With debate raging in the Northern Hemisphere around who has the best players a year out from the World Cup, Gregor Paul picks his World XV for 2014

15 Israel Folau (Australia)

Wasn't quite the force he was in 2013, but he remains a dangerous player. He creates space for those around him as opposition defences tend to double up on him. Had one run at Eden Park that was incredible. Sneaks in, just, ahead of Willie le Roux.

14 Ben Smith (New Zealand)


Had a couple of quiet games but a number of brilliant ones, too. His skills are freakish and has an uncanny ability to beat the first defender. His leap to slap the ball down for the final try in Cardiff was sensational -- as was the way he hunted Manu Tuilagi in Dunedin.

13 Tevita Kuridrani (Australia)

Big, strong and full of running -- this bloke tore the All Blacks apart in Brisbane. Tackles well, too and his distribution was showing distinct signs of improvement. Takes the jersey ahead of Conrad Smith.

12 Jamie Roberts (Wales)

Big man who more often than not plays like a big man now. He carved up Sonny Bill Williams in Cardiff and tackled everything. Maybe not as skilful as a fully fit Ma'a Nonu but not far behind.

11 Julian Savea (New Zealand)

No contest here. Not even close. There is no better finisher than Savea. Who, honestly, wants to have to tackle this guy. At full speed he is close to being as powerful as Jonah Lomu. But he's got way more in his bag of tricks -- good under the high ball, high work rate, great hands and a brilliant defender.

10 Handrie Pollard (South Africa)

Did what Ireland's Johnny Sexton will probably never do -- and played two huge games against the All Blacks. This young man has no fear and all the skills to become world class. Sexton has all the skills, but no bottle when it counts.

9 Aaron Smith (New Zealand)


A bit like Savea, Smith is miles ahead of the chasing pack. There isn't a halfback in world rugby who can do what he does -- fling bullet balls that never miss and run for 80 minutes. His accuracy, decision-making and passing are quite frighteningly good.

8 Kieran Read (New Zealand)

Took a while to get over his concussions, but once he did, he was starting to play like the Kieran Read of old in the last six tests. There wouldn't be much between him and Duane Vermeulen, but Read offers that little bit more as he can play wider and cause more damage with his offloading and running.

7 Richie McCaw (New Zealand)

Michael Hooper and Sam Warburton are great players, but don't have the same influence on a game of rugby as Richie McCaw. It has all been said before ... but McCaw continues to deliver quality performance after quality performance and find a way to make himself useful. Be it turnovers, ball carrying, tackling or support running ... he'll be in the right place, doing the right thing.

6 Chris Robshaw (England)

Yes he wears No 7 but he is really, a six-and-a-half, hence his selection here as a blindside. The English media deride their captain a fair bit but he goes pretty well. Robshaw impressed in New Zealand where he was strong over the ball, even stronger when he ran with it and a relentless defender.

5 Richie Gray (Scotland)

Scotland have been on and off with Richie Gray but under Vern Cotter, they are more likely to be on. Gray is one of the tallest men in the game and makes his presence felt at the lineout. Mobile, agile and fit -- he could be a big performer at the World Cup next year.

4 Brodie Retallick (New Zealand)

World Player of the Year -- enough said really. Gets the whole notion of head down, bum up. Can push in the scrums, jump in the lineouts and then convince himself he's a first-five the rest of the time. Light years ahead of most other locks.

3 Ramiro Herrera (Argentina)

Not a well known name but no one would dispute that the Pumas scrum was the best in the world this year. And it was Herrera who mostly packed down at tight head. He seems to have a fair idea about what he's doing.

2 Dane Coles (New Zealand)

Dane Coles made giant strides this year. Most people were unsure about him last year -- not now. He came of age -- improving his work in the set-piece and nasty stuff without losing any of his mobility or creativity.

1 Marcos Ayerza (Argentina)

Solid performer who quietly went about upsetting every tight-head he met. His technique was superb and while he didn't do much else outside the scrums, he didn't need to.