No place for Kaino, Nonu, Foley and Genia in our New Zealand/Australia Combined XV
Seven Wallabies and eight All Blacks make the final cut
Finally, at the eighth time of asking, Australia and New Zealand will contest a World Cup final tomorrow and few could gripe that either outfit is undeserving of their place at this juncture.
While the All Blacks are unquestionably the more established side under Steve Hansen and his four year project of domination, Michael Cheika has expertly sewn the Wallabies into a world class unit in just over a season in charge.
So, what would a combined XV of two of the game’s greatest rivals look like?
Some selections are no-brainers, while others require serious consideration.
15. Israel Folau
Nobody could deny the undoubted brilliance of Ben Smith, but his Australian counterpart offers that little bit more.
While Folau has probably failed to replicate performances of recent times over the course of the tournament, his preternatural athleticism and comprehensive skill set mean he’s only ever moments away from conjuring something magical. The only Aussie to make the back three.
14. Nehe Milner-Skudder
Even in light of Adam Ashley-Cooper’s impressive hat-trick against Argentina, Milner-Skudder is impossible to overlook. With only two caps to his name prior to the competition, the 24-year-old has emerged as true star in the interim.
He possesses sleek footwork, a devastating step and heightened finishing instincts.
13. Conrad Smith
Along with Brian O’Driscoll, few have defended the 13 channel like Conrad Smith. What he lacks in searing pace or bulldozing power, the wily veteran more than compensates for with guile and leadership. Sublime passer of the ball.
12. Matt Giteau
Omitting Ma’a Nonu in favour of the more refined Giteau was a not a decision taken lightly. However, Giteau’s silky play-making has been a joy to the watch.
His kicking, both from hand and the tee, along with his passing repertoire are too good to ignore. We’ll see what happens when this pair go head-to-head for the Toulon number 12 jersey post World Cup.
11. Julian Savea
A force of nature, there’s no other way of putting it. Savea is one of the most potent combinations of size, speed and strength to grace the world stage, and a clever footballer to boot.
His eight tries in five matches speak for themselves. The ease with which he accrued his hat-trick against France was frightening.
10. Dan Carter
Carter has banked 12 years of winning test rugby and, for that reason, he prevails over Bernard Foley. Witness his steely resolve as the Kiwis struggled to contain South Africa during their rain-soaked semi-final. Foley will have his day, but still the student to the master.
9. Aaron Smith
The in-form scrum-half on the planet is key to his side’s electric transitions. A flawless passer, who snipes around the fringes in the blink of an eye.
1. Scott Sio
A bedrock in the Wallabies transformed scrum. Hugely missed in last week’s semi-final against Argentina, he’ll be a handful for Owen Franks.
2. Dane Coles
There are few faults to be found in the inspirational Stephen Moore, but Coles’ pace in the loose can be game changing. He also performs the tenets of his role with aplomb.
3. Sekope Kepu
His ferocious scrummaging can unsettle any front row in the game and, in tandem with Sio, has turned a long-time weakness into a source of strength.
4. Brodie Retallick
Arguably the most complete tight forward in the game. The 25-year-old ticks every box; excellent line out operator, incredible work rate, with and without the ball, and the hands of an out-half.
5. Kane Douglas
Probably not a popular choice in this neck of the woods, but at least we’ve seen the player Leinster thought they’d signed. A real dog in the trenches, who’s made an admirable 58 tackles over the course of the last five weeks.
6. Richie McCaw
Selecting from the two best back-rows in the world was never going to be easy. The All Black captain, for all his bending of the rules, gets in out of position and ahead of the combative Scott Fardy. Nobody works harder.
7. Michael Hooper
His inclusion means Kieran Reed and Jerome Kaino miss out. Cue the hissing and booing.
Hooper is not a breakdown savant like McCaw or Pocock, but he’s certainly no slouch there. His open-field tackling is simply devastating. Akin to an NFL safety, he patrols the field searching to smash a half back out of his socks.
His first tackle on Owen Farrell in the Pool stages set the tone for the Aussie’s destruction of the hosts.
8. David Pocock
14 turnovers - five more than anyone else - in the tournament is an incredible stat. Once Pocock clamps down on the ball, the jackal is secure. There’s just no shifting him.
Brute strength, expert technique and wonderful timing make him a the best in the business.