1 – Andrew Sheridan (England) – Sheridan has been the cornerstone of the powerful English scrum since 2004 and due to the fact that the scrum has been just about the only consistent part of England’s game in recent times, Sheridan deserves special praise.
He is a giant of a man with phenomenal strength and technique, just ask Matt Dunning.
However, far from simply a set piece master, Sheridan has developed his game in the loose and is now a key ball carrier for England as well as a destructive tackler.
Honourable Mentions: Gethin Jenkins (Wales)
2 – John Smit (SA) – The most capped Springbok captain of all time, Smit reached the pinnacle of his career by lifting the William Webb Ellis trophy in 2007.
He has been a fine role model of South African rugby over the last decade and has led his country to great success, including Tri-Nations victories in 2004 and 2009 and a series victory over the British and Irish Lions in 2009.
Honourable Mentions: Kevin Mealamu (NZ), Mario Ledesma (Argentina)
3 – Martin Castrogiovanni (Italy) – The long-locked Leicester legend has become a standout figure in the game and a much-feared opponent. He has been a fantastic servant to the Tigers, single-handedly wrecking opposition scrums in the Guinness Premiership and Heineken cup year after year.
His international accolades have been restricted, but he has played with courage and tenacity in a weak Italian side renowned for its scrummaging ability.
Honourable Mentions: Adam Jones (Wales)
4 – Martin Johnson (England) – A giant of the game, both literally and figuratively.
Arguably the greatest International rugby captain of all time, Martin Johnson was a man who did not know how to fail. He took England from mediocrity to world-beaters and as the only Northern-hemisphere captain to lift the William Webb-Ellis trophy so far, he will go down in history.
However, he was more than just a fine captain, he was a superb line-out technician and a thorn in any opposition pack. Indeed, so respected was he that he was chosen as England’s head coach in 2008 despite having no previous coaching experience.
Honourable Mentions: Fabien Pelous (France) , Simon Shaw (England)
5 – Victor Matfield (SA) – The most-capped Springbok player of all time and still the first name on the South African team sheet. South Africa’s line-out has towered over its competitors for the past decade and that is largely thanks to Matfield.
Like Smit, he has won almost everything there is to win in the game, including a World Cup, Tri-Nations and a series victory over the British and Irish Lions.
Honourable Mentions: Paul O’Connell (Ireland)
6 – Rocky Elsom (Australia) – Now the proud Wallaby captain, Elsom is an outstanding player who is rarely out of contention for the man of the match award.
His work rate is phenomenal and any team he plays in tends to enjoy great success. He has resurrected a struggling Australian side following his return from a stint with the Irish province Leinster, whom he helped claim the Heineken Cup in 2009.
Having won Herald Super 14 player of the year in 2007, Wallaby of the year in 2008 and European Player of the Year in 2009, it is no wonder that Elsom is held in such high regard by players and supporters alike.
Honourable Mentions: Richard Hill (England)
7 – Richie McCaw (NZ) – Over 100 Super Rugby caps, New Zealand’s most capped captain of all time and three-time winner of the IRB’s International Player of the Year.
Not much more need be said about arguably the game’s greatest ever breakdown tactician. A World Cup winner’s medal is the only thing missing from McCaw’s trophy cabinet, but with the 2011 Rugby World Cup being held on New Zealand soil, few would bet against him lifting the trophy next year.
Honourable Mentions: Serge Betsen (France)
8 – Lawrence Dallaglio (England) – Along with Johnson, Dallaglio is an iconic figure of the ferocious English pack in 2003.
However, whilst his compatriot hung up his boots in 2005, the old warhorse Dallaglio came out of International retirement and helped England reach a second successive final in 2007. He is a three-time Lions tourist, has captained his country and is London Wasps’ greatest ever servant.
Aside from an unproven drug allegation, Dallaglio has been the finest of rugby role models.
Honourable Mentions: Sergio Parise (Italy)
9 – Fourie Du Preez (SA) – A superb general, Du Preez was the architect of the Springboks’ 2007 World Cup victory.
He is not the most flamboyant of scrum-halves but his ruthless kicking tactics and consistency of performance contribute so much to the success of his teams. He rarely makes any mistake whatsoever and far surpasses his opponents in the arts of a number nine.
Honourable Mentions: Mike Phillips (Wales)
10 – Dan Carter (NZ) – Dan Carter recently became the leading International points scorer of all time and secured his place as the finest stand-off in recent memory, perhaps of all time.
He is metronomical in his kicking but is also the most naturally gifted of players with ball in hand. He glides across the pitch and can create an opening from nothing.
Like McCaw, the only accolade to elude him so far is a World Cup winner’s medal.
Honourable Mentions: Jonny Wilkinson (England)
11 – Shane Williams (Wales) – The latest Welsh wizard, Shane Williams’s twinkle toes have made uncountable opponents look foolish.
Despite being at a size disadvantage, he has a tremendous ability to avoid traffic and find his way to the try-line.
He was the IRB’s International Player of the Year in 2008 and is his country’s leading try-scorer. He was crucial to Wales’s Grand-Slams in 2005 and 2008 and scored a try in the Lions’ consolation victory in the third test against South-Africa in 2009.
Honourable Mentions: Rupeni Caucaunibuca (Fiji)
12 – Ma’a Nonu (NZ) – Arguably World Rugby’s most feared opponent, Nonu has gone from strength to strength over the past decade. He nearly always beats the first tackle and his phenomenal strength enables him to free his arms for a try-scoring offload.
Due to the immense threat he poses, he has a fantastic ability to make space for his teammates, as well as consistently crossing the try-line himself. He will be crucial to New Zealand’s chances at the 2011 World Cup.
Honourable Mentions: Matt Giteau (Australia)
13 – Brian O’Driscoll (Ireland) – An absolute genius, BOD continues to excel at the highest level of the game.
It is hard to think of another player with such incredible vision and natural ability.
Fittingly O’Driscoll led his beloved Leinster to the Heineken Cup title in 2009, as well as Ireland to a Grand-Slam in the same year. And although there have been some disappointments along the road, such as three successive Lions Series reverses, BOD will go down in Irish folklore as one of the finest players of his generation.
Honourable Mentions: Conrad Smith (NZ)
14 – Joe Rokocoko (NZ) - To date he has scored 46 tries in 66 tests, including 4 hat-tricks in his All-Black career.
Since bursting onto the scene in 2003, Rokocoko has been an ever-present in the New Zealand back-line and has one of the finest try-scoring rates in World Rugby. Along with Carter and Nonu he will have a big say in the outcome of the 2011 World Cup.
Honourable Mentions: Takudzwa Ngwenya (USA)
15 – Jason Robinson (England) – Billy Whizz is arguably the greatest ever exponent of attacking rugby, certainly in English rugby history. His lightning fast feet and explosive strength made him virtually unstoppable and set alight rugby fields around the world.
He is one of a very select group to have played in two World Cup finals and his iconic celebration following his try in the 2003 World Cup final will be replayed and copied for years to come,
Honourable Mentions: Chris Latham (Australia), Chris Paterson (Scotland)