is the next best thing after the irrepressible Smith.
Honourable mention: Antoine Dupont
8: CJ Stander – Ireland
Another player who makes this list, because of consistently being brilliant at the basics and just offering his teams so many outlets. CJ Stander puts in man of the match worthy performances weekly for Munster and Ireland. It is hard to think of anyone better at 8 than he is right now.
Duane Vermeulen is similarly consistent, but it is Stander’s ability to do it for both club and country that gives him the advantage.
Honourable mention: Duane Vermeulen
7: Pieter-Steph du Toit – South Africa
The World Rugby Player of The Year in 2019, Pieter-Steph du Toit has shown no signs of slowing down. He remains heads and should above any blindside flanker in the game right now and while some may challenge his status as the best player, no one is likely to dethrone him as the best in his position.
French skipper Charles Ollivon has had an incredible year, while Peceli Yato of Fiji is a player growing into a fearsome flanker, but du Toit edges both.
Honourable mention: Charles Ollivon
6: Tom Curry – England
One half of Eddie Jones’ “Kamikaze kids” along with Sam Underhill. Tom Curry is, to put it simply, a wrecking ball – he has incredible stopping power, disruptive at the breakdown, a work rate 2nd to none and is strong and dynamic offensively.
Ardie Savea has played most of his rugby at 8thman this year, but he has shown enough when called upon to play openside, he is amongst the best. Curry is still the more consistent player at openside though.
Honourable mention: Ardie Savea
5: Maro Itoje – England
With Sam Whitelock entering the twilight years of his career, he is the last of a dying breed. Athletic lineout kingpins are becoming increasingly rare. The game accommodates bulkier less athletic options at 5 now hence a hybrid like Maro Itoje can come in at 5 despite playing a lot of his rugby at 4-lock. There is not much Itoje cannot do on the rugby field and he does all of it with incredible proficiency – better than most.
James Ryan is another hybrid lock hot on Itoje’s heels. His growing influence in the exceptional Leinster side and Ireland is evidence of that, for now, however, he falls just short of Itoje.
Honourable mention: James Ryan
4: Patrick Tuipulotu – New Zealand
In a New Zealand rugby context, when one looks back on the year 2020 there will be fond memories of Super Rugby Aotearoa, the classic that was the North vs South game, but what might stand out the most is the coming of age of Patrick Tuipulotu as a player and as a leader. The best lock in the world this year and quite possibly the best player in New Zealand, Tuipulotu has long been punted for greatness on New Zealand shores and with every vigorous carry, lineout poach and crunching tackle the world has seen that this year.
Fellow New Zealander Brodie Rettalick has been enjoying less pressure in the wilderness of Japan and Eben Etzebeth growing his fearsome reputation as a hardman in France, but both lose out to the Blues enforcer.
Honourable mention: Eben Etzebeth
3: Kyle Sinckler – England
A fiery character on the rugby field, it was this fire that threatened to derail his promising career in its infancy. Opposition players could get under his skin and he was prone to react aggressively – now 27, he has learnt to channel that into his gameplay and it has been incredible to watch. Seldom a requirement at tighthead, but his ball-carrying, ball skills and mobility make him a tough player to contain.
His early exit in the Rugby World Cup final hampered England’s chances last year such is his dynamic contribution on the field, but his absence was most felt in the scrums where Beast Mtawarira dominated Dan Cole. Perhaps not as good a scrummager as Tadhg Furlong or Frans Malherbe, but still a very good anchor at the scrum and the better tighthead prop overall.
Honourable mention: Tadhg Furlong
2: Codie Taylor – New Zealand
Not blessed with Dane Coles’ jet shoes nor Malcolm Marx’s abrasive power at the contact point, Codie Taylor is probably the least aesthetically pleasing of the three hookers in terms of gameplay, but he is no slouch and he ranks pretty high in the physicality stakes. It is his combination of these qualities and accuracy with the basics that make him the most well-rounded hooker in the world and the finest in his position.
The aforementioned hookers along with Jamie George of England probably come closest to the Super Rugby Aotearoa-winning captain, but he edges them based on his ability to thrive in any situation whether with the All Blacks or the Crusaders.
Honourable mention: Jamie George
1: Mako Vunipola – England
The 29-year-old British and Irish Lions loosehead prop has been one of the most consistent props in the last five years. He is also a stalwart in the England Test side for the last eight seasons. Mako Vunipola is not only a strong scrummager, he gets through an exceptional amount of work for a prop. Strong in the carry and defence.
Vunipola has no clear standout qualities over his loosehead contemporaries like Joe Moody and Steven Kitshoff, but it is his consistently excellent performances for both club and country that render him the finest in his position.
Honourable mention: Steven Kitshoff