Springbok stars lead the charge in our World XV of the year, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
Six of the world champions’ star performers bolster our 2022 dream team, one of whom also stands tall as our Player of the Year.
Ireland, who finished the year as the number one ranked team in the world, have the second-most representatives with four, followed by France with two.
Rounding out the team are an Italian, an Argentinian, and a New Zealander.
15: Ange Capuozzo (Italy)
Few knew his name at the start of the year but by the season’s end, fans across the world were talking about Italy’s new star. The World Breakthrough Player of the Year burst onto the scene by scoring a brace off the bench against Scotland and then made a legendary length-of-the-field break against Wales to set up the try that ended the Azzurri’s seven-year losing run in the Six Nations. He was equally excellent in the Autumn Nations Series.
14: Damian Penaud (France)
A try-scoring savant and saviour, Penaud’s predatory instincts proved invaluable for France. It was the right-winger who crossed for the late match-winning try against the Wallabies in November to take Les Bleus to a record 12th consecutive victory and he entered the top 10 all-time French try-scorers list after bagging a brace against Japan to cap off the year.
13: Lukhanyo AM (South Africa)
Had his season not have been cut short by injury, Am would’ve likely been crowned the World Player of the Year. A next-level genius, few have the otherworldly vision he possesses and the bold brilliance to turn dream plays into reality. On top of that, he’s the defensive glue of the Springbok backline, a combination that makes him the best No 13 by a long shot.
12: Damian de Allende (South Africa)
A bash-baller of the highest order, no inside centre went harder and longer than the Springboks’ midfield monster. He didn’t get to show much of his underrated distribution game but he executed his role to a tee, smashing over the gain line consistently to give the world champions front foot ball and scored a few vital tries.
11: Emiliano Boffelli (Argentina)
A match-winner ten times over, Boffelli was brilliant every time out as a strike runner, key assist conjurer, aerial artist and sharpshooter off the tee. He was at the heart of everything good for the Pumas and it’s safe to say they wouldn’t have pulled off their historic 25-18 win over the All Blacks in New Zealand in August without his goal-kicking masterclass.
10: Johnny Sexton (Ireland)
The polarising pivot enhanced his reputation as one of Ireland’s all-time greats as he piloted them to a first-ever series triumph over the All Blacks in New Zealand and the top of the world rankings whilst further annoying non-Irish fans with his brashness. Love him or hate him, there’s no dying Sexton’s the ultimate general.
9: Antoine Dupont (France)
The Max Verstappen of Les Bleus, the star scrumhalf was the masterful driver of France’s flawless 2022 campaign, which included a first Six Nations Grand Slam title since 2010. As captain, he made all the right calls, dictated terms from the base with exceptional vision, decision-making and execution and kept the opposition guessing at all times.
8: Ardie Savea (New Zealand)
In a topsy-turvy season in which they crashed to a historic series loss to Ireland and defeat to Argentina at home, the sensational Savea was the one constant in the embattled All Blacks side. As industrious and hard-nosed on defence as he was dynamic on attack, the explosive eighth man was excellence personified. It’s farcical that he and Eben Etzebeth weren’t among the World Player of the Year nominees.
7: Josh van der Flier (Ireland)
Speaking of the World Player of the Year award, Van der Flier was the most fitting and deserving of the nominees and became just the third Irishman to win the coveted gong after Keith Wood and Sexton. A hybrid athlete at the peak of his powers, he provided Ireland with the extra bit of class and energy to rise to the summit of world rugby.
6: Peter O’Mahony (Ireland)
O’Mahony, meanwhile, was Ireland’s war horse. The veteran’s mongrel was crucial to their success, especially the historic series win over the All Blacks on New Zealand soil. While skilful, the greatest contribution he made was his unrivalled passion and determination. His willingness to go to the dark places opponents weren’t saw him out dog all comers.
5: Tadhg Beirne (Ireland)
Ireland have a real gem in Beirne. He’s as complete a second-rower as they come and brings an added element that sets him apart, namely his breakdown brilliance. He was a towering terror at ruck time, which was best illustrated in his iconic performance against New Zealand in the series decider.
4: Eben Etzebeth (South Africa) – Player Of The Year
An ironman seemingly carved out of granite, Etzebeth is a monster among men. An indestructible dominator, no one has been more consistently colossal on the international stage than the Springbok hardman over the past two years. An all-tool titan, the 30-year-old is the champion warrior of the physical South African pack, a towering disrupter in the lineouts, and a rebound winner under the high ball with a tireless motor and unmatched controlled aggression. For the second successive season, Etzebeth – who celebrated becoming the youngest-ever Springbok centurion with a Man of the Match performance in the series-sealing 30-14 win over Wales in Cape Town in July – is our Player of the Year.
3: Frans Malherbe (South Africa)
A prop rarely makes the shortlist for the South African Player of the Year award and although his chances of winning are slim, he’s more than deserving of the nod after ploughing through the field like a John Deere tractor at scrum time. He was both an irresistible force and an immovable object in the set-piece and put in the hard yards in general play.
2: Malcolm Marx (South Africa)
It’s fitting that in the season Marx marked his 50th appearance for the Springboks with a Man of the Match performance in the 26-10 win over the All Blacks in August he firmly re-established himself as the No 1 No 2 in the world. His clinical set piece play, prolific power, and pilfering prowess were simply unmatched.
1: Steven Kitshoff (South Africa)
Kitshoff completes an all-Springbok front row. The red-haired harbinger of destruction dominated in the scrums, showed off his extraordinary motor in open play and produced some beautifully deft touches any playmaker would be proud of. He also grew in stature as far as leadership among the core group of Springboks is concerned.