Take the nucleus of the 1999 World Cup-winning side, add in a sprinkling of the best players from the following 20 years, and you’re left with the greatest Wallabies team of the Super Rugby era you picked.
With well over 5000 responses over the last couple of weeks, there was plenty of input on who should make the final 23, and indeed some of the positions were decided by mere handfuls of votes.
Now, let’s see who made the team.
1. Richard Harry | 2. Jeremy Paul | 3. Sekope Kepu
We start with a powerful, hard-running front row. In at loosehead is Richard Harry, whose five-year Test career coincided with the start of Super Rugby – and most of the Wallabies’ success of the era. It says plenty about the Sydneysider’s class that all but one of his international caps came as a starting prop, with just the one appearance off the bench in 1996. Not bad for a bloke who started his club rugby career as a flanker.
Harry’s partner on the other side of the scrum is another Waratah: Sekope Kepu, the most recent Wallaby out of the entire starting XV. While Kepu enjoyed less team success in the international arena than Harry, he was a key member of the team that made the 2015 World Cup final and is the most-capped Wallabies prop with 110 caps to his name.
In the middle of the front row is Jeremy Paul. The Brumby actually came off the bench more times than he started for the Wallabies (34 caps as a starter compared to 38 as a reserve) but remains the only hooker to have won the John Eales medal, having claimed the player of the year award in 2005. Add in a couple of World Cup finals and a 1999 winners’ medal and you have one of the best resumes of any Australian no.2.
Paul was the only one of the front-row trio to have what might be termed a comfortable time of it in the voting. With 31.3 per cent, he had a healthy edge on both Stephen Moore (24.3%) and Phil Kearns (21.3%). The two props were far closer contests: Harry only edged past James Slipper by a mere four votes to claim the no.1 jersey, while there was even less of a gap between Kepu and next-best tighthead Patricio Noriega, with only two votes separating that pair.
|Loosehead prop||Hooker||Tighthead prop|
|Richard Harry (20.6%)||Jeremy Paul (31.3%)||Sekope Kepu (30.5%)|
|James Slipper (20.1%)||Stephen Moore (24.3%)||Patricio Noriega (30.2%)|
|Scott Sio (16.2%)||Phil Kearns (21.3%)||Allan Alaalatoa (10.9%)|
|Dan Crowley (15.3%)||Tatafu Polota-Nau (11.4%)||Greg Holmes (9%)|
|Bill Young (14.7%)||Michael Foley (6.6%)||Andrew Blades (6%)|
|Benn Robinson (9.8%)||Brendan Cannon (4.95)||Ben Alexander (4.6%)|
|Nick Stiles (2.4%)||Ben Darwin (3.9%)|
|Al Baxter (3%)|
4. Dan Vickerman | 5. John Eales (captain)
Was there ever any doubt John Eales was going to be in this side? The man who captained the Wallabies to the 1999 World Cup and 2001 British and Irish Lions series victories, plus plenty more success in the Bledisloe Cup and Tri-Nations, is an automatic selection (so automatic, in fact, that he’s captain of the side without running a vote for skipper. Because who else are you going to pick?).
The only surprise was that about seven per cent of our voters left him out. Seriously, people. Sort yourselves out.
Eales’ partner wasn’t half as clear-cut, but in the end it was Dan Vickerman who got the nod. A former South African youth international, Vickerman played at three World Cups for his country of choice, winning 63 Wallabies caps despite a number of injury troubles throughout his career and a study break in 2008.
That gives us a perfect ice-and-fire combination, with Eales providing precision at the lineout and pretty much everywhere else on the field, and Vickerman a powerful, physical presence in contact.
Vickerman (34.4%) finished some seven per cent ahead of the third-placed Nathan Sharpe (27.3%), with James Horwill (15.9%) the only other lock to finish in double digits.
|John Eales (92.6%)||Dan Vickerman (34.4%)|
|Nathan Sharpe (27.3%)||James Horwill (15.9%)|
|David Giffin (9.9%)||Justin Harrison (9%)|
|Rory Arnold (7.2%)||Rob Simmons (2.9%)|
6. Owen Finegan | 7. George Smith | 8. Toutai Kefu
Here we have the same back-row which started all three Tests in the series victory over the British and Irish Lions in 2001. At blindside flanker, Owen Finegan. The big Brumby scored that famous, World Cup-sealing try in 1999 – accompanied by one of the more memorable bits of commentary in rugby history courtesy of John Taylor – but it wasn’t until the Lions tour that he became a regular starter at no.6 for the Wallabies, having made his impact at the World Cup off the bench.
On the other flank, it’s no surprise to see George Smith at openside. Winner of the first John Eales medal in 2002, he also became the first dual medallist when he took the award home in 2008, and was player of the match in the deciding Lions Test in 2001. Suffice to say Smith was an incredible performer for his 111-cap Wallabies career.
