Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: The World XV - Rugby's best in a busy season

It's that time of year again. Gregor Paul selects his World XV for 2012 and, as always, some of his choices will trigger debate. Or insults

Jonathan Davies was consistently excellent on attack. Photo / Getty Images
Jonathan Davies was consistently excellent on attack. Photo / Getty Images

15. Israel Dagg (New Zealand) - There's something about test rugby that makes Israel Dagg tick. Erratic and out of sorts for the Crusaders, Dagg clicked when he returned to All Black duty.

Rock solid under the high ball, adventurous on the counter-attack and instinctively clever in the way he roamed side to side looking for forwards in the defensive line and then beating them on the outside.

His right boot was also invaluable - his raking clearances relieved pressure at critical times.

Other notable performers: Leigh Halfpenny (Wales), Andrea Masi (Italy).


14. Cory Jane (New Zealand) - Not the biggest or fastest, Cory Jane was certainly the best right wing in 2012. His capacity to surprise was limitless.

He didn't drop a high ball but, more than that, he'd catch them in heavy traffic and miraculously find a way to get the ball or himself into space. His fend was lethal, his footwork superb and his general reading of the game in a different class.

His 25-minute cameo in Rome, where he transformed the game, was the perfect example of his unique skill set and how it is almost impossible to defend.

Other notable performers: Gonzalo Camacho (Argentina) - the Pumas wing would be worthy of inclusion but for the excellence of Jane. Camacho is another who is a little different - small, quick, great vision, great feet and X-Factor.


13. Jonathan Davies (Wales) - Wales won a Grand Slam earlier in the year and much of that was down to the calming and penetrative influence of Jonathan Davies who was consistently excellent on attack and ultra-reliable on defence.

Showed his class in November when he returned from injury against the All Blacks and caused problems - picked some sharp angles, distributed well and gave the Welsh greater influence and cohesion.

Other notable performers: Conrad Smith (New Zealand) - would have nailed this if the season had ended in October but ran out of steam in the final weeks.


12. Sonny Bill Williams (NZ) - Tough call this one - Sonny Bill Williams was the best No12 between February and August and Ma'a Nonu took over from September through to early December. France's Wesley Fofana played well all year but split his time between second-five and wing. Williams, just, deserves the place on account of his impact. He was dynamic and direct for the Chiefs and played five big tests for the All Blacks where he owned the gain line and the collisions.

Other notable performers: Nonu(New Zealand(, Fofana (France)


11. Bryan Habana (South Africa) - There had previously been plenty of angst in South Africa about whether Bryan Habana could still score tries. He proved emphatically in 2012 that he could - and he also showed that his ability to pull off the spectacular remains.

His solo, opportunistic effort in Dunedin was awarded IRB try of the year and no one in the world game is as adept as Habana at converting the half-chance (quarter-chance even) into five or seven points.

Other notable performers: Julian Savea (New Zealand), Juan Imhoff (Argentina)


10. Daniel Carter (New Zealand) - It would be a push to say that we consistently saw Daniel Carter at his world class best in 2012. We got that in flashes. We also got a couple of duds from him - in Brisbane and London - which was most unusual. On the whole, though, he delivered high quality if not scintillating rugby. His composure, poise and accuracy were evident and the All Blacks rattled along when he was at the helm. No one runs the game better than him - his tactical control and value were most prominent when he wasn't able to play due to injury. There wasn't another No10 in world rugby who got anywhere near him.

Other notable contenders: Johnny Sexton (Ireland)


9. Kahn Fotuali'i (Samoa) - The former Crusaders star edges out Aaron Smith on the basis that he had a stronger finish to the season. Fotuali'i has won a huge following at his club side in Wales and has several top French clubs willing to break the bank to lure him.

His performance against Wales for Samoa was world class - he was the architect of the famous win and he was just as lively the next week in Samoa's superb effort in almost defeating France. Strong, quick and clever - Fotuali'i was a natural playmaker.

