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Team of the Year: Leading men

After an action-packed year, we acknowledge the leading players of 2012 in our annual Team of the Year.

The Southern Hemisphere’s superiority is immediately apparent in our selection as just a solitary Northern Hemisphere player cracked the nod in our 2012 vintage.

The All Blacks’ dominance this season is also reflected with the world champions boasting seven players in our line-up.

The Springboks were pragmatic if not spectacular in their first season under Heyneke Meyer and their trademark physicality sees them make up the bulk of our granite tight five.   

Two legends of the game bowed out at the top this season and bolster and side one final time but ironically, there was no place in our team for 2012 IRB Player of the Year Dan Carter, who struggled with injuries.

The bubbling under section has a distinct Northern Hemisphere flavour to it with players from Wales, Ireland, Italy and Scotland in the mix.

Our Team of the Year:

15 Israel Dagg (New Zealand)

Dagg underlined his status as the world’s pre-eminent fullback with a string of exhilarating performances in the black jersey. His elusive counter-attacking, timing of joining the line and sublime angles saw him score five tries in 13 Tests. His long and accurate kicking out of hand and solidity under the high ball made him the most complete No.15 of 2012.   

Bubbling under: Leigh Halfpenny (Wales)

14 JP Pietersen (South Africa)

Pietersen re-established himself as one of the deadliest wings in the game this year by emulating the form he showed in 2007. His return to top form began with the Sharks in Super Rugby, where he displayed his versatility on both wings and at outside centre, and he cut England’s defence to shreds during the Springboks’ three-Test home series in June. Limited to just six Tests due to injury, Pietersen still nabbed the SARU Players’ Player of the Year award, a testament to the impact he made in 2012.

Bubbling under: Tommy Bowe (Ireland)

13 Conrad Smith (New Zealand)

Arguably the most cerebral centre in world rugby, the All Black veteran was streets ahead of the pretenders to our No.13 jersey. Smith led a new-look Hurricanes side to a credible eighth place finish in Super Rugby before he unleashed the All Black outside backs with an array of elegant touches. With the 31-year-old on the pitch, the All Blacks made scoring look easy and much of their fluency was as a result of Smith’s play-making prowess.   

Bubbling under: Jonathan Davies (Wales)

12 Sonny Bill Williams (New Zealand)

The ultimate playmaker helped propel the Chiefs to their first ever Super Rugby title with his uncanny ability to offload in the tackle and crash over the gainline seemingly at will. A polarising figure due to his Rugby League and boxing exploits, Williams not only adapted but flourished in Rugby Union, proving himself as the real deal and going out on a high following the All Blacks’ 22-0 shutout of the Wallabies in Auckland. The game will be a lesser one without the majestic Sonny Bill.    

Bubbling under: Ma’a Nonu (New Zealand)

11 Bryan Habana (South Africa)

The 29-year-old was sensational for the Stormers and sublime for South Africa, hardly the most enterprising provincial and Test teams around. Injury to Pietersen meant Habana had to shift to the right wing for the Rugby Championship, and he went on to score six tries in as many Tests, including the International Rugby Players’ Association’s Try of the Year against the All Blacks in Dunedin. With Julian Savea sharing the All Black No.11 jersey with Hosea Gear for the majority of the season, the SARU Player of the Year is our pick on the left wing.

Bubbling under: Julian Savea (New Zealand)

10 Frederic Michalak (France)

Michalak’s unlikely return to Les Bleus five years after he was dumped from the national side was the comeback story of the year. An impressive Super Rugby season with the Durban-based Sharks reignited Michalak’s Test career and the 30-year-old excelled back at flyhalf for France. Michalak inspired Les Blues to a 33-6 demolition of the Wallabies in Paris, guided them to a crucial fourth place on the IRB World Rankings and was deservedly included in a four-man shortlist for the coveted IRB Player of the Year award.

Bubbling under: Dan Carter (New Zealand)

9 Aaron Smith (New Zealand)

The first of two players in our side to make their Test debuts in 2012, Smith became a legend killer of sorts as he first displaced Jimmy Cowan as starting scrumhalf at the Highlanders before wrestling the All Black No.9 jersey from Piri Weepu. Scoring four tries and winning both the Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship is not a bad way to kick-off your international career.

