Greatest rugby side of the professional era

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    Now the dust has settled following the 2011 Rugby World Cup, I see no better time to reignite the perennial ‘greatest side of the professional era’ debate.

    There were some splendid performances at the 2011 Rugby World Cupn> from the entire spectrum of players. Veterans showed that class is timeless.

    Even in losing, Victor Matfield in particular was magnificent. Mils Muliaina made way gracefully for a new generation but not before contributing tangibly.

    Mike Phillips put forward a case for the second best performed scrum half at the Rugby World Cup only behind perhaps another ‘old man’ Piri Weepu. Youngsters (O’Connor, Pocock, Warburton, Tuilangi and North spring to mind) promised much for the 2013 Lions Tour and the 2015 tournament beyond.

    Many argue that without a Rugby World Cup, the phenomenons of messers McCaw and Carter were lesser. It’s a moot point now but I’ve never been a subscriber to that view.

    Players like Philippe Sella never trimuped on rugby’s ultimate stage but my goodness he was special. So special it was said he had “the stength of a bull and the touch of a piano player”.

    Brian O’Driscoll will not be a ‘world champion’ but that just reinforces that rugby is a team game, personal talent is often not enough, no matter the greatness of the individual involved.

    Besides, I’m sure BOD is aptly comforted by his new bride Amy Hubermann. There is life after rugby, after all.

    That said, the 22 below includes many Rugby World Cup winners. The great Wallaby sides of 1999-2003 and Bok teams of 2007-2009 feature heavily as they should. Martin Johnson could not be left out.

    He, along with Lawrence Dallaglio, personified the total commitment, guts and determination of the class of 2003 (traits arguably missing from England’s 2011 squad). At their peak, Eales, Horan and Smit were second to none. Eales and Horan went out on highs and perhaps John Smit didn’t.

    However, that doesn’t change the selection. Like Kirk, Johnson and other illustrious captains courageous, Smit will be a legend of the game long after the Sith Efrikan brooding (read blame game) in the wake of the ‘Boks’ 2011 failure ends. Which brings me to the criteria:

    (a) ‘The Professional Era’ is not an easily defined period. Exactly when players started getting paid and whether the sport was ‘semi-professional’ for a time between are arguments that only spoil the fun. Some say the sport made the leap in 1987, at the first World Cup.

    For mine, the sport became truly professional in 1994/1995 when firstly the IRB removed all restrictions on player payments , secondly SANZAR was formed leading to the Super Rugby concept and thirdly the European (Heineken) Cup began.

    On that basis, in an attempt to keep everyone happy, I’ve used the ‘early 1990s’ as the approximate starting date. Sella just scrapes into that time frame (having played internationally up until 1995. Another French great wing/3/4, Serge Blanco, falls outside it.

    (b) This is not a wind up intended to provoke the Northern Hemisphere. The fact that there are more Southern Hemisphere players in the 22 is solely down to the fact that, in my view, they were better players. Please feel free to disagree.

    And a special note to the Welsh, I did notice there are no Welsh players in the 22 and no, that isn’t a mistake, Shane Williams was not good enough to unseat Lomu, Campese or to force a choice between BOD and Sella.

    If the 1970s were taken into account that may well have changed (Barry John, JPR Williams and Gareth Edwards spring to mind).

    (c) This is not about players with the most Test caps. If it was I would have included George Gregan and Justin Leonard. Longevity is an important factor to consider, no more and no less.

    (d) Finally, all players chosen were chosen on the basis of how good they were at their best. I’m not talking about single performances, anyone can be man of the match on a given day. I am talking about reasonably prolonged periods of time where players became legends.

    For example, Mr Smit. Rubbish in 2011. Legendary between 2007 and 2009. At his best, I argue he was better than Fitzpatrick, Kearns, Wood, Thomson and Du Plessis at their respective bests.

    Again, feel free to disagree!

    1. Os Du Raandt
    2. John Smit
    3. Patricio Noriega
    4. John Eales (c)
    5. Martin Johnson
    6. Schalk Burger
    7. Richie McCaw
    8. Zinzan Brooke

    9. Joost Vanderwesthuizen
    10. Daniel Carter
    11. Jonah Lomu
    12. Tim Horan
    13. Brian O’Driscoll (vc)
    14. Philippe Sella
    15. Christian Cullen

    16. Sean Fitzpatrick
    17. Ewen MacKenzie
    18. Victor Matfield
    19. Lawrence Dallaglio
    20. Justin Marshall
    21. Jonny Wilkinson
    22. David Campese

    Honourable mentions: Fabien Pelous, Olivier Magne, George Smith, Sergio Parisse, Imanol Harinordoquay, George Gregan, Steven Larkham, Tana Umaga.

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    The Crowd Says (27)

    • Roar Guru

      February 1st 2012 @ 8:20am
      Sam Brown said | February 1st 2012 @ 8:20am | ! Report

      it is hard to argue against such giants of the game but I’d like to throw the names Francois Pieenar and Thierry Dusautoir as options at number 6 and off the bench. Totai Kefu also rates a mention at number 8. Overall though a very well rounded team that doesn’t seem to be too favouring to one nationality or another.

    • February 1st 2012 @ 8:41am
      Das Boat said | February 1st 2012 @ 8:41am | ! Report

      I agree with your entire backline apart from Sella. Not because he wasnt great, he clearly is a legend of the game, but rather I do not feel he fits in to the modern era in any way. Even with your disclaimer. So Campo, with JK, J Roff, J Wilson, B Tune all nipping at his heels.

      It is such a shame that you cant fit Matfeild, Johnson and Eales in. Three absolute giants of the game.

      i would also prefer any number of reserve halfbacks to Marshall, but that is personal preference.

      A nicely balance side though, and these exercises are always fun

    • February 1st 2012 @ 8:53am
      Johnno said | February 1st 2012 @ 8:53am | ! Report


      Olo Brown
      Thierry Dusautoir
      Simon Shaw
      F Du Preez
      Isreal Dagg
      Kieran Read
      Carl Hayman
      John Hayes

      • February 1st 2012 @ 11:43am
        Max said | February 1st 2012 @ 11:43am | ! Report

        haha Dagg you crack me up Johnno and Hayes ahahahaha.

    • February 1st 2012 @ 9:06am
      The Grafter said | February 1st 2012 @ 9:06am | ! Report

      The backline looks good apart from Sella on the wing. Wilson, Williams,Campese, or even Roff get the nod at wing, but understand you wanting him in the 15.

      Carl Hayman has been the best prop in the world for the past 8-9 years, so has to be in there. Makes for a hell of a front row with the Ox and Smit.

      I wouldnt have Brooke at No8, Dallagio gets in with Kefu on the bench.

    • February 1st 2012 @ 9:18am
      Richo said | February 1st 2012 @ 9:18am | ! Report

      Ewan Mckenzie please you must be just on a wind up there.

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    • February 1st 2012 @ 9:19am
      sheek said | February 1st 2012 @ 9:19am | ! Report

      It’s fascinating how there can be so many differing viewpoints.

      1. Smit was very good, but for heaven’s sake, even by your own criteria, Fitzpatrick wins over Smit.

      2. Noriega? If Pato was the best prop of the professional era, I’ll eat my hat. Olo Brown anyone? It’s one thing to think differently, but you still have to stick to the facts.

      3. I’ll give you Burger for the moment, although there’s plenty of great competition here. I’m sure there’s someone better! BTW, did you know the Saffies play their openside in 6 jersey, & blindside in 7 jersey? Just to be different – & confuse the rest of us.

      4. You’ve put Sella on the wing. Okay, he started as a winger, but is known as a great 13. Obviously, you couldn’t decide, so you shifted one to the wing. Despite all the other great wingers around. I reckon Campo has to be the right winger.

      Also, there’s this continuous argument about whether Campo was a right or left winger. This is how the confusion came about. Campo made his test debut in 1982 on the left-wing (#11) in place of another great winger – Brendan Moon – who was unable to tour NZ.

      When Moon returned 1983-86, he played on the left wing (#11) & Campo switched to the right wing (#14). After Moon had retired, & Bob Dwyer again became national coach in 1988, Campo, who was now a senior player, asked for the #11 jersey permanently, irrespective of which wing he played. Since #11 was his first test jersey, that’s what he wanted, & that’s what he was granted.

      For most of his career, Camp played right wing in the #11 jersey, although he also occasionally played the left-wing & at fullback. Adding to the confusion was the fact Dwyer gave Campo a roving commission, so in attack he was likely to bob up on either wing, or even at flyhalf!

      I trust this helps clear things up!

      Anyway, all fine players, but I would certainly disagree vigorously on some selections.

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