Best XV from the November Internationals

Tom Sunderland@@TomSunderland_Featured ColumnistDecember 2, 2013

Best XV from the November Internationals

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    This past month has been every bit the rugby extravaganza that fans could have hoped for with the November internationals successfully pitting the best and brightest of the world against one another.

    In the end, the Southern Hemisphere teams return to their respective headquarters with heads held high, with New Zealand, South Africa and Australia unsurprisingly performing particularly well.

    Taking into account how many games each nation has played, the individual involvement of each player and their reflective influence on how successful their country has been this autumn, we've compiled the best XV into one line-up.

    Disagree with our choices or feel there are any major omissions? Let us know in the forum below.

Front Five

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    1. James Slipper, Australia

    James Slipper's input these past five weeks or so has been massive for Ewen McKenzie, as the 24-year-old was one of only a few players to start in all five of Australia's November Tests.

    A feat of the loosehead's stamina and endurance, what's more incredible is that in those outings, Slipper managed to amass an average of just over seven tackles per game and rarely let his opposite man get the better of him at the scrum. 

    Honourable Mention: Cian Healy, Ireland

    2. Bismarck du Plessis, South Africa

    Arguably one of the best players in the entire autumn series, Bismarck du Plessis capitalised on a tremendous Rugby Championship by following that form up with some displays in the Northern Hemisphere that were, if nothing else, physical.

    Asserting his stacked frame on the opposition time and time again, the Shark consistently took the battle to his enemies both in the loose and at the set piece, having a particularly impressive game in the 24-15 win over Wales and scoring one try and assisting another.

    Honourable Mention: Dylan Hartley, England

    3. Rhodri Jones, Wales

    Jones was a surprise inclusion at tighthead, given that prior to this tournament, the Scarlets youngster had very little international experience to his name.

    The 21-year-old undoubtedly showed that there are still holes in his game, and a lack of synchronisation with his fellow internationals sometimes led to mistakes. But Warren Gatland can now rest a little more easily in his search to find a successor to Jones' namesake, Adam. 

    Honourable Mention: Owen Franks, New Zealand

    4. Sam Whitelock, New Zealand

    Sam Whitelock was another who managed to start in all of his nation's Tests this November and was one of the few staples in a New Zealand side that became the first ever to win all of their matches in a calendar year.

    While the 25-year-old may appear tall and cumbersome, Whitelock's average of 15 tackles per game is an incredible statistic for one of his size, and he showcased the mobility that he's likely to bring to the All Blacks table for some years to come.

    Honourable Mention: Brodie Retallick, New Zealand

    5. Courtney Lawes, England

    This year has seen Courtney Lawes, a player who's shone in the past but had his fair share of doubters at the same time, really step into his international surroundings.

    In the absence of other England regulars, the Northampton Saint was a leading figure at the English line-out throughout the November period and never missed a tackle, showing off the more amicable side of his physical prowess. 

    Honourable Mention: Flip van der Merwe, South Africa

Back Row

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    6. Richie McCaw, New Zealand

    The evergreen legend of New Zealand rugby, Richie McCaw once again played a key role in his country's successes this past month and led by example against the likes of England, Ireland and France, just as he always has.

    Although the veteran was pulled up for getting a little overzealous at the breakdown from time to time, McCaw was a defensive beast and contributed 50 tackles in just three matches for Steve Hansen's side. 

    Honourable Mention: Chris Robshaw, England

    7. Michael Hooper, Australia

    One of the stars of November, Michael Hooper has taken some massive strides in his Wallabies development over the course of 2013, but at no point has he played a more prominent role than throughout the course of November.

    Sin bins aside, the 22-year-old openside missed just 23 minutes of McKenzie's autumn campaign, leaving 377 minutes of playing time for Hooper in which he scored two tries, forced turnovers for fun and rose to new heights in the green and gold.

    Only Ben Mowen and Israel Folau played more minutes than the youngster.

    Honourable Mention: Sean O'Brien, Ireland

    8. Kieran Read, New Zealand

    One of two New Zealanders with a chance of winning the 2013 Player of the Year award, Kieran Read has been a consistent source of inspiration for the All Blacks over the last 10 months and continued in that vein for November. 

    Currently standing out as one of the best players in world rugby, the 28-year-old Crusaders favourite scored two tries and made a nuisance of himself on the New Zealand wing, showing some ridiculously good ball handling on a very frequent basis.

    Honourable Mention: Jamie Heaslip, Ireland


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    9. Will Genia, Australia

    One half of an all-Australian half-back pairing in this best XV, Will Genia only helped in reaffirming his reputation as the best scrum-half in world rugby with an extremely productive trip north of the equator.

    Genia's tendency to promote fast ball and even quicker play was in full effect for the past five weeks, and the mini maestro notched four try assists, giving more than 300 passes in total and averaging 61 passes per autumn Test. 

    Honourable Mention: Greig Laidlaw, Scotland

    10. Quade Cooper, Australia

    Now firmly back within his international setup, Quade Cooper's Wallabies career came full circle over the last three months or so, and the controversial Queensland playmaker has shown new levels of maturity of late as both a player and a man.

    While Cooper has managed to lose none of the flash for which he first gained a reputation, the fly-half has done away with some of the profligacy that once tainted his image and is now a much more efficient and well-oiled machine.

    In five November outings, the 25-year-old averaged one try assist per game in total and ended the tour with a flourish, showcasing some stupendous offloading in the win over Wales at the Millennium Stadium. 

    Honourable Mention: Owen Farrell, England


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    11. Nick Cummins, Australia

    Despite being one of those players suspended from the Scotland game for drinking offences, per BBC Sport, November was generally a profitable time for Nick Cummins. 

    The winger scored three tries and made one assist in the four games in which he did feature, and he was an all-round nuisance for the opposition.

    Julian Savea, having played in only two games due to illness, comes in as a very close honourable mention.

    Honourable Mention: Julian Savea, New Zealand

    12. Jean de Villiers, South Africa

    Statistically speaking, there wasn't all too much to rave about when it came to Jean de Villiers this autumn, but one thing that must be said is that South Africa wouldn't have been the same side without him.

    Against Wales, the veteran showed off some of his flashier attacking talents and cruised over for an essential try under immense pressure, but he mostly played the role of midfield conduit that proved so important throughout the Rugby Championship. 

    Honourable Mention: Wesley Fofana, France

    13. Ben Smith, New Zealand

    Ben Smith, the other All Black to have found himself nominated for IRB Player of the Year, has now turned his hand to playing at centre and coped magnificently with the change in the Northern Hemisphere.

    Missing just one tackle in November, Smith turned up to the fore when needed most by his side and carried for more than 100 metres against Ireland, the win that would seal New Zealand's 14-win year of 2013.

    While his scoring presence wasn't felt as much in midfield, Smith's ability to transfer his talents to the No. 13 shirt speaks volumes of his maturity and development as one of Hansen's most essential backs. 

    Honourable Mention: Scott Williams, Wales

    14. George North, Wales

    Scoring two tries in Wales' Cardiff clash against Australia over the weekend, George North was unfortunate now to be at the forefront of what would have been a commendable home team comeback.

    Alas, while the youngster impressed himself, it wasn't to be.

    In truth, there were wingers who might have made this XV as a result of more prolific or glamorous displays, but North, coping with the heap of Welsh injuries in the back line, showed a sound level of maturity and became a leading figure for Wales in recent weeks.

    Playing off both wings and almost acting as another centre at times, the Northampton Saint was unfortunate not to be on the end of a more attractive autumn record, but he spearheaded the Welsh attack for a great deal of the month, regardless. 

    Honourable Mention: Willie le Roux, South Africa

    15. Israel Folau, Australia

    When it comes to fullbacks, nobody in world rugby is in better form right now than Israel Folau, the most prolific athlete to pull on a No. 15 jersey in 2013.

    For that's exactly what the Waratah is: an athlete. And Folau showed with his combination of speed, strength, agility and unrestrained versatility that he'll be able to lead Australia onto bigger and better things.

    In only two games this November did Folau not manage to get on the scoreboard, and even more impressively, in only one match did he fail to make less than 100 metres, even then falling short of the century by just five metres.

    Three tries and one assist in five games are the kind of figures that McKenzie looks forward to reading about with his players, with Folau starring as one of the Wallabies' most impressive assets this past month.

    Honourable Mention: Mike Brown, England