All Black captain Richie McCaw poses with the Kelvin R
Tremain Memorial Player of the Year award during the 2012
Steinlager Rugby Awards at SkyCity Convention Centre in
Auckland earlier this month. (Photo by Sandra Mu/Getty
It's that time of year again. The Herald on Sunday's
Gregor Paul selects his World XV for 2012 and, as always, some
of his choices will trigger debate. Or insults.
15 Israel Dagg [New Zealand]
There's something about test rugby that makes Israel Dagg
tick. Erratic and out of sorts for the Crusaders, Dagg
clicked when he returned to All Black duty.
Rock solid under the high ball, adventurous on the
counter-attack and instinctively clever in the way he roamed
side to side looking for forwards in the defensive line and
then beating them on the outside.
His right boot was also invaluable - his raking clearances
relieved pressure at critical times.
Other notable performers: Leigh Halfpenny [Wales], Andrea
14 Cory Jane [New Zealand]
Not the biggest or fastest, Cory Jane was certainly the best
right wing in 2012. His capacity to surprise was limitless.
He didn't drop a high ball but, more than that, he'd catch
them in heavy traffic and miraculously find a way to get the
ball or himself into space. His fend was lethal, his footwork
superb and his general reading of the game in a different
His 25-minute cameo in Rome, where he transformed the game,
was the perfect example of his unique skill set and how it is
almost impossible to defend.
Other notable performers: Gonzalo Camacho [Argentina] - the
Pumas wing would be worthy of inclusion but for the
excellence of Jane. Camacho is another who is a little
different - small, quick, great vision, great feet and
13 Jonathan Davies [Wales]
Wales won a Grand Slam earlier in the year and much of that
was down to the calming and penetrative influence of Jonathan
Davies, who was consistently excellent on attack and
ultra-reliable on defence.
Showed his class in November when he returned from injury
against the All Blacks and caused problems - picked some
sharp angles, distributed well and gave the Welsh greater
influence and cohesion.
Other notable performers: Conrad Smith [New Zealand] - would
have nailed this if the season had ended in October but ran
out of steam in the final weeks.
12 Sonny Bill Williams [NZ]
Tough call this one - Sonny Bill Williams was the best No12
between February and August and Ma'a Nonu took over from
September through to early December. France's Wesley Fofana
played well all year but split his time between second-five
and wing. Williams, just, deserves the place on account of
his impact. He was dynamic and direct for the Chiefs and
played five big tests for the All Blacks where he owned the
gain line and the collisions.
Other notable performers: Nonu [New Zealand], Fofana [France]
11 Bryan Habana [South Africa]
There had previously been plenty of angst in South Africa
about whether Bryan Habana could still score tries. He proved
emphatically in 2012 that he could - and he also showed that
his ability to pull off the spectacular remains.
His solo, opportunistic effort in Dunedin was awarded IRB try
of the year and no one in the world game is as adept as
Habana at converting the half-chance (quarter-chance even)
into five or seven points.
Other notable performers: Julian Savea [New Zealand], Juan
10 Daniel Carter [New Zealand]
It would be a push to say that we consistently saw Daniel
Carter at his world class best in 2012. We got that in
flashes. We also got a couple of duds from him - in Brisbane
and London - which was most unusual. On the whole, though, he
delivered high quality if not scintillating rugby. His
composure, poise and accuracy were evident and the All Blacks
rattled along when he was at the helm. No one runs the game
better than him - his tactical control and value were most
prominent when he wasn't able to play due to injury. There
No10 in world rugby who got anywhere near him.
Other notable contenders: Johnny Sexton [Ireland]
9 Kahn Fotuali'i [Samoa]
The former Crusaders star edges out Aaron Smith on the basis
that he had a stronger finish to the season. Fotuali'i has
won a huge following at his club side in Wales and has
several top French clubs willing to break the bank to lure
His performance against Wales for Samoa was world class - he
was the architect of the famous win and he was just as lively
the next week in Samoa's superb effort in almost defeating
France. Strong, quick and clever - Fotuali'i was a natural
Other notable performers: Aaron Smith [New Zealand]
8 Kieran Read [New Zealand]
No 8 was a competitive berth in 2012, with Read, Juan Martin
Fernandez Lobbe and Frenchman Louis Picamoles just ahead of
Ireland's Jamie Heaslip, Italy's Sergio Parisse and Wales'
Toby Faletau. Read gets the nod as his influence was that bit
greater, his impact that bit more telling.
