Ulster wing and league top try scorer Craig Gilroy, hooker Rory Best, lock Franco van der Merwe and Connacht centre Robbie Henshaw and loosehead prop Denis Buckley all made the side selected by 11 journalists from the four competing nations in the Pro12, including the Irish Examiner.
There are three players apiece from Ulster and Munster’s fellow play-off contenders Ospreys (half-backs Dan Biggar and Rhys Webb, lock Alun Wyn Jones) and Glasgow (backs Tommy Seymour and Peter Horne and No.8 Josh Strauss) with Scarlets full-back Liam Williams and Edinburgh tighthead WP Nel making up the XV.
Yet Leinster’s disappointing defence of their title won last season, when their strong form garnered dream team selections for Sean Cronin, Rhys Ruddock and Jordi Murphy, has its players miss out on inclusion for the first time since the concept was introduced in 2006/07.
Stander, who picked up his sixth man of the match award in the Pro12 this season in the draw at Ulster last Saturday, adds to his individual honours in campaign that saw him named Munster’s player of the season nine days ago, just ahead of fellow Dream Team back-row selection O’Donnell and lock Billy Holland.
Some of the positions were close calls, with Henshaw edging out Ulster’s Darren Cave at outside centre while O’Donnell got the decision ahead of Ospreys’ Justin Tipuric. Stander was also consideration at No.8 as well as blindside flanker but was given the No.6 berth to accommodate Glasgow’s South African Strauss at the base of the pack.
Eligibility for selection was a minimum of 10 performances in the first 20 rounds of the season with the team selected by four Irish, three Welsh (plus one apology), two Scottish and two Italian rugby writers.
With one round of the regular season still to play this Saturday, the top four are all still in with a chance of securing a home semi-final via a top-two finish in the league but their respective fates will be known by the time their achievements are recognised at Sunday night’s awards.
Among the nine awardswill be the Guinness Players’ Player of the Season, young player, Rhino Golden Boot and coach of the season honours.
L Williams (Scarlets); T Seymour (Glasgow), R Henshaw (Connacht), P Horne (Glasgow), C Gilroy (Ulster); D Biggar (Ospreys), R Webb (Ospreys); D Buckley (Connacht), R Best (Ulster), WP Nel (Edinburgh); A W Jones (Ospreys), F van der Merwe (Ulster); CJ Stander (Munster), T O’Donnell (Munster), J Strauss (Glasgow).