Selecting an All-Time Best England XV

Tom SunderlandFeatured ColumnistDecember 11, 2013

Selecting an All-Time Best England XV

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    As one of the most decorated rugby nations in history, England have welcomed a plethora of world-class talent through their halls throughout the years from numbers one to 15 and back again.

    Here, we've taken a look at some of the most talented players ever to don the red rose, building a dream line-up of English titans.

    Unsurprisingly, a number of members from the 2003 World Cup-winning team have managed to make their way into England's all-time XV, but there are a number of less obvious inclusions within.

    Read on for a trip down memory lane, celebrating some of the greatest England bastions, none of whom time will forget.

1. Jason Leonard

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    The most capped English player of all time, Jason Leonard made a staggering 114 appearances for the English national team in a 14-year span between 1990 and 2004.

    The prop began his career with Saracens but will be most fondly remembered at club level for his time at Harlequins.

    Able to play in both loosehead and tighthead positions, Leonard was an ever-present force for England during most of the 1990s and journeyed on three British and Irish Lions tours, as well as coming on as a substitute in the 2003 World Cup final triumph.

2. Brian Moore

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    Having since gone on to make a highly successful career for himself in punditry and match analysis, it's sometimes easy to forget what a presence Brian Moore was in the jersey, not just commenting on others from afar.

    Beating Steve Thompson to a place in the line-up, "Pitbull" was a flag-bearer of the English pack in the early '90s, as learned as they come in the art of gamesmanship, frustrating most oppositions he'd face.

    Moore's talents transferred to the game with ball in hand, however, and his stout presence hid a far more agile creature, as proficient in open play as he was at the set piece.

3. Phil Vickery

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    Born and raised as the son of a farming family in Devon, Phil Vickery's physical assets were what laid the path for an extremely prolific playing career at both club and international level.

    In 2010, the prop legend was forced into a slightly early retirement due to recurring neck injuries, but a then 34-year-old Vickery had already stamped his mark on the game, a part of the 2003 World Cup squad and a two-time British and Irish Lion.

4. Bill Beaumont

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    Bill Beaumont's 34 Test caps for England were at one stage a record sum for a lock, 21 of those appearances coming as captain for the national team.

    The second row's proudest achievement came when he managed to lead England to a shock Grand Slam win in the 1980 Five Nations, the team having not seen such a feat for 23 years.

    Beaumont's qualities in the loose weren't what set him apart from the rest, but a work rate unlike many others and a distinct tact in leadership were. 

5. Martin Johnson

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    Partnering Beaumont is another second row force who's name will forever be synonymous with England's success as the captain of that historic World Cup triumph in 2003, Martin Johnson.

    If his achievements at Leicester Tigers weren't enough to propel the lock into England fame, the former England manager's exploits on the international stage certainly were, Johnson earning 84 caps for his national side in a decade-long tenure.

    At club level, the 43-year-old's titanic Tigers team of the late 90s and early 2000s won back-to-back Heineken Cups, not to mention four Premiership medals.

6. Richard Hill

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    One of the most understated figures of the 2003 squad, Richard Hill's contributions to the national team unfairly go unheralded when compared with the likes of Jonny Wilkinson and Martin Johnson.

    A classic case of a flanker's work at the breakdown often going unseen, the former Saracens stalwart consistently drained his opposition of their energy with fine work across the pitch, offering his teammates support in the loose and an exemplary presence to have around in the scrappier aspects of the game.

7. Peter Winterbottom

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    A shining example of what the modern day openside should aim to emulate, Peter Winterbottom proved to be the downfall of many a fly-half in his day, timing and precision tackles around the fringes being among his biggest qualities.

    The journeyman played for Harlequins on native shores, but he would also go on to feature in New Zealand and South Africa as his career progressed.

    Winterbottom featured in two British and Irish Lions tours, in 1983 and again a decade later, in the meantime becoming just the second ever Englishman to win 50 caps.

    The veteran's best work predominantly came when he didn't have the ball, a defensive icon among back rowers.

8. Lawrence Dallaglio

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    Widely regarded as one of the best back rowers to have graced the sport, any moments of controversy outside of Lawrence Dallaglio's playing days were paved over by one of the most glittering careers an England forward has ever produced.