He's a machine, much like McCaw, in that he never stops
running, never shirks and seems to know what to do and when
to do it. Attacked the short ball with venom all year, was
superb at retrieving and chasing kickoffs, made some
thunderous hits and improved his offloading.
Other notable performers: Lobbe [Argentina], Picamoles
7 Richie McCaw [New Zealand]
Supposedly the skipper was going to be shown up in 2012
for being over the hill. What a laugh. He was as good, if not
better, than he's been at any time in his career. He carried
the ball more, harder and better, tackled with more grunt and
played more like a six than a seven but his influence was
possibly even greater as a result. His performance against
South Africa in Dunedin was arguably the best of his career.
Deserved his fourth Kel Tremain award and probably should
have picked up a fourth IRB World Player of the Year award as
Other notable performers: Michael Hooper and Liam Gill [both
6 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe [Argentina]
Lobbe only played a few games at No6 but it would be criminal
to leave him out of a World XV in 2012.
His bravery, work rate and contribution were immense and
there were times when he looked like he would have happily
battled opponents on his own if he had to. Tough and
determined, he did the lot. He is a great player and great
Other notable performers:
Tom Wood [England], Dan Lydiate [Wales], Stephen Ferris
5 Eben Etzebeth [South Africa]
This boy is a serious find for the Springboks. A phenomenal
specimen with the rugby brain to match his obvious brawn.
Having lost Bakkies Botha, the Boks needed an enforcer and,
at just 21, Etzebeth was happy to play that role. Strong,
athletic and nasty, he was a menace and came of age against
England at Twickenham where he stood up to some physical
punishment and dished out plenty of his own.
Other notable performers: Marco Bortalami [Italy], Nathan
4 Richie Gray [Scotland]
At 2.08m and 128kg, it's kind of hard to miss Richie Gray.
Not always helped by those around him, Gray was tireless in
the engine room where his capacity to hit rucks and carry the
ball hugely impressed. More than just a big man, though, his
handling was good and he was just as able to offload and link
the play. A raw athlete who would probably be a genuine
global superstar if he played for a top-five-ranked nation.
Other notable performers: Quintin Geldenhuys [Italy]
3 Dan Cole [England]
The fact that the name Dan Cole isn't widely known outside of
European rugby is perhaps the ultimate proof he's been the
best tighthead in world rugby this year. He is an old school
tighthead in that he lives for his scrummaging and, as a
consequence, he's rather good at it. England have a quality
set piece and Cole anchors it. He's strong, consistent and
aggressive. Doesn't do much around the track but doesn't
really have to given his contribution in the core areas.
Other notable performers: Adam Jones [Wales], Nicolas Mas
2 Adrian Strauss [South Africa]
Wasn't a great year for hookers in that no one really
delivered consistent world-class performances all season.
There were lots of good performers and probably none better
than Strauss, the man who was third or fourth choice for the
Springboks in June but who took his chance when injury
struck. Strauss was a dynamic ball carrier, made some big
tackles and, like nearly all South African hookers, was
almost faultless with his throwing. Had energy and drive and
that knack of being in the thick of the action.
Other notable performers: Tatafu Polota-Nau [Australia]
1 Sona Taumalolo [Tonga]
Taumalolo was impossible to ignore in 2012. He was one of the
Chiefs' best weapons - scoring tries for fun and making it
look easy. But he was no showboater. Taumalolo may have loved
driving over from close range but he also loved scrummaging
and all the nasty bits of his job. Tonga scored a famous
victory against Scotland in November where they dominated the
set piece thanks largely to the smiling assassin wearing the
red No1 shirt.
Other notable performers: Tony Woodcock [New Zealand], Andrea
Lo Cicero [Italy]
- Gregor Paul