Of course, we see a heavy black tinge to the best team of the year—but despite the dominance of the North, there are plenty of quality players on the world stage.
Hopefully, the IRB will not select such a team, for it would be filled with endless consternation and debate. For while Shane Williams is without a doubt the premier wing in world rugby—it is somewhat singular to name him the best player in the world when overlooking men such as Richie McCaw, Sergio Parisse, Matt Giteau, and John Smit are of vital importance to their teams.
But—despite the ruthless assessments now going underway of nations such as England, we are blessed to see an abundance of genuine superstars and game breakers in world rugby.
Let’s look at the team!
The custodian position of Fullback belongs to Mils Muliaina (NZL, Waikato, 68 test caps, 24 tries), who has benefited from playing in position and not being challenged by the likes of Leon MacDonald. Captaining Waikato this season his dependability has increased and his positional play is unmatched. He is now earning comparisons with Christian Cullen and George Nepia.
Welsh player Lee Byrne deserves backup spot, had an outstanding season both in the six nations and autumn internationals.
At Wing we of course see the inclusion of Shane Williams (WAL, Ospreys, 59 test caps, 44 tries) who has been in sparkling form, his dancing feet even making the likes of Bryan Habana look ordinary. He broke Gareth Thomas’s try scoring record for Wales this season.
Sitiveni Sivivatu (NZL, Waikato, 34 test caps, 24 tries) just pips Peter Hynes and Cedric Heymans for the second wing spot. Featuring in 13 tests in 2008, his consistency over the end of season tour earned his spot.
At outside centre we select Stirling Mortlock (AUS, Brumbies, 74 test caps, third highest point scorer in Australian history) who finished the season at inside centre but is no doubt the best number 13 in the game, closely followed by the silky Brian O’Driscoll.
The position of inside centresees us blessed with three world class players, but Ma’a Nonu (NZL, Wellington, 33 test caps, 11 tries) makes the team after not only an outstanding end of season tour, but a revelation of a season where he looks twice the player. Just pips Jean De Villiers and Gavin Henson, both equally world class players.
The crucial position of Fly half goes to Dan Carter (NZL, Canterbury, 59 test caps, third highest point scorer in NZ history) who at 26 could go on to become the greatest player of all time. Regarded by many as the most complete number ten the world has ever seen. Back up spot goes to Matt Giteau, who is as brilliant individually, but has yet to control games as Carter has done.
At scrumhalf we see much depth from the All Blacks and Springboks, but Mike Blair (SCO, Edinburgh, 50 test caps, five tries) has had such a strong season behind an average Scotland pack that he is being tipped as the captain of the British Lions in 2009. Nominated for world player of the year.
From the back of the scrum at Number eight we see outstanding Italian captain Sergio Parisse (ITA, Stade Francais, capped since 2002) who just pips Rodney So’oialo and up and coming Welsh player Andy Powell. His ability in the loose and interplay around the field is a large part in why the Azzuri both as a team and a scrum are becoming a genuine top contender.
In the Flanker positions, we of course pay homage to Richie McCaw (NZL, Canterbury, 70 tests, 14 tries) who is unchallenged as not only the best open side but is becoming a remarkable and formidable captain. However, there are quality sevens in world rugby, with George Smith and Martyn Williams both brilliant fetchers.
At blindside the menace of Schalk Burger (SA, Western province, 49 tests, 10 tries) is unequalled as a destructive player. He is narrowly pipped to the post by the French tackling machine Thierry Dusautoir.
The tall timbers of lockfeature Ali Williams (NZL, Auckland, 61 tests, seven tries) notable for being the only All Black to feature in all 15 games of the 2008 season, who has relished the opportunity of being senior lock and has all but eliminated New Zealand’s problems at the lineout.
Despite being criticised for his work rate, Victor Matfield (SA, Blue Bulls, 80 tests, five tries) is unequalled as the world’s premier lineout jumper. Matfield became the first international captain to beat the All Blacks at home this year since Martin Johnson.
The big men of the prop ranks are first represented by Tony Woodcock (NZL, Auckland, 49 tests, five tries) who as loosehead is unrivalled possibly as the best prop in the world. Woody caused significant problems for Wallaby, Welsh, English and Irish scrums this year.
The bolter for the World team is Scottish prop Euan Murray (SCO, Northampton, 25 tests, two tries) who has had a remarkable 2008 allowing Scotland to dominate the Puma packs, and then causing an All Black second XV huge problems—feted for a British Lions berth.
Finally, at hooker, despite being switched to prop, we see World Cup winning Captain and Hooker John Smit (SA, Clermont-Auvergne, 81 tests, four tries) who is the most capped Springbok captain of all time. He narrowly pips his Tri Nations rivals of Stephen Moore, Andrew Hore and Keven Mealamu.
15 – M. Muliaina (NZL), 14 – S. Williams (WAL), 13 – S. Mortlock (AUS), 12 – M. Nonu (NZL), 11 – S. Sivivatu (NZL), 10 – D. Carter (NZL), 9 – M. Blair (SCO), 8 – S. Parisse (ITA), 7 – R. McCaw (NZL), 6 – S. Burger (SAF), 5 – A. Williams (NZL), 4 – V. Matfield (SAF), 3 – E. Murray (SCO), 2 – J. Smit (SAF), 1 – T. Woodcock (NZL)
Second World XV
15 – L. Byrne (WAL), 14 – C. Heymans (FRA), 13 – B. O’Driscoll (IRE), 12 – J. De Villiers (SAF), 11 – P. Hynes (AUS), 10 – M. Giteau (AUS), 9 – J. Cowan (NZL), 8 – R. So’oialo (NZL), 7 – G. Smith (AUS), 6 – T. Dusautoir (FRA), 5 – N. Sharpe (AUS), 4 – B. Botha (SAF), 3 – T. Mtawarira (SAF), 2 – A.Hore (NZL), 1 – L. Faure (FRA)