At number eight it’s no surprise to see Toutai Kefu. Like Finegan, a damaging runner with ball in hand and, like Finegan, the scorer of a famous Wallabies try, this one snatching the 2001 Tri-Nations in John Eales’ final Test.
In all, it’s a formidable back-row; all good ball-runners, Finegan and Kefu both providing power in contact, the former adding an excellent lineout option, and Smith bringing his brilliant skills around the breakdown.
Smith was almost the first-choice pick at both openside and blindside, comfortably winning the no.7 jersey ahead of David Pocock by a little under 20 per cent of the vote, and only just losing out to Finegan for no.6, 28.6 per cent to 26.8. Rocky Elsom (21.1%) was also in the mix on the blindside flank.
Kefu, though, had no real competition for number eight. Picked in just under three-quarters of teams, he was well ahead of the next-best Pocock (9.8%) and Jim Williams (8.1%).
|Blindside flanker||Openside flanker||Number eight|
|Owen Finegan (28.6%)||George Smith (53.8%)||Toutai Kefu (74.5%)|
|George Smith (26.8%)||David Pocock (35%)||David Pocock (9.8%)|
|Rocky Elsom (21.1%)||Michael Hooper (7.5%)||Wycliff Palu (8.1%)|
|Scott Fardy (16.8%)||David Wilson (1.9%)||Jim Williams (2.5%)|
|Matt Cockbain (6.4%)||Phil Waugh (1.6%)||David Lyons (2.1%)|
|Ben McCalman (1.9%)|
9. George Gregan | 10. Stephen Larkham
Was it ever going to be anyone else?
George Gregan and Stephen Larkham were such an integral part of the Wallabies’ success in the late 90s and early 2000s that it’s impossible to consider leaving the Brumbies duo out of this side. There’s not much more to say about these two that hasn’t already – save that, aside from Eales, no player had more votes than either of them.
|George Gregan (82.6%)||Stephen Larkham (91%)|
|Will Genia (16.4%)||Quade Cooper (4.2%)|
|Matt Giteau (3.1%)|
|Berrick Barnes (0.9%)|
|Bernard Foley (0.6%)|
12. Tim Horan | 13. Stirling Mortlock
Now here’s an enticing prospect: imagine Tim Horan paired up with Stirling Mortlock in the Wallabies midfield.
In Horan you have a slight (at least by modern standards) and tremendously skilful (by any standards) centre, a player who was essentially without a weakness in his game. If one did exist, then opposing teams still hadn’t been able to find it by the penultimate year of his international career, when he was named player of the 1999 Rugby World Cup.
Mortlock was a more damaging physical presence both in attack and defence, his line-bending and -breaking runs a hallmark of a career which saw him play for the Wallabies 80 times and finish with just under 500 Test points to his name.
There was little doubt these two would end up as the centre pairing. Horan (77.5%) was streets ahead of any other inside-centre options, and while no.13 was slightly closer Mortlock (53%) still finished more than 30 per cent ahead of the next-best Jason Little.
|Inside centre||Outside centre|
|Tim Horan (77.5%)||Stirling Mortlock (53%)|
|Matt Giteau (14.1%)||Jason Little (21.6%)|
|Samu Kerevi (3.5%)||Daniel Herbert (15.2%)|
|Elton Flatley (2.2%)||Adam Ashley-Cooper (7.1%)|
|Jason Little (1.4%)||Tevita Kuridrani (2.7%)|
|Berrick Barnes (1%)|
11. Joe Roff | 14. Ben Tune | 15. Matt Burke
Much like the back-row was a perfect replica of the unit used in 2001 against the Lions, the back three is the same trio which ran out for the 1999 World Cup final. Matt Burke’s reliable boot which was so important that tournament – and plenty of other Tests – perhaps overshadowed how complete a fullback he was.
Ben Tune scored the critical opening try in the final against France and is a classic case of what might have been. Superb whenever he was on the field, the Queenslander struggled mightily with injury, managing just 11 appearances between 2000 and his final Test in 2006. Still, that should take nothing away from his performances when fit, and 24 tries from 47 internationals tells the story of a lethal wide-man.
Joe Roff was one of the most popular players in this entire series, and it doesn’t take any imagination to figure that one out. A complete winger with size, speed, solid defence and a strong kicking game, he was a mainstay during the Wallabies’ successful era and a star of the 2001 Lions victory, his two-try performance in Game 2 turning that match and the series in Australia’s favour.
Roff (78%) was far and away the fan favourite, but none of this trio were in much danger of missing out. Tune (46.2%) finished well clear of the next-best winger, Lote Tuqiri (20.6%), and while I thought fullback would be a close-run thing with Chris Latham in the mix, Burke still finished the poll with a handy 12 per cent buffer.
|Joe Roff (78%)||Ben Tune (46.2%)||Matt Burke (48.9%)|
|Lote Tuqiri (20.6%)||Digby Ioane (15.3%)||Chris Latham (36.2%)|
|Adam Ashley-Cooper (9.9%)||Drew Mitchell (8.4%)||Israel Folau (11.4%)|
|Clyde Rathbone (4.8%)||Marika Koroibete (4.6%)||Mat Rogers (1.8%)|
|James O’Connor (4.3%)||Wendell Sailor (3.1%)|
|Stirling Mortlock (3.1%)|
16. Tatafu Polota-Nau | 17. James Slipper | 18. Patricio Noriega | 19. Scott Fardy | 20. David Pocock
Onto the bench now, and once again the front-row voting was awfully close. Tatafu Polota-Nau, nowhere to be seen in the race for the no.2 jersey, pipped his former captain Stephen Moore for the backup hooker’s spot, edging home by a single vote. After just missing out on a starting berth, James Slipper got the nod ahead of current teammate Scott Sio, while Patricio Noriega pipped Allan Alaalatoa by eight votes to sneak in as reserve tighthead prop.
That gives this side some serious scrummaging power coming off the bench, while the remaining two forwards are focused on the breakdown and defence. With 75 per cent of voters opting for a 5-3 bench split, there was no room for a reserve lock.
Instead, rounding out the pack replacements are David Pocock – the most-selected reserve forward and, as a two-time John Eales medallist, a pretty handy bloke to have coming off the bench – and Scott Fardy, whose versatility and superb play at the 2015 World Cup saw him preferred over the likes of Rocky Elsom and Nathan Sharpe.
|Backup hooker||Backup loosehead||Backup tighthead||Remaining bench forwards|
|Tatafu Polota-Nau (31.7%)||James Slipper (37.7%)||Patricio Noriega (33.5%)||David Pocock (49.6%)||Scott Fardy (32%)|
|Stephen Moore (31.6%)||Scott Sio (27.6%)||Allan Alaalatoa (32.6%)||Rocky Elsom (24.6%)||Nathan Sharpe (17.3%)|
|Phil Kearns (19.6%)||Dan Crowley (13.3%)||Greg Holmes (11%)||Matt Cockbain (16.5%)||Rory Arnold (16%)|
|Michael foley (8.6%)||Bill Young (11.9%)||Ben Alexander (8.2%)||James Horwill (14.8%)||Michael Hooper (14.1%)|
|Brendan Cannon (8.6%)||Benn Robinson (7.8%)||Andrew Blades (5.7%)||Justin Harrison (9.3%)||Wycliff Palu (8.9%)|
|Nick Stiles (1.6%)||Al Baxter (5.2%)|
|Ben Darwin (3.2%)|
21. Will Genia | 22. Matt Giteau | 23. Adam Ashley-Cooper
Two of our reserve backs just about picked themselves. Will Genia was the only other Wallaby to make the no.9 jersey his own this era, and as one of the top players in the world when he was at the top of his game, it’s no surprise he was selected by nearly three-quarters of Roarers to be the backup scrumhalf.
Like Genia, Matt Giteau was another of world rugby’s elite at his peak, and it was only being stuck behind two legends of Australian rugby – Stephen Larkham and Tim Horan – which kept him from the starting side. A three-time World Cup player capable of covering multiple backline positions, he slots into the bench in the no.22 jersey.
The last spot in the side was an awfully close call which ended coming down to a choice between the Wallabies’ all-time leading try-scorer, Chris Latham, and the versatile Adam Ashley-Cooper, with Ashley-Cooper sneaking in, presumably on his ability to play every backline position outside the halves.
|Backup scrumhalf||Remaining backup backs|
|Will Genia (73%)||Matt Giteau (40.2%)||Adam Ashley-Cooper (21.3%)|
|Nic White (12.5%)||Chris Latham (20.6%)||James O’Connor (14.4%)|
|Matt Giteau (6.3%)||Israel Folau (13.1%)||Mat Rogers (9.2%)|
|Chris Whitaker (4.1%)||Elton Flatley (6.6%)||Kurtley Beale (6%)|
|Luke Burgess (2.3%)||Jason Little (5.9%)||Quade Cooper (5.7%)|
|Nick Phipps (1.8%)|
1. Richard Harry
2. Jeremy Paul
3. Sekope Kepu
4. Dan Vickerman
5. John Eales (c)
6. Owen Finegan
7. George Smith
8. Toutai Kefu
9. George Gregan
10. Stephen Larkham
11. Joe Roff
12. Tim Horan
13. Stirling Mortlock
14. Ben Tune
15. Matt Burke
16. Tatafu Polota-Nau
17. James Slipper
18. Patricio Noriega
19. Scott Fardy
20. David Pocock
21. Will Genia
22. Matt Giteau
23. Adam Ashley-Cooper
So there you have it. Thanks to everyone for voting over the past few weeks, and for picking what is a quite phenomenal team. Personally, it’s a bit of a shame to see Latham missing the 23 entirely, and while we could nit-pick over other points – Elsom, Sharpe and Moore’s omissions come to mind, Dan Herbert probably deserved a little more love – it’s pretty hard to argue with this team.
Still, be sure to let us know your thoughts on the side in the comments below.