Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

TeleBest: The World's 50 best rugby players

1. Richie McCaw
Age: 28 Position: Flanker Franchise: Crusaders Country: New Zealand
He's big enough to take the boshes and the bashes around the breakdown, lithe and quick and skilful enough, of course, to link with any of the thousand sets of breathtaking backs the men in black might care to put out. The world's best? We reckon so
1. Richie McCaw
Age: 28 Position: Flanker Franchise: Crusaders Country: New Zealand
He's big enough to take the boshes and the bashes around the breakdown, lithe and quick and skilful enough, of course, to link with any of the thousand sets of breathtaking backs the men in black might care to put out. The world's best? We reckon so
2. Juan Martin Hernandez
Age: 26 Position: Fly-half Club: Stade Francais Country: Argentina
His length-of-the-field kicking ability is but a fraction of his vast reserves of outrageous talent. He can sling field-wide passes to within centimetres of their target, break the line like a raging bull and he defends his channel monstrously.
3. Dan Carter
Age: 26 Position: Fly-half Club: Perpignan Country: New Zealand
A talent so precocious is precious, if not priceless. Let's keep him happy because as he proved in the autumn, the All Black fly-half has everything - precision, panache, pace and power.
5. Sergio Parisse
Age: 25 Position: No.8 Club: Stade Français Country: Italy
Big and strong, he's also got hands to die for, a brain for the game and an absolute refusal to bend the knee. The best No.8 in the world by a distance
4. Victor Matfield
Age: 31 Position: Second Row Franchise: Bulls Country: South Africa
Matfield steals lineout ball like his life depends on it and seems to cover more ground than a migrating wildebeest. He moves with such speed for a big man that former Australia coach Eddie Jones once suggested he try his hand at Olympic sprinting.
6. Matt Giteau
Age: 25 Position: Fly-half Franchise: Western Force Country: Australia His low-slung centre of gravity allows him to dart through gaps in drift defences at will, even when the opposition know damn fine well what he's about to do and his kicking game has become accurate in front of the sticks and long from hand.
7. Shane Williams
Age: 31 Position: Wing Region: Ospreys Country: Wales
He scored 14 tries in 12 Tests in the 2007-8 season and claimed the Welsh try-scoring record in the process. His shimmies and swerves lit up the 2008 Six Nations as Wales marched to the Grand Slam and at 31 he still has plenty left to give.
8. Bryan Habana
Age: 25 Position: Wing Franchise: Bulls Country: South Africa So, he raced a cheetah and so, he was the IRB player of the year for 2007. Habana effectively won South Africa's World Cup semi-final against Argentina on his own - at least, the Pumas couldn't match his pace
9. Schalk Burger
Age: 25 Position: Flanker Franchise: Stormers Country: South Africa
'A threshing machine' was how former Springbok coach Nick Mallett described Burger. He has been the most physical, intimidating flanker in the business for the last four years, since being named the 2004 IRB Player of the Year.
10. Juan Smith
Age: 27 Position: Flanker Franchise: Cheetahs Country: South Africa
His performances against Wales and Scotland this autumn earned him yet more rave reviews for his link play, pilfering and all-round brilliance. The unsung hero of the formidable Springbok back row, yet there is not a better blindside flanker in world rugby. Sheer class
11. Jean de Villiers
Age: 27 Position: Centre Franchise: Stormers Country: South Africa
While he is equally at home on the wing, it is at centre that South Africa's Player of the Year in 2009 Jean de Villiers has established himself as one of the world's elite performers, combining creativity with fluid running in the midfield.
13. Ma'a Nonu
Age: 26 Position: Centre Franchise: Hurricanes Country: New Zealand
The world's most improved player this year, the 26-year-old powerhouse has been in the form of his life, his strong running and love for the physical battles makes him a focal point of the All Black attack and a hard man to stop with first-up tackles
12. Mike Blair
Age: 27 Position: Scrum-half Region: Edinburgh Country: Scotland
Blair is the first Scottish player since the award began to have made the shortlist for the IRB Player of the Year. He has led Scotland almost single-handedly at times
14. George Smith
Age: 28 Position: Flanker Franchise: Brumbies Country: Australia
Nuisance. Pest. Disruptive force. Those are just some of the words that have been used to describe Smith, who has established himself as one of world rugby's elite open-side flankers. A brilliant destroyer of opposition attacks, Smith makes a living out of slowing sides down and snuffing out their opportunities.
15. Pierre Spies
Age: 23 Position: No.8 Franchise: Bulls Country: South Africa
Billed as the future prototype No.8, Spies is a freakishly athletic player who has also lined up at flanker and wing for club and country. A dynamic runner with explosive pace off the base of the scrum, Spies has all the attributes to become one of the game's modern greats
16. Stirling Mortlock
Age: 31 Position: Centre Franchise: Brumbies Country: Australia
In November, Mortlock reaffirmed his status as one of the most reliable, sturdy, inspirational characters in world rugby with another outstanding display of three-quarter play that saw him explode over England's gainline at will, handle the wet ball as if it were a Ming vase and belt over a penalty from nigh on 50 metres.