Bubbling under: Morgan Parra (France)

8 Kieran Read (New Zealand)

Read captained the Crusaders with aplomb whilst producing consistently world-class performances and carried that form into the Rugby Championship and New Zealand’s end-of-year tour. Whilst he was bafflingly omitted from the IRB Player of the Year shortlist, the world’s best eighthman had the honour of captaining the All Blacks for the first time against Italy in Rome and is in line to win his second New Zealand Player of the Year award.   

Bubbling under: Sergio Parisse (Italy)

7 Richie McCaw (New Zealand)

McCaw had to make up some ground after missing the early stages of Super Rugby but he once again proved himself as the premier openside flank in the game in his iconic black No.7 jersey. The 27-year-old talisman became the first player in history to notch up 100 Test wins when he led the All Blacks to a 32-16 win over the Springboks in Soweto and ensured that the gap between the best and the rest widened in 2012.

Bubbling under: Michael Hooper (Australia)

6 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe (Argentina)

Considering Read’s rich vein of form, Lobbe slots in at No.6, where he played in the end-of-year internationals. The extra responsibility of captaining Argentina on a full-time basis had no ill affect on Lobbe as he led the Pumas to a promising debut season in the Rugby Championship. The 31-year-old was one of the form players of the four-nation tournament and produced a faultless performance at flank in the 26-12 win over Wales in Cardiff.   

Bubbling under: Dan Lydiate (Wales)

5 Nathan Sharpe (Australia)

The old war horse twice postponed his retirement to lead the Wallabies through a turbulent 2012 and turned back the clock in the process as he carried, jumped, tackled, rucked and mauled like a player in his prime. He was the heartbeat of the wounded Wallabies and only enhanced his already stellar legacy in the admirable way in which he captained his country in his final season.

Bubbling under: Brodie Retallick (New Zealand)

4 Eben Etzebeth (South Africa)

No greenhorn made a greater statement this season than the SARU Young Player of the Year. That he made his Super Rugby debut for the Stormers and Springbok bow prior to playing his first Currie Cup game emphasis the meteoric rise of 21-year-old Etzebeth. His bulldozing of Springbok and Sharks hardman Bismarck du Plessis put players the world over on notice – rugby’s next big thing has arrived.   

Bubbling under: Richie Gray (Scotland)

3 Jannie du Plessis (South Africa)  

Never before in his decorated career was Du Plessis’ standing in and worth to South African rugby clearer than in 2012. Both the Sharks and Springboks played him to the bone. The 30-year-old played in no less than 34 matches (12 Tests, 19 Super Rugby and three Currie Cup games) this year and scrummaged as strongly and passionately in the season finale at Twickenham as he did in the Super Rugby season opener at Loftus.  

Bubbling under: Owen Franks (New Zealand)

2 Adriaan Strauss (South Africa)

An injury to first-choice Springbok hooker Bismarck du Plessis paved the way for Strauss to finally enjoy an extended run in the green and gold and he took the opportunity with both hands. Arguably the most consistent player of the year, the 27-year-old was soon promoted to the Springbok vice-captaincy and has been tipped by World Cup-winning Springbok skipper John Smit as an ideal candidate to lead South Africa into the 2015 global showpiece.    

Bubbling under: Bismarck du Plessis (South Africa)

1 Rodrigo Roncero (Argentina)

The oldest player in our 2012 vintage, the 35-year-old spearheaded the Pumas’ revered pack in the Rugby Championship and gave all comers a torrid time in the set-piece with his experience and technique. As one of the last characters in the modern game, the emotional Puma prop will be missed.

Bubbling under: Cian Healy (Ireland)

Our individual selections:

Jan de Koning XV: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Craig Gilroy, 10 Frederic Michalak, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Nathan Sharpe, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Rodrigo Roncero.

Michael de Vries XV: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Frederic Michalak, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw, 6 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Rodrigo Roncero.

Quintin van Jaarsveld XV: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Frederic Michalak, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw, 6 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe,  5 Nathan Sharpe, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Rodrigo Roncero.

Paul Dobson XV: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw, 6 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, 5 Nathan Sharpe, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Rodrigo Roncero.

Len Kaplan XV: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Bryan Habana, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Vincent Clerc, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw, 6 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, 5 Nathan Sharpe, 4 Pascal Pape, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Rodrigo Roncero.

By Quintin van Jaarsveld


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