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From player to coach: The ultimate World XV

OPINION: @rugby365com contributor Codi Rinkwest has compiled the ultimate World XV – players who became coaches!


For a respective coach/player to qualify they would have had to have earned at least one cap at international level and be a coach or have previously been in any coaching role for a team.

A lot of shoehorning and hours agonizing over positional issues went into the making of this list.

Let us know who we missed or should make our starting XV!

Coaches Who Were Once Players

1 Matt Proudfoot – Prop (Scotland)

“I’m just a forwards coach mate.” Yes, It is difficult to think of Matt Proudfoot as other than the mastermind behind the Springboks’ scrum dominance during his tenure as forwards coach with the World Cup-winning Springboks. However, people are quick to forget that Proudfoot in fact represented Scotland at international level, picking up four caps between 1998 and 2003. The Klerksdorp native could have been a Springbok, but opted to don the blue jumper of Scotland instead. Proudfoot qualified for the Scottish through his grandfather. Proudfoot also represented Edinburgh, Gloucester Warriors and the Blue Bulls.


2 Mario Ledesma – Hooker (Argentina)

Known for his workrate and mobility, Mario Ledesma is considered rugby royalty in Argentina, putting on the No.2 shirt for Los Pumas 84 times between 1996 and 2011. Ledesma was also a part of Argentina’s third place finish at the 2007 World Cup. Ledesma has almost been a part of everything there is to see in Argentinian rugby. he took up the mantle of coaching in 2011, when became the forwards coach of Stade Français. After plying his trade as forwards coach for Stade Français, Montpellier and even the Australian national team – where the Wallabies finished as runners up in the 2015 World Cup – Ledesma made the jump to head coach of the Jaguares in 2017. After a year as Jaguares coach Ledesma ascended to the role of Argentinian national coach in 2018.

3 Pieter de Villiers – Prop (France)

You would be mistaken if you believed that I was referring to former Springbok coach Peter de Villiers! In this case the Pieter de Villiers I am referring to is the South African-born prop who represented France on 68 occasions and made eight World Cup appearances. De Villiers is considered a club legend at Stade Français, making 150 appearances for the ‘Pink Army’. He is currently the scrum assistant coach for Scotland, after his previous roles included being part of the Springbok set-up under coach Heyneke Meyer.

4 Andy Farrell – Second Row (England)

Andy Farrell’s rise to the top echelons of Rugby coaching has been a methodical climb, culminating in his appointment as Irish head coach. Farrell only represented the English Roses on 11 occasions and enjoyed a domestic career for Wigan Rugby League) and Saracens (Rugby Union). Farrell started his coaching career at Saracens as a skills coach, but soon impressed and was promoted to head coach of Saracens in 2011- when he led them to their first Premiership title. Farrell was then made an assistant coach of the England national team in 2011. In 2013 British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland heavily praised Farrell for his contribution as defence coach. Farrell is now Ireland head coach, following the departure of Joe Schmidt after the 2019 World Cup.

Leo Cullen – Second Row (Ireland)

The former Leinster captain has seamlessly exchanged in his armband and jumper for a role on the sidelines and this role has brought him just as much success – as he became the first person to win the Champions Cup as a player and as a coach. Cullen became head coach after previous coach Matt O’Connor departed a season after Cullen’s arrival in 2014 as forwards coach. In the 2018 season, Cullen lead Leinster to a club-first Champions Cup and Pro14 double.

Johan Erasmus- Flank (South Africa)

When Johan ‘Rassie’ Erasmus was appointed head coach of the Springboks in 2018 no one could predict the impact that he would have on South African rugby history. From his bold appointment of Siyamthanda Kolisi as Springbok captain to the Springboks’ triumph at World Cup 2019. Rassie has handled every test thrown at him with his charming personality and composed demeanour. Erasmus set to work repairing the broken hearts of a rugby nation from the minute he flashed his belief filled smile at his unveiling and the rest was history.

Jamie Joseph – Flank (New Zealand and Japan)

The mastermind behind the Brave Blossoms’ courageous showing at World Cup 2019, Jamie Joseph helped a nation fall in love with the sport of rugby. Joseph was a part of the 1995 World Cup side that famously took on the Springboks in the final. Joseph amassed 20 Caps for New Zealand and nine caps for Japan during his international career. He also coached the Highlanders to their maiden Super Rugby title in 2-14. However, Joseph will be remembered for stewardship of Japanese rugby for years to come.

Scott Robertson – No.8 (New Zealand)

Known for coaching the Crusaders to three successive Super-Rugby titles between 2017 and 2019 and “that” infamous breakdance routine after winning those respective titles. Robertson was also an All Black and was capped 26 times during his career. Razor, as he is affectionately known, has undoubtedly made an impact at coaching level.


George Gregan – Scrumhalf (Australia)

Wallaby legend George Gregan is always in and around the conversation for best scrumhalf of all time, much like when he was in and around the ruck looking for gaps to snipe into during his career. Gregan was never the biggest man on the field, but his presence was always felt due to his blistering pace and his reading of the game. In 2012 Gregan was an assistance coach to Jake White at the Brumbies before moving on to commentary and pundit work on television.

Ronan O’Gara – Flyhalf (Ireland)

Ronan O’Gara is forever immortalized in Irish rugby as one of, if not the best, flyhalves in Irish history. From British and Irish Lions tours, World Cups and Six Nations tournaments O’Gara has seen it all. Ronan O’Gara was a magnificent servant to Irish rugby with 128 caps to his name and is currently plying his trade in France as head coach of La Rochelle.

Michael Catt – Wing (England)

The South African-born English utility back has enjoyed a decorated career as a World Cup winner in 2003 and four-time Six Nations winner. Catt is now second in charge to newly appointed head coach of Ireland Andy Farrell.

Tana Umaga – Centre (New Zealand)

There are few sites more terrifying that having an in-form Tana Umaga baring down on you in the ominous All Black jumper. While he is more known for his broad smile rather than bone-crunching linebreaks, Umaga had previously been in charge of the Blues from 2016 to 2018.

Scott Macleod – Centre (New Zealand)

As a member of the assistant coaching staff to new All Black coach Ian Foster, Scott Macleod is no stranger to life as a player having made 10 appearances in addition to a lengthy playing career for the Chiefs and Waikato.

Felix Jones – Wing (Ireland)

After being forced to retire in 2015 with a neck-injury, Felix Jones wasted no time getting stuck-in on the sidelines as the backs coach to Munster from 2016 to 2019 after. Jones made 90 appearances for Munster from 2009 to 2015. Jones’ exploits as backs coach of Munster caught the eye of Springboks coach Rassie Erasmus and Jones was brought into the Springboks World Cup set-up after the departure of Swys De Bruin opened a vacancy in the coaching department of the Springboks. Jones would become a World Cup winner as an Irishman in a Springbok team. Jones made 13 appearances for Ireland before moving to the Munster coaching role.

Leon Macdonald – Fullback (New Zealand)

Brought in as a replacement to Tana Umaga, current Blues head coach Leon Macdonald played 56 tests for the All Blacks from 2000 to 2008. Macdonald has the task of stewarding a Blues side that have been under-performing in recent years.

By Codi Rinkwest


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