17. Fourie du Preez
Age: 26 Position: Scrum-half Franchise: Bulls Country: South Africa
During the 2007 World Cup du Preez earned the right to call himself the best No.9 in the business with his scintillating displays that drove the Boks on to the Webb Ellis Cup. What makes him special as a player, let alone a No.9, is his natural sense of timing that has seen him make countless crucial cover tackles
18. Vilimoni Delasau
Age: 31 Position: Wing Club: US Montauban Country: Fiji
After Wales fell to Fiji in Nantes in the pool stages of the World Cup the focus was on how Gareth Jenkins' team had shot themselves in the foot. Fiji still had to have the beating of them. That they did, and in such blisteringly memorable fashion, was in large part down to the efforts of Vilimoni Delasau
19. Paul O'Connell
Age: 30 Position: Second Row Province: Munster Country: Ireland
His importance to Ireland sometimes supercedes Brian O'Driscoll's. He was criticised for muted displays on the last Lions tour but came back to his best to lead Munster to two out of the last three Heineken Cups
20 Luke McAlister
Age: 25 Position: Centre Club: Sale Sharks Country: New Zealand
He runs like a steam train, kicks like a mule and has the ability to put players into space with the timing of a Swiss clock. The chances are he'll be back in black by 2011
21. Nili Latu
Age: 26 Position: Flanker Club: NEC Green Rockets Country: Tonga
There are few in the modern game who can hit as hard as Latu - a no-nonsense player who epitomises the physical, occasionally reckless and tough-tackling Tonga team. Latu plays with little regard for his own body and certainly isn't shy when it comes to inflicting pain on the opposition.
22. Tony Woodcock
Age: 28 Position: Prop Franchise: Blues Country: New Zealand
Woodcock is in the business of dominating scrums and he can lay claim to the title of the world's best loosehead. He has surprisingly good pace for a front rower and has a knack for crossing the whitewash
23. Brian O'Driscoll
Age: 29 Position: Centre Province: Leinster Country: Ireland
This season against Wasps in the Heineken Cup he showed that the genie can still pop out of the bottle. One flick of the foot lobbed a bouncing ball over an on-rushing defender and O'Driscoll had conjured a try from thin air. He could make a mockery of this ranking before 2009 is out
24. Nathan Sharpe
Age: 30 Position: Second Row Franchise: Western Force Country: Australia
Man of the match in many observers' eyes in Australia's victory over England at Twickenham, it's testament to Sharpe's character having been deemed past his best by many after missing out to the likes of Dan Vickerman and James Horwill earlier in the year
25. Thierry Dusautoir
Age: 27 Position: Flanker Club: Toulouse Country: France
He played a huge role in downing the All Blacks in the infamous quarter-final, making an eye-popping 38 tackles and scoring a try. The closest thing any European side has to Richie McCaw. This boy is pure class
26. Mario Ledesma
Age: 35 Position: Hooker Club: Clermont Auvergne Country: Argentina
Fearsome. Grizzled. Gnarled. Pick any term you like. Ledesma revels in them all. The limbs are a little creaky now but he's still a force to be reckoned with
27. Jean-Baptiste Elissalde
Age: 31 Position: Scrum-half Club: Toulouse Country: France
He can play No.9 and No.10, can kick his goals and is able to ferret through holes around the fringes. In other words, he's a right pest, a quality that cannot be overstated for a scrum-half
28. Mils Muliaina
Age: 28 Position: Full-back Franchise: Chiefs Country: New Zealand
A scything, wonderul counter-attacker, Muliaina's running is silky and balanced, his mistakes are rarer than hen's teeth and his nose for a gap is keener than a bloodhound in a butcher's shop.
29. Martyn Williams
Age: 33 Position: Flanker Region: Blues Country: Wales
The openside flanker has proved himself as indispensible as ever to the Welsh cause - there is not a better scavenger of loose ball in Europe - and if he remains fit and well, will be a strong candidate for the Lions No.7 shirt in South Africa next summer
30 Bakkies Botha
Age: 30 Position: Second Row Franchise: Bulls Country: South Africa
Botha can run and handle in the loose almost as well as his fellow Bull Matfield, and his work at the breakdown sees to it that little Springbok ball is ever in danger of being pilfered
31. Joe Rokocoko
Age: 25 Position: Wing Franchise: Blues Country: New Zealand
Strong going into the tackle and able to get the ball out or hang on till the big boys arrive, he is a fully-functioning cog in the All Black back-line machine.
