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Fantasy XV – The Greatest ever Team of the Pro era

We love a good fantasy team and as we’re coming to the end of 2012 we thought it was as good a time as any to put together our best team of the professional era.

It’s sure to provoke some debate, with the likes of Wilkinson, Matfield and Williams missing out, but bear with us, there’s plenty of room for debate below!

The only rule is that their country must have capped the player during the professional era, i.e since 1995:

1. Jason Leonard: 119 caps for a prop forward just about says it all, World Cup winner in 2003. Ian McGeechan’s ‘greatest Lion’. Word in the ear of the referee was key to England winning the World Cup. What more do you want?

2. Sean Fitzpatrick: Retired in 1997 yet still did enough in two years as a pro for us to consider him the best. Inspirational.

3. Os Du Randt: Won two World Cups, a mainstay of the South African pack. We’ll ignore that rather embarrassing moment with Scott Gibbs in ’97.

4. Martin Johnson: World Cup winning captain, respected, feared, revered. Twice a Lions captain, the last man to lead them to a series win. One of the greats.

5. John Eales: Known as ‘nobody’, as in nobody’s perfect. Pretty much sums him up. Won the World Cup twice, took place kicks despite being a second row(!), won a Lions series.

6. Richard Hill: The only man Sir Clive Woodward never dropped, which pretty much says it all. Hill was the archetypal ‘silent assassin’, a superb player who never wanted any attention. Won a World Cup and a Lions series.

7. Richie McCaw: Where to start… He has won a World Cup, on one leg just for good measure. The most capped All Black ever, the most capped as captain ever, the most wins ever. Three times IRB player of the year. Up there with the greatest players ever.

8. Zinzan Brooke: Like Fitzpatrick he only had two years as a pro but they were quite a two years! Changed the game in terms of what we expect of a number 8. Superb all round footballing skills, remember that drop goal?

9. Joost Van Der Westhuizen: Never had the best passing or kicking game and didn’t really look much like a scrum half but so what? Played like a 4th back row and had a nose for the try line that was unparalleled. Had an ability to move seemingly inches from the ground despite being over 6ft.

10. Dan Carter: One of the greatest stand off’s of all time. He can be simply unplayable; his performances against the Lions in 2005 are the greatest fly half performances I have ever seen. His passing is brilliant, as is his kicking and his running. Defence isn’t bad either. Sensational.

11. Jonah Lomu: Rugby’s first ever global superstar and with good reason. Lomu revolutionised the game in terms of the sheer size and physicality that was required to succeed in the professional era. At his best he was simply unstoppable.

12. Tim Horan: Won the World Cup twice and is without doubt one of the calmest heads I have ever seen on a rugby field. He has it all but most of all he knew that his job was to make everyone else look good.

13. Brian O’Driscoll: Possibly Ireland’s greatest ever player, O’Driscoll revolutionised centre play. He was also reinvented himself over and over as injury and age catch up. Originally lightening quick with power to match (remember the Gabba in 2001 and Paris in 2000?), he then became the consummate support player when the legs no longer quite had the pace for the outside break. He then decided he needed to add something to his game and became the best defensive back in the world. Now as likely to be found turning ball over in the midfield as he is scoring tries.

14. Jason Robinson: Could he be the most successful league convert there has ever been? Hard to think of any better. Robinson could turn the most talented of defenders inside out. Who could forget him rounding Chris Latham for the Lions in 2001? Or that sizzling break against Wales in the 2003 World Cup to dig England out of a massive hole. Scored when they won the Cup too.

15. Christian Cullen: Cullen is a bit of an enigma. We can’t think of a better full back and yet there is a sense of unfulfilled potential about him, borne perhaps of the amount of positional experimentation the All Blacks tried with him. At full back though he was unstoppable, as quick a player as I’ve ever seen, he could score tries for fun, from anywhere. To see him running the ball from under his own posts was one of the best sights in rugby.

So there it is, six All Blacks, four Englishmen, an Irishman and two each from South Africa and Australia. The great surprise is that there are no Frenchmen in the side despite there status as one of the consistently top sides, this is perhaps due to the fact that consistency of selection has never been a strong suit of the French.

Some big names miss out, but I suppose that’s the fun of it. Who would you change? Would you pick Wilkinson? Is Lawrence Dallaglio the man for you, maybe Shane Williams should be on the wing? Let us know your thoughts.

Who would captain this side too? It would be a forward, that much I know, but we have some of the greatest ever captains to choose from in Fitzpatrick, Johnson, Eales and McCaw.

Oh and by the way, we’ll have Sir Ian McGeechan and Jim Telfer coaching them please. You’re welcome to disagree, not sure why you would want to though.

Angus Savage

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