Rugby: Gregor Paul's World 15

By Gregor Paul

All Black wing Cory Jane had a faultless year. Photo / Getty Images
All Black wing Cory Jane had a faultless year. Photo / Getty Images

With the international season now over, Gregor Paul picks his World XV.

15. Adam Ashley-Cooper, Australia
No one could match the all-round class and consistency of Adam Ashley-Cooper. The Wallaby utility back featured across the backline but always looked at his best, his most threatening, when at fullback. He's too good a footballer to leave out. He breaks the first tackle, picks neat angles, buries people in defence and, as he showed at Twickenham, he's phenomenally strong when he drives through the tackle.

Selected ahead of Mils Muliaina (NZ), Rob Kearney (Ire).

14. Cory Jane, New Zealand
There's not much to Cory Jane. He isn't a wing who can rely on his bulk to drive through people. What he offers is a compelling mix of speed, strength, bravery, neat skills and anticipation. He was one of the few wings comfortable all season under the high ball. He frequently managed to find space when nothing was on and his try in Marseilles was genius - the way he beat his man on the outside and then chipped into space.

A faultless year.

Selected ahead of Tommy Bowe (Ire), Ugo Monye (Eng).

13. Brian O'Driscoll, Ireland
2009 was O'Driscoll's year and it was a surprise he was not named IRB Player of the Year. He led Ireland to a Grand Slam and Leinster to their first Heineken Cup. He formed a deadly partnership with Jamie Roberts during the British Lions tour and then scored in the dying seconds to snatch a draw with Australia on his 100th test appearance. Not as quick as he used to be - but stronger, smarter and full of tricks.

Selected ahead of Conrad Smith (NZ).

12. Jamie Roberts, Wales
Roberts sprang to life in the Six Nations where he started to find holes and offload sweetly to his outsides. He went up another level again on the Lions tour where he and O'Driscoll formed one of the more potent midfield combinations seen in a while. He's a big man, runs some good angles and knows when to use the ball.

Selected ahead of Berrick Barnes (Australia), Jean de Villiers (SA).

11. Bryan Habana, South Africa
There's no doubt that Habana has still got it. That electric pace is there, even if it was mainly seen this year in his work chasing high balls. He came of age in 2009 as a defensive force. Some of his scrambling work was superb and he covered the ground to make big tackles. The way the Boks currently play doesn't really suit him but he remained effective and critical to their game-plan - a sign of class.

Selected ahead of Sitiveni Sivivatu (NZ), Cedric Heymans (Fra).

10. Dan Carter, New Zealand
Once Carter was restored to full health, there was only ever going to be one choice for this berth. Matt Giteau and Jonny Wilkinson have aspirations to be as good - but they just don't deliver the same quality as Carter, nor do they match him for consistency. He nailed the winning penalty in Sydney on his test return, defended brilliantly throughout the end-of-year tour and was sensational against France where his running game returned to top form.

Selected ahead of Stephen Jones (Wales), Matt Giteau (Aus).

9. Fourie du Preez, South Africa
Another who could feel a little unlucky not to be named IRB Player of the Year. By some distance, du Preez is the best halfback in the world. His tactical appreciation is first class and he controlled every test he played this year. He kicks to great effect, barks at his forwards, breaks superbly when it is on and tackles hard. He is the beating heart of the Springboks.

Selected ahead of Will Genia (Aus), Mike Phillips (Wales).

8. Sergio Parisse, Italy
Disgraced himself in June when he eye-gouged Isaac Ross but then redeemed himself with some class performances in the second half of the year. He was the outstanding player in the recent Milan test against the All Blacks where he showed his full range of talents. He is quick and powerful from the base, covers a huge amount of ground and even pulled off an outrageous chip-and-chase after falling back to take a high ball.

Selected ahead of Ryan Jones (Wales), Pierre Spies (SA), Jamie Heaslip (Ire).

7. Richie McCaw, New Zealand
Like there could be any other choice. The world knows what McCaw does - and in nine years, no one has been able to figure out a way to stop him. After struggling in South Africa where he was just back from injury, he produced a series of unflinchingly brave, quality performances. He carried the ball more, snaffled his usual array of turnovers and tackled everything. He's nearing 30 but shows no signs of his standards slipping.

Selected ahead of Heinrich Brussow (SA).

6. Thierry Dusautoir, France
Dusautoir is comparatively light for a blindside. But there is no sense of that when he plays. He has a presence at the collision and gets himself into useful positions at the breakdown. Pound for pound there is no better tackler in the game and he works unbelievably hard for the 80 minutes. Was all class when he led France to a rare June test win in Dunedin.

Selected ahead of Juan Fernandez Lobbe (Arg).

5. Victor Matfield, South Africa
Matfield would be the one man almost certain to appear in any amateur selector's World XV. His presence is enormous; his work at the lineout unrivalled. He reached new heights in 2009 - destroying the All Black lineout three times. There was more to his contribution than that, though. He still got himself around the field, supported the ball carrier in wide places and tidied kick receipts.

Selected ahead of Simon Shaw (Eng).

4. Bakkies Botha. South Africa
If you have Matfield, then you have to have Botha. This is the fish and chips combination of world rugby. The two Bok locks have played more than 50 tests together and work so well. Botha does so much donkey work it's not funny. He crashes into the cleanout, knocks men down around the fringes and gives the Boks an air of intimidation.

Selected ahead of Brad Thorn (NZ).

3. Martin Castrogiovanni, Italy
There is no question Castrogiovanni can scrummage. Some might say he does so illegally - but hey, isn't getting away with it half the art? He is strong and aggressive and he disrupts opposition ball making it hard - as the All Blacks discovered - to launch attacks from the scrum. If he had been born in New Zealand, we'd all be talking of him being one of the best tight-heads in the world.

Selected ahead of Sylvain Marconnet (France).

2. Bismarck du Plessis, South Africa
The South African hooker just got better as the year went on. His throwing is always on the money. He's a big scrummager and a big tackler. But his best work is with the ball in hand. He gets low and drives his legs hard and tacklers stand little chance of putting him down.

Selected ahead of Andrew Hore (NZ).

1. Benn Robinson, Australia
Who would have thought an Australian would make the front-row of a World XV? But Robinson took some major steps this year and troubled everyone he played. He is technically perfect and manages to engage low to the ground. He has the strength to supplement his technique and a desire to take men on at the set-piece.

Selected ahead of Fabien Barcella (Fra).

- Herald on Sunday

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