    Now a pundit and BT Sport analyst, Dallaglio's technical know-how is being put to good use in the media, a decade after he helped Johnson's team to 2003 glory.

    Winning more than 80 caps in a 12-year England career, the only thing more spectacular than Dallaglio's ability was the fact that he was able to prolong those standards for so long, leading London Wasps from 1990 to 2008.

9. Matt Dawson

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    It would have taken a considerable man to lead what some would describe as the most talented English pack of all time, so it's ironic that the small package of Matt Dawson was the man to deliver the goods between the late '90s and early '00s.

    Possessing a penchant to score tries but above all else providing his back line with a constant supply of good, quick ball, the half-back was undoubtedly one of the most important components in England's 2003 triumph.

    During his career, Northampton and Wasps benefited mostly from Dawson's talents at club level, with no other English scrum-half possessing quite the same awareness in clutch situations. 

10. Jonny Wilkinson

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    Arguably the most recognisable player ever to have worn the white of England, Jonny Wilkinson is the only player included in our XV who's happened to maintain his playing career to the present day, and what a career it's been.

    The highest England international points scorer of all time, the 34-year-old has notched more than 1,150 points for the nation in a 13-year career in the No. 10 jersey.

    To put that statistic into context, the next highest points scorer for England is Paul Grayson, who only managed 400 in his international stint, almost three times less than the Toulon technician.

    Famed for his kicking prowess, Wilkinson is also renowned for being able to use both feet despite being naturally left-footed and it was with the fly-half's right boot that he sent over the infamous match-winning drop goal against Australia in the 2003 World Cup final.

11. Ben Cohen

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    Although his considerable frame and speed undoubtedly lent themselves well to Ben Cohen's success in English colours, they weren't always necessary as the winger's fine sense of where and when to be meant that his support play was often just to put the finishing touches on moves.

    However, the 2003 World Cup winner still contributed his fair share of sensational moments from off the English flank, finishing his career as the joint-second highest England try scorer of all time, tied with Will Greenwood.

12. Mike Catt

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    As intelligent a back as they come, Mike Catt's knowledge of the sport meant that he was a threat not only in the centre, but from fly-half, full-back and off the wing, too.

    Now passing that information on as part of Stuart Lancaster's England staff, it's good to see that such a smart maestro of the midfield isn't going to waste in his retirement.

    Admittedly, the likes of Jeremy Guscott and Will Greenwood may feel they're missing out as a result of Catt's inclusion, but while the former Bath star never reached the same heights in international colours, his ability to adapt and quality in making those around him look better as a result earn Catt a berth.

13. Will Carling

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    As famous for his personal dealings off the pitch as he was for his dealings on it, controversial Will Carling remains one of the most gifted backs ever to play for England, captaining the team for eight of his nine years as an international.

    In 1988, the centre became England's youngest ever captain at just 22 years of age, but would grow into the responsibility and won three Five Nations Grand Slams, as well as leading the team to the final of the 1991 Rugby World Cup.

    Playing outside Guscott for a great deal of his career, Carling was at the forefront of an England team that enjoyed one of its most successful eras under his command.

14. Rory Underwood

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    The highest-ever England try scorer, Rory Underwood's record of 49 scores in just 85 caps is the kind of prolific nature that ensures the older of the Underwood brothers will never be forgotten for his services to the national cause.

    As well as being a Royal Air Force pilot, the Middlesborough-born winger played in three Rugby World Cups between 1987 and 1995, as well as travelling with the British and Irish Lions on two of the tours during that time.

    The Leicester Tigers legend remains the most-capped England back of all time and would be considered one of the best finishers in rugby history, able to make magic out of nothing with a tap of his heels.

15. Jason Robinson

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    It's difficult to sum up Jason Robinson's skill set with an adjective other than "fast," considering the rugby league convert may be the quickest player ever to play for the England national side.

    An inch of space and Robinson would exploit it, able to turn on the afterburners in the slightest of seconds, scoring 28 tries in 51 outings for his country.

    It was Robinson who scored England's only try of the 2003 Rugby World Cup final and while some might say that his best input came from the wing, his substantial pace made sure that he was a major threat even when coming from further back.