All Blacks: Team of the Tri-Nations

By Wynne Gray

Tony Woodcock, loosehead prop of the Tri-Nations. Photo / Getty Images
Tony Woodcock, loosehead prop of the Tri-Nations. Photo / Getty Images

A conference of Sanzar selectors would struggle to include many Springboks and Wallabies ahead of the All Blacks in a composite Tri-Nations side.

Both sides finished well adrift of the All Blacks, who won all six of their tests and showed a new pedigree and grit to outlast their rivals at home and abroad.

Wing, halfback and lock would be the only three positions where the Boks and Wallabies would mount a selection challenge.

The unluckiest player to miss out would be David Pocock, the influential openside flanker for the Wallabies who has taken over in such fine fashion from George Smith. But even though Pocock is all class, his talents do not yet match those of Richie McCaw.

1. Loosehead prop: Tony Woodcock
Still think Tony Woodcock has more but he cannot be shifted in the scrums and is ticking over some new areas in the loose. Next test will be number 70. The man has experience, strength and clout in bulk.

2. Hooker: Keven Mealamu
It seemed Keven Mealamu was heading for the permanent subs role until the law changes this season and the shoulder injury to Andrew Hore. Mealamu started all nine tests this year, surged through the Tri-Nations where his pick 'n' go forays, outside his core setpiece duties, were an extra weapon in the All Black arsenal. Only 12 tests shy of Fitzy's record now - remarkable for a onetime flanker.

3. Tighthead prop: Owen Franks
Still has some way to go - but what 22-year-old wouldn't? Makes Ma'afu look weary, CJ van der Linde, BJ Botha and Jannie du Plessis just ordinary, as he does his core work and then rolls up his sleeves for openfield combat. Rugged defender, big work-rate, huge ticker.

4. Lock: Brad Thorn
The Ironman continues his remarkable second - or is that third - sporting life with the All Blacks. Has played 46 tests and is going as hard as he did on debut. Added a few neat touches to his relentless power and blowtorch work in the tight five.

5. Lock: Victor Matfield
He may not be at his peerless best but his lineout work is still class, he reads a game extra well, massages referees - and can produce sharp moments like his chip and regather against the Wallabies. Heads off the variable Sharpe and novicey Donnelly.

6. Blindside flanker: Jerome Kaino
The bloke who was first taken on an All Black tour six years and has taken a long time to blossom. But he has, and his combo with Read and McCaw is a major strength for the All Blacks. Has played 33 tests and showed his clout to help galvanise the Sydney comeback when he replaced Vito.

7. Openside flanker: Richie McCaw
Who else but the indomitable workhorse who continues to add layers of skill to his game and levels to his leadership? Had strong tussles with Pocock who is the comer while Schalk Burger matches him for courage and grit - but not on the technical front.

8. No 8: Kieran Read
Continues his upward shift in international pedigree. Running plays, leading the defensive line or tidying up, Read is becoming an all-round rugby package, taking the position to another level after the long and valued service from Rodney So'oialo.

9. Halfback: Francois Hougaard
A halfback who is usually dispatched to the wing at the Bulls when Fourie du Preez is around, Hougaard was inventive, brisk, combative and sharp. He sniped and varied his game more than Piri Weepu, Jimmy Cowan or Will Genia. Some Bok backup.

10. First five: Daniel Carter
DC then a huge gap. Carter was fluid, controlled and brilliant, all the traits you would expect from the backline director. He was belted, though, by Morne Steyn and shaded by Matt Giteau in goalkicking, his stats showing an unusually low 63.9 per cent success rate. No DC in Sydney: it showed.

11. Left wing: Joe Rokocoko
May not be at the apex of his brilliance but he was powerful, reliable and constructive in his four tests. Certainly better than an insipid Bryan Habana and more consistent than an erratic Drew Mitchell. Always demanded defensive attention, which opened up room for others.

12. Second five: Ma'a Nonu
Banged up in June, Nonu was the midfield rock in the next six tests. His interaction with Carter and Smith continues to grow, his ball-carrying is still devastating, passing far more secure - and his options are much stronger. He is a constant threat.

13. Centre: Conrad Smith
Seemed to be mistake-free until the last test in Sydney. He has been so sure, few teams have tried to attack his defensive channel - until Beale gassed him. Before that he was a smooth blend of creative and defensive clout - a strong organiser with great supporting instincts.

14. Right wing: Cory Jane
This bloke continues to amaze. He prefers fullback but has created an expanded template for the wings, which others such as Israel Dagg have been emulating. Strong on cover, instinctive, inventive and refreshing.

15. Fullback: Mils Muliaina
Was in grand touch throughout; his certainty under the high ball, counterattack and defensive organisation, a great riposte to those who wondered what shape he would return to the game in after a lengthy absence with a thumb injury.

- NZ Herald

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