International Team of the Season

As the year 2013 draws to a close there will be many people all over the world picking their ‘Team of the Year’, so we thought we would give it a go.

We have tried to look at the year as a whole rather than allowing the most recent performances to dominate, and while we have generally tried to pick the best player it that position this year there has been some room for sentiment.

Without further ado then, here is our International Team of the Year;

1. Alex Corbisiero, England and British & Irish Lions – Not many players can say that they have come into a Lions Test team and completely altered an entire aspect of the game for the better. Corbisiero can though; replacing Mako Vunipola for the 2nd Test he destroyed the Wallaby front row, and bagged the opening score in the crucial 3rd Test.

2. Bismarck Du Plessis, South Africa – A red card against the All Blacks in the summer, albeit in highly controversially, and a ever growing list of yellow card infringements does not suggest that this has been a classic year for Bismarck. However the granite South African has been superb all year, with his physical brand of rugby causing everyone problems. Remember that barrelling charge against Wales?

3. Adam Jones, Wales and British & Irish Lions – Not a vintage year for looseheads, South Africa and New Zealand have plenty of quality operators here but have chopped and changed too often this year for a standout to emerge. However Adam Jones has, as ever, been a rock for Wales and the British and Irish Lions. He was one of the first names on the team sheet for the Lions, played a key role for Wales in the Six Nations, and was sorely missed in the Autumn.

4. Eben Etzebeth, South Africa – It is scary to think that this kid is just 22 years old. His physicality and athleticism are mind blowing and he is only going to get better. He got as far as the shortlist for the IRB Player of the Year award this year but it is surely only a matter of time before he makes it right to the top step for that award. A nod to New Zealand’s Brodie Retallick and Wales’ Alun Wyn Jones should be given here, both also had outstanding seasons.

5.Sam Whitelock, New Zealand – Retallick grabbed all the headlines next to Whitelock this year but Whitelock has made this position his own and is now one of the most trusted and senior players in this outstanding All Black side. He is not just a good second row and an excellent lineout operator; he is a fantastic all round rugby player.

6. Dan Lydiate, Wales and British & Irish Lions – Toughest selection of the team. There are lots of good 6’s out there, Messam, Luatua, Alberts, O’Mahony, Croft, Wood, and many more. We have gone with Dan Lydiate though. Injuries have robbed him of several opportunities this year but when he was played he has been magnificent. After missing out on a starting spot for the Lions he was just brilliant in the following two Tests and his relentless desire to tackle is beyond that of anyone in the International game. Sean O’Brien almost made it into the side here, however having played at 7 for most of the season we wanted to be fair to those who have specialised at 6.

7. Michael Hooper, Australia – There are plenty of sevens around the world who could lay claim to this position this year, however in a side that has generally been on the back foot Michael Hooper has been truly outstanding all season. His work rate is almost beyond belief, while his ability on the floor and in the tackle is outstanding. When David Pocock returns to fitness their battle for the Wallaby 7 shirt could be spectacular.

8. Kieran Read, New Zealand – What can we say about this guy that nobody else has this year? He has simply been outstanding, the stand out player in a stand out side. Read has managed to blend getting all of the dirty work done and having a gallop in the wide channels where he can use his brilliant handling skills as well as anyone in recent memory. He is the heir apparent to Richie McCaw, and there is not much higher praise than that in All Black terms.

9. Fourie Du Preez, South Africa – Scrum halves have struggled this season. It took Aaron Smith until the Autumn to really show his best form, Will Genia has looked a shadow of his former self, and none of the Northern Hemisphere scrum halves has really set the world alight. Du Preez gets our vote though. He has had to jostle for starting time in the starting shirt for South Africa but having spent so long in Japan and out of international rugby, the way he has come back to the world stage and fitted right back in has been exceptional, and has proved his class.

10. Aaron Cruden, New Zealand – Possibly a controversial choice given that if Dan Carter is fit he starts ahead of Cruden, however that if has become ever larger this season and in Carter’s place Cruden has been outstanding. He has been integrated into the All Black’s leadership group, plays the game with excitement and accuracy, and is surely now pressing serious claims to be the main man even with Carter fit. Perhaps the highest praise that can be given to him though is that when his name is on the teamsheet there is no sigh of relief from the opposition dressing room as there used to be when Carter was absent.

11. George North, Wales and British & Irish Lions – This guy is a one man wrecking machine. He provided two of the defining moments of the Lions tour, with his outstanding try in the first Test, and his backpack effort with Israel Folau in the second. It was not just for the Lions though, he has been outstanding for Wales all year too. He is one of those players that seems to guarantee you one spectacular moment in every game, add to that the fact that with his combination of pace, power, and ridiculous thigh size, he is a nightmare to tackle.

12. Wesley Fofana, France – It was very, very tempting to pick Jean De Villiers here, he has enjoyed one of his best seasons of his career this year, while Ma’a Nonu has been highly effective for the All Blacks. However in a terrible year for France Fofana has constantly been their one shining light. It seems that no matter how much analysis is done, players are still consistently shocked at the amount of power that Fofana can generate. He was outstanding in the Six Nations and carried that through the year.

13. Conrad Smith, New Zealand – It is not hard to imagine that if you asked an All Black to pick a guy to play for their lives that it might be Conrad Smith. He just does not make mistakes. Of all their wonderful backs he is probably the least flashy and yet he is such a key player. Defensively he is just about unbreakable, while in attack he is one of the most composed players in world rugby. That the All Blacks have allowed him a 6 month sabbatical tells you just about everything you need to know, only Richie McCaw and Dan Carter have been granted such passage before. Pretty good company.

14. Ben Smith, New Zealand – Ben Smith has surely been the find of the season, he was outstanding against France at the start of the summer and then stepped up to a whole new level in the Rugby Championship, where he finished as top scorer. He then moved to outside centre for the All Blacks Autumn tour, replacing his namesake Conrad while he was on sabbatical, where he again shone, demonstrating that he is the chosen heir to Conrad’s position post World Cup. The guy is a top player, with pace that always surprises and an ability to pick unusual and effective lines that most would spend a career searching for. Mind you, it helps if you are playing with this All Black side.

15.Leigh Halfpenny, Wales and British & Irish Lions – Player of the Six Nations and Player of the Lions Series tells you just about everything you need to know about Leigh Halfpenny this season. Much of the praise has centred around his goal kicking, and yes, it has been very good. However his positional awareness at full back is what sets him apart for us. Watch Halfpenny play and count how often the ball bounces when the opposition kick it. It will not be taxing because Halfpenny’s positioning is simply too accurate to allow it to happen often. It is a feat that is made even more impressive because in the Welsh defensive system he is often back on his own as the wingers are told to stay with the defensive line. The two Israel’s, Folau and Dagg, deserve a mention here too. Both have had excellent seasons, with Folau particularly impressing given that this is his first year in Union and he has already proven himself to be a World Class player.

Coach, Steve Hansen, New Zealand – When Hansen took over from Graham Henry after the 2011 World Cup it seemed a bit of a poisoned chalice. Teams generally go downhill after a World Cup win. However his record since the World Cup reads 28 games, 26 wins, 1 draw, 1 defeat, and this year he guided the All Blacks to 14 victories from 14 Test, the first International side to go through a season unbeaten in the professional era. Hansen seems to have taken the All Blacks beyond where they were when they won the World Cup, a unbelievable achievement. 

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