Other notable performers: Aaron Smith (New Zealand)


8. Kieran Read (New Zealand) - No8 was a competitive berth in 2012, with Read, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe and Frenchman Louis Picamoles just ahead of Ireland's Jamie Heaslip, Italy's Sergio Parisse and Wales' Toby Faletau. Read gets the nod as his influence was that bit greater, his impact that bit more telling.

He's a machine, much like McCaw, in that he never stops running, never shirks and seems to know what to do and when to do it. Attacked the short ball with venom all year, was superb at retrieving and chasing kickoffs, made some thunderous hits and improved his offloading.

Other notable performers: Lobbe (Argentina), Picamoles (France)


7. Richie McCaw (New Zealand) - Supposedly the skipper was going to be shown up in 2012 for being over the hill. What a laugh. He was as good, if not better, than he's been at any time in his career. He carried the ball more, harder and better, tackled with more grunt and played more like a six than a seven but his influence was possibly even greater as a result. His performance against South Africa in Dunedin was arguably the best of his career. Deserved his fourth Kel Tremain award and probably should have picked up a fourth IRB World Player of the Year award as well.

Other notable performers: Michael Hooper and Liam Gill (both Australia)


6. Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe (Argentina) - Lobbe only played a few games at No6 but it would be criminal to leave him out of a World XV in 2012.

His bravery, work rate and contribution were immense and there were times when he looked like he would have happily battled opponents on his own if he had to.

Tough and determined, he did the lot. He is a great player and great leader.

Other notable performers: Tom Wood(England), Dan Lydiate (Wales), Stephen Ferris (Ireland)


5. Eben Etzebeth (South Africa) - This boy is a serious find for the Springboks. A phenomenal specimen with the rugby brain to match his obvious brawn. Having lost Bakkies Botha, the Boks needed an enforcer and, at just 21, Etzebeth was happy to play that role. Strong, athletic and nasty, he was a menace and came of age against England at Twickenham where he stood up to some physical punishment and dished out plenty of his own.

Other notable performers: Marco Bortalami (Italy), Nathan Sharpe (Australia)


4. Richie Gray (Scotland) - At 2.08m and 128kg, it's kind of hard to miss Richie Gray. Not always helped by those around him, Gray was tireless in the engine room where his capacity to hit rucks and carry the ball hugely impressed. More than just a big man, though, his handling was good and he was just as able to offload and link the play. A raw athlete who would probably be a genuine global superstar if he played for a top-five-ranked nation.

Other notable performers: Quintin Geldenhuys (Italy)


3. Dan Cole (England) - The fact that the name Dan Cole isn't widely known outside of European rugby is perhaps the ultimate proof he's been the best tighthead in world rugby this year. He is an old school tighthead in that he lives for his scrummaging and, as a consequence, he's rather good at it. England have a quality set piece and Cole anchors it. He's strong, consistent and aggressive. Doesn't do much around the track but doesn't really have to given his contribution in the core areas.

Other notable performers: Adam Jones (Wales), Nicolas Mas (France)


2. Adrian Strauss (South Africa) - Wasn't a great year for hookers in that no one really delivered consistent world-class performances all season. There were lots of good performers and probably none better than Strauss, the man who was third or fourth choice for the Springboks in June but who took his chance when injury struck. Strauss was a dynamic ball carrier, made some big tackles and, like nearly all South African hookers, was almost faultless with his throwing. Had energy and drive and that knack of being in the thick of the action.

Other notable performers: Tatafu Polota-Nau (Australia)


1. Sona Taumalolo (Tonga) - Taumalolo was impossible to ignore in 2012. He was one of the Chiefs' best weapons - scoring tries for fun and making it look easy. But he was no showboater. Taumalolo may have loved driving over from close range but he also loved scrummaging and all the nasty bits of his job. Tonga scored a famous victory against Scotland in November where they dominated the set piece thanks largely to the smiling assassin wearing the red No1 shirt.

Other notable performers: Tony Woodcock (New Zealand), Andrea Lo Cicero (Italy)

- Herald on Sunday

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