In the sixth instalment of a seven-part series, SA Rugby magazine’s writers pick their best World XV of the past 25 years.
JON CARDINELLI: Bismarck du Plessis was the full package, with the attitude and physique of an old-school hooker as well as the mindset and skills of a modern-day flanker. Carl Hayman, Pieter de Villiers, Adam Jones and Martin Castrogiovanni were brutally effective tightheads for their respective nations, but ultimately I favoured a consistently destructive all-round force in Owen Franks at No 3.
The list of world-class looseheads that excelled during this period is just as long, but I’ve gone with the tireless Beast Mtawarira – a scrummager who just seemed to get better after destroying Phil Vickery in the 2009 series against the British & Irish Lions – as my No 1 No 1.
CRAIG LEWIS: So far, I’ve picked a World XV made up almost entirely of either Springboks or All Blacks, but I’m going to break that trend with a left-field selection of Italian cult hero Martin Castrogiovanni. Besides boasting over 100 Tests caps, the talismanic tighthead prop was a legend on and off the field.
At hooker, I’m bending the rules slightly as the player in my mind played most of his rugby before 1995, but New Zealander Sean Fitzpatrick did make his 92nd and final test appearance at the end of 1997 (so technically meets our selection criteria to pick players from the past 25 years).
For me, at loosehead, it’s a debate between Tony Woodcock or Beast Mtawarira, both of whom played more than 100 Tests and completely changed the perceptions around the traditional role of a prop. Ultimately, it’s the legacy of the legendary Beast that wins me over, though, with the big man having ended his career at the 2019 World Cup as emphatically as he began it back in 2008.
WADE PRETORIUS: At loosehead it’s Kiwi Tony Woodcock over Wales’ Gethin Jenkins, who I was very tempted to include due to his storied career that included 129 Wales caps and four Six Nations wins. Woodcock though was another tough as nails player, who helped turn the front row club into more than scrummagers. A stalwart of the All Blacks side, and who was frighteningly consistent, he earned nearly 120 caps and scored en route to winning the 2011 World Cup and was rather sadly injured in the 2015 campaign in the group phase.
I love shouts for Martin Castrogiovanni, I really do, but Owen Franks cannot be left out. A double World Cup winner and an all-round machine, once you add his century and then some appearances in the famous black kit of New Zealand you build up quite a strong argument for his presence in this front row. Imagine if he wasn’t controversially left out of the All Blacks squad for last year’s World Cup?!
Ireland’s Keith Wood, France’s Raphael Ibanez and Australia’s Phil Kearns were all very, very good players but Sean Fitzpatrick rounds out my all Kiwi front row. Still recognised as one of the modern day greats despite leaving the international scene in ’97, for his proud record and remarkable leadership he cannot be matched.
MARIETTE ADAMS: Martin Castrogiovanni was a giant of the Italian side throughout his 15-year career. Scrumming down 119 times for the Azzurri, Castrogiovanni was the bedrock of the Italian front row – and at times forward – between 2002 and 2016.
I also agree with Craig Lewis’ hooker selection. Sean Fitzpatrick was a born leader and master tactician who led arguably the greatest All Blacks side of all time with great aplomb. His international career spanned 12 years, making 92 appearances, which included a world record of 63 consecutive Test matches.
For reasons already listed, Os du Randt rounds off my front row and with that also my World XV.
DYLAN JACK: At tighthead prop, I am in agreement with my editor and will opt for Martin Castrogiovanni. The Argentina-born Italian prop certainly brought his Argentinian roots into his scrumming. Besides becoming one of the game’s great characters off the field, he was someone who earned respect on it, representing his country over 100 times.
At loosehead prop, I have to opt for Beast Mtawarira. From his dominance over the British & Irish Lions scrum to finishing on a high by demolishing the English pack, Mtawarira has earned his place in any World XV. One simply cannot leave him out.
To complete a incredibly powerful scrum, I have opted for Bismarck du Plessis at hooker. Not only was Du Plessis an incredible player at his peak, but he redefined what it meant to be a modern day hooker. His ability at the breakdown effectively gave the Springboks a fourth loose-forward, while he was destructive with ball in hand.
Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images