32. Nick Evans
Age: 28 Position: Fly-half Club: Harlequins Country: New Zealand
It would not be an exaggeration to say that were it not for the presence of a certain Dan Carter, Evans would arguably be the greatest fly-half of his generation. Evans is a superb all-round player who would walk into any other Test team in the world
33. Sailosi Tagicakibau
Age: 26 Position: Wing Club: London Irish Country: Samoa
Quick, without having the searing pace of a Habana or a Williams, Tagicakibau's galloping, long-strided running style makes him impossibly awkward to tackle
34. Ryan Jones
Age: 27 Position: No.8 Region: Ospreys Country: Wales
An intelligent, powerful and destructive ball carrier, the 27-year-old No.8 was the obvious choice as captain of Wales. Hugely respected and a favourite for the Lions captaincy
35. Lote Tuqiri
Age: 29 Position: Wing Franchise: Waratahs Country: Australia
Tuqiri is a proven match-winner. Huge, quick, powerful and skilful - all givens for top-level wings. More to the point is the sense one gains of his sheer stage presence, the sense that he can shape a match to his liking.
36. Yannick Jauzion
Age: 30 Position: Centre Club: Toulouse Country: France
As the heartbeat of mighty Toulouse, the elegant French centre is still a formidable attacking force. The legs might be aging, but the mind is every bit as sharp, and his ability to draw defenders and off-load is still second to none.
37. Sebastien Chabal
Age: 30 Position: No.8 Club: Sale Sharks Country: France
Comfortable anywhere in the back five of the scrum, Chabal's physicality, aggression and love of the big hit, mask the fact that he is also an intelligent, ball player with incredible natural strength
38. Conrad Smith
Age: 27 Position: Centre Franchise: Hurricanes Country: New Zealand
Nicknamed The Snake because of his priceless ability to exploit the smallest of gaps with a sudden burst of speed, Smith boasts an intelligent passing game and is the unsung hero of a prolific All Black backline
39. Rodney So'oialo
Age: 29 Position: No.8 Franchise: Hurricanes Country: New Zealand
Not the biggest No.8 in the world, but his all-round ability at the base of the scrum, quick hands and willingness to grind out the hard yards make the All Blacks vice captain an influential and popular figure in the dressing room
40 Enrico Januarie
Age: 26 Position: Scrum-half Franchise: Lions Country: South Africa
His rival for the No.9 shirt, Fourie du Preez, was arguably the player of the 2007 World Cup but since he has been injured his absence has hardly been noted thanks to the form of this pocket rocket
41. Lee Byrne
Age: 28 Position: Full-back Region: Ospreys Country: Wales
Since making his international debut in 2005 Byrne has emerged as an outstanding counter-attacker bursting into the line at a pace and seems to have a total disregard for his own safety under the high ball. A wonderful talent and a nailed on cert for the Lions tour next year
42. Andrew Sheridan
Age: 29 Position: Prop Club: Sale Sharks Country: England
There is no question opponents hate playing him. He is tall for a loosehead and immensely powerful in the gym, but we didn't see him at his wrecking ball-best in the autumn. On his game, he should be capable of destroying scrums
43 Patricio Albacete
Age: 27 Position: Second Row Club: Toulouse Country: Argentina
His ball-carrying and lineout presence make him stand out in a side as littered with talent as Toulouse and he has emerged as a player whom the Pumas will build their new look side around
44. Sitiveni Sivivatu
Age: 26 Position: Wing Franchise: Chiefs Country: New Zealand
Quite simply, this man is a try-machine. The Suva-born Sivivatu has rattled up 28 tries in 35 starts for the All Blacks and 31 five-pointers in 60 appearances in Super Rugby.
45. Felipe Contepomi
Age: 31 Position: Centre/fly-half Province: Leinster Country: Argentina
Dr.Phil, as the qualified surgeon is known to his team-mates, was the Irish Rugby Writers' Player of the Year in 2007 and one of the outstanding players of the 2007 World Cup. Together with Juan Martin Hernandez, he creates an axis for the Pumas that few can match
46. Aurelien Rougerie
Age: 28 Position: Wing Club: Clermont Auvergne Country: France
Rougerie has the priceless ability of being able to break the gain-line. It is testament to his ability and value to a French side that likes to shoot itself in the foot when it comes to selection that he has amassed 44 caps since his debut against South Africa in 2001.
47. Ali Williams
Age: 27 Position: Second Row Franchise: Blues Country: New Zealand
For a man who looks as Maori as a leprechaun, Williams seems to perform the haka with more gusto than most of his other team-mates. His running and kicking game is matched now by his lineout and scrummaging work.
48. Adam Ashley-Cooper
Age: 24 Position: Full-back/Centre Franchise: Brumbies Country: Australia
Australia's Mr Versatile, Ashley-Cooper has played full-back, centre and wing for his country as well as a stint at fly-half for the Brumbies, which demonstrates his superb all-round ability and just how highly regarded he is by Wallaby coach Robbie Deans
49. Euan Murray
Age: 28 Position: Prop Club: Northampton Saints Country: Scotland
Murray scrummages with a ramrod-straight back and fearsome power and he's not shy of crossing the try line either. A world class performer
50. John Smit
Age: 30 Position: Hooker Franchise: Sharks Country: South Africa
Before he captained the Springboks to World Cup glory in 2007, it was argued there were better hookers. Hugely respected in the Springbok camp, he has demonstrated his versatility this season by moving to tighthead prop at times. A formidable and wily opponent

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