Gregor Paul 's Opinion

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul: World XV: Rugby's best in busy season

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Every year, Gregor Paul chooses his World XV — a selection which inevitably creates controversy and draws debate. Here is his 2013 team

Intense and physical, Liam Messam understood test rugby this year. Photo / Getty Images
Intense and physical, Liam Messam understood test rugby this year. Photo / Getty Images

15. Israel Folau (Australia) - A test rookie-a rugby rookie no less - and he scored 10 tries in 14 tests. Australia were mostly rubbish this year except for Folau. He can do everything: defend, attack, score tries, make tries and leap miles to take high balls. He threatened to rip apart the All Blacks at times in Dunedin and his potential is quite frightening.
Selected ahead of: Leigh Halfpenny (Wales), Israel Dagg (New Zealand)

14. Ben Smith (NZ) - Cory Jane set a benchmark for wings last year. BenSmith pushed it higher in 2013. Did he drop a high ball? Did he do anything wrong? Like Jane, Smith is deceptive: the best line-breaker in test football, one of the best finishers and certainly one of the best all-round footballers.
Selected ahead of: Mike Brown (England), Willie le Roux (South Africa)

Wesley Fofana played against the ABs four times and caused trouble in all occasions. Photo / Getty Images
Wesley Fofana played against the ABs four times and caused trouble in all occasions. Photo / Getty Images

13. Wesley Fofana (France) - He wears 12 but the French don't get bogged down in detail. Fofana pops up just as much at centre, where his footwork and awareness are better used. He played against the All Blacks four times this year and caused them major problems on each occasion. Bit of a throwback to the days of French flair.
Selected ahead of: Conrad Smith (New Zealand), Jonathan Davies (Wales)

12. Ma'a Nonu (NZ) - The indestructible Ma'a Nonu took on the thankless task of smashing the All Blacks over the gain line. He did it for 12 tests and was exemplary in each. No one enjoyed playing against him because if he wasn't taking lumps out of them, he'd make them look daft with his range of passing and soft and adventurous offloads.
Selected ahead of: Jean de Villiers (South Africa)

11. George North (Wales) - Scored some classic solo tries in the Six Nations and for the Lions and has developed finesse to his obvious power and pace. Give him the ball and stand back - they are always the best kind of wings.
Selected ahead of: Julian Savea (New Zealand)

George North has power and pace. Photo / Getty Images
George North has power and pace. Photo / Getty Images

10. Aaron Cruden (NZ) - Came of age in 2013. Kicked well, ran well and tackled well. The All Blacks were potent, accurate and precise with him at the helm. Even goal-kicked pretty well and, let's be honest, two years ago (maybe even last year) Cruden wouldn't have nailed the conversion in Dublin.
Selected ahead of: Quade Cooper (Australia), Beauden Barrett (NZ)

9. Conor Murray (Ire) - Lively and strong - Murray is an Irish Justin Marshall. Passes well, attacks the fringes and caused the All Blacks innumerable problems. Needs to hone his accuracy and consistency but a serious talent already.
Selected ahead of: Aaron Smith (New Zealand)

8. Kieran Read (NZ) - Wallaby halfback Will Genia said all that needs to be said when he was asked about Read this year. "Without doubt Kieran, hands down, is the best player in the world. To have a No 8 have such an impact on any game he plays is astonishing. Against South Africa in the Rugby Championship decider in Johannesburg, he had a hand in their tries. He could play centre, wing or fullback, he's that good a footballer." Enough said.
Selected ahead of: Duane Vermeulen (South Africa), Louis Picamoles (France)

Michael Hooper is as good a No 7 as it gets. Photo / Getty Images
Michael Hooper is as good a No 7 as it gets. Photo / Getty Images

7. Michael Hooper (Australia) - Imagine a giant coal mine: dust and dross everywhere. That is the Wallabies. Amid this dust, there is a bright, shining diamond, so much more valuable than most around it. That is Michael Hooper. New Zealand does good No 7s but so too does Australia and Hooper is up there with the best.
Selected ahead of: Richie McCaw, Sam Cane (New Zealand)

6. Liam Messam (NZ) - Now he gets it - Liam Messam understood test rugby this year. He was intense and physical. Maybe he'll never match Jerome Kaino in the intimidation stakes but maybe Kaino will never match Messam's innate rugby skills, knowing what lines to run and how to give and take a pass.
Selected ahead of: Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe (Argentina), Francois Louw (South Africa)

5. Sam Whitelock (NZ) - What everyone seems to have missed about the All Blacks this year is that they have transformed into the best lineout side in the world. They cleaned up England in the final quarter at Twickenham and had the Bok lineout under pressure in both tests. The credit for that goes to Whitelock - he's the new Victor Matfield, and offers similar excellence with his clean-outs, tackling and ball-carrying.
Selected ahead of: Courtney Lawes (England)

4. Brodie Retallick (NZ) - Whatever happened to second season syndrome? This bloke didn't get it. He's a bruiser, happy to slug it out with anyone and his mental hardness and physical endurance was shown in Dublin,where he was called in late to start and nailed a huge 80 minutes.
Selected ahead of: Alun Wyn Jones (Wales), Eben Etzebeth (South Africa)

Juan Figallo is a classic Pumas prop who'll only get better. Photo / Getty Images
Juan Figallo is a classic Pumas prop who'll only get better. Photo / Getty Images

3. Juan Figallo (Argentina) - The Pumas, during the Rugby Championship at least, found their scrummaging mojo. They buckled the All Blacks and that doesn't happen unless the tighthead is doing an incredible job. Hence the selection of Figallo. A classic Pumas prop who will only get better.
Selected ahead of: Nicolas Mas (France)

2. Adriaan Strauss (SA) - No questions he had a better year than his fellow countryman Bismarck du Plessis. More consistent, more damaging and more accurate. Strauss is a huge ball-carrier and a natural organiser of the Boks' driving maul. Had plenty of energy and impact.
Selected ahead of: Bismarck du Plessis (South Africa)

1. Alex Corbisiero (England) - Bolted out of nowhere to anchor the Lions scrum in Australia and went from being okay to really quite good. Rugged sort, mobile and tough and made a difference whenever he was on the park.
Selected ahead of: Marcus Ayerza (Argentina)

- Herald on Sunday

Liam Messam

Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer. He has written several books on rugby including the Reign of King Henry, Black Obsession and For the Love of the Game.

Read more by Gregor Paul

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