Saturday 22 July 2017

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

Australia's Israel Folau and All Blacks winger Julian Savea both make our World Cup Final combined XV
Australia's Israel Folau and All Blacks winger Julian Savea both make our World Cup Final combined XV

Tom Rooney

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.

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Nehe Milner Skudder scores the fifth try for New Zealand Action Images via Reuters / Paul Childs

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.

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It is difficult to imagine Ireland putting precision passes together like the ones Matt Giteau produced for Australia on Sunday, but those are coached skills that can be improved

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.

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Aaron Smith during the Rugby World Cup Semi Final

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.

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Rugby Union - England v Australia - IRB Rugby World Cup 2015 Pool A - Twickenham Stadium, London, England - 3/10/15 Australia's Sekope Kepu celebrates at the end of the game Reuters / Stefan Wermuth Livepic

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.

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New Zealand All Blacks captain Richie McCaw of the stands with his hands on his hips as the rain falls

7. Michael Hooper

His inclusion means Kieran Reed and Jerome Kaino miss out. Cue the hissing and booing.

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England's full-back Mike Brown (R) is tackled by Australia's flanker Michael Hooper

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.

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