In the fourth instalment of a seven-part series, SA Rugby magazine’s writers pick their best World XV of the past 25 years.
JON CARDINELLI: There’s bound to be some debate about the selection and balance of a composite back row. Personally, I’m favouring loosies with the physical ability to dominate the tackle as well as the athleticism to thrive in a more expansive game.
Richie McCaw is the obvious and essential selection at openside flank. McCaw led the All Blacks to back-to-back World Cup titles and was on the winning side in 131 of his 148 Tests. Opensides have a mandate to push the boundaries, and it would be fair to say that no breakdown criminal has been smoother than McCaw in the professional era.
Test rugby has served up ha number of great No 8s over the past 25 years– Zinzan Brooke, Toutai Kefu, Lawrence Dallaglio and Duane Vermeulen to name a few. Kieran Read was one of the All Blacks’ most consistent performers during that side’s period of dominance between 2011 and 2017 A player who could mix it with the more physical specimens, Read was better known for his fantastic ball skills as well as his prowess at the back of the lineout.
As I’ve said before, I’m striving for balance and there will be no ‘Pooper’-style selections. My blindside flank must be a bruiser, a lineout option and an outstanding athlete. Who else but Pieter-Steph du Toit has served as a better all-round option in the professional era. Special mention has to go to Jerome Kaino and Thierry Dusautoir, though, who were titans for the All Blacks and France respectively.
CRAIG LEWIS: This is a particularly challenging selection. There are some truly legendary figures who have played in the loose trio, and despite often being enemy No 1 for South African rugby fans, you simply can’t overlook Richie McCaw.
The former All Blacks superstar was a nuisance to any opposition and pushed the boundaries of legality on numerous occasions, but no one can deny that he was one of the most effective players to have graced the game.
So that’s McCaw in at openside flank, while at No 7 I’m opting for a ‘hybrid flank’ in Schalk Burger. Although I was immensely tempted to opt for Frenchman Thierry Dusatoit, who was hard as nails, there is no doubt South African rugby produced its own version of a player who never took a step backwards.
At No 8, there are plenty of options, but I can’t overlook Kieran Read. As a leader, tireless performer and resilient maestro in all facets of play, he is the embodiment of a well-rounded, world-class eighthman.
WADE PRETORIUS: Richie McCaw … sure, we South Africans loved to hate him and his breakdown work. As well as his ability to slow the ball down. And sure, we even had plenty of justification at times too. But, he goes down as one of the all-time greats and a superstar of the sport choosing any metric. For his years of service, his accolades and his World Cup wins, he dominates my back row.
He will be backed up at eighthman by Kieran Read. A player who went slightly under the radar went he played second fiddle to McCaw, Read enjoyed plenty of time in the spotlight as the leader of the All Blacks. He led in all aspects, game play and attitude towards the game. If you loved to hate McCaw, you could not not love Read.
Not only to have some French influence in my World XV but 2011 Player of the Year, Thierry Dusautoir, completes my backrow. Both McCaw and Read will be relieved such was the Frenchman’s impact on the game and particularly when he laced up his boots against the All Blacks. Again, I found myself agreeing with Dylan Jack about Dusautoir’s impact over the Kiwis. Few dominated, and in the process swayed results, the breakdown quite like Dusautoir. A colossal defender and someone graced with it all.
MARIETTE ADAMS: Kieran Read is the dynamic master of all trades in world rugby. He was one of leading lieutenants during McCaw’s All Blacks captaincy. His leadership grew a lot between New Zealand’s 2011 and 2015 World Cup campaigns and when McCaw retired, Read made what looked like a seamless transition into that role.
His ability to do the grinding work with the forwards while also linking up with the backs and his knack for seizing control of games at key moments, had become an invaluable asset to the All Blacks.
In an 11-year international career, the 2013 World Rugby Player of the Year and double World Cup winner amassed 127 Test caps, captained the All Blacks 52 times, scored 26 tries and strung together a world record 19 consecutive wins as skipper at one stage. To have that kind of staying power and dominance over such a long period, he had to have been special.
Rugby followers have been spoilt for choice when it comes to openside flank, as there’ve been a few colossal players parked in this position. Think Schalk Burger, David Pocock, George Smith, Thierry Dusautoir, Michael Hooper and Sam Warburton, to name a few.
Unfortunately for them, they all played in same era as Richie McCaw, who with his long-standing dominance, unrivalled list of accomplishments and seemingly infinite number of world records, cast a shadow over every one of their careers.
It’ll take too long to outlined his qualities and unprecedented achievements. But the image McCaw playing with a broken foot in a World Cup semi-final, stealing the ball off an opponent at a crucial moment and doing a rolly-polly at the same time is imprinted on my mind because it’s a sequence of play that epitomised his whole career.
I was tempted to go with Pieter-Steph du Toit. He is after all, the current World Rugby Player of the Year and a recently crowned World Cup and Rugby Championship winner. Instead, I selected Jerry Collins to make it an All Blacks back row.
Collins brought a level of physicality and brutal influence to the game that not many others have been able to reproduce.
DYLAN JACK: When Kieran Read does retire from all rugby, he will be remembered as possibly the greatest eighthman in the modern era of rugby. Read was the perfect backup and then successor to Richie McCaw as All Blacks captain, maturing very well between the 2011 and 2015 World Cups.
Read’s achievements – two-time World Cup-winner, four Super Rugby titles and a World Rugby Player of the Year Award in 2013 – are testament to his ability.
At blindside flank, I have opted for Thierry Dusautoir. One of the few players to best McCaw at the breakdown, who can forget Dusatoir’s impact in 2007 and 2011? His legacy will very much be defined by those two performances against the All Blacks – where he made a combined 58 tackles. Were it not for some strange breakdown interpretations from referee Craig Joubert in 2011, Dusatoir may have played a major role in stunning the All Blacks twice.
But I digress. Dusatoir was a powerhouse for the French pack – he would be more than comfortable as a traditional blindside – and has earned the right to be recognised among some of rugby’s greatest players.
At openside, I have gone for the main man himself, Richie McCaw. My colleagues have already had plenty to say about the former All Black captain, so I will keep it short. Heyneke Meyer said it best when he opined that McCaw was worth 10-15 points. His on and off-field influence on the All Blacks cannot be overstated and he will be remembered as one of rugby’s most successful players.
Photo: Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty