The best of the best: The greatest ever RWC XV

To qualify for selection on Donal Lenihan’s best ever World Cup XV, the players had to have at least one winner’s medal in the pocket

The best of the best: The greatest ever RWC XV

1. Os du Randt (South Africa)

Jacobus Petrus du Randt, or Os as he was affectionately known, became only the sixth player to win two World Cup winners medals when he played his last competitive game in the 2007 fnal in Paris. The only survivor from South Africa’s, Nelson Mandela inspired, win in 1995 he had actually retired in 2000 due to persistent injury only to be coaxed back three years later. The Springboks pride themselves in the power of their scrum and du Rands was the cornerstone of that throughout their successful 2007 campaign.

2. Sean Fitzpatrick (New Zealand)

Only made the victorious 1987 New Zealand side when their captain Andy Dalton pulled a hamstring on the eve of the opening game but his impact was such that Dalton couldn’t get his place back when he returned to full fitness. Brought a new dimension to the role from broken play where he used his pace and power in the wide channels to score crucial tries without ever compromising his work in the tight or set piece. Was within an extra time drop goal to captaining New Zealand to World Cup glory in 1995 in a tournament predestined to go South Africa’s way.

3. Owen Franks (New Zealand)

Still only 27, Franks is the epitome of the modern day tight head prop. Despite being a relative novice in 2011, he anchored the scrum with such authority throughout the tournament that New Zealand were never under pressuer. The big plus with Franks is that his scrummaging solidity is surpassed by his ability in broken play and at the breakdown. His handling is as good as any outside back and his ability to pass under pressure has led to a number of tries for his support runners. An unsung hero four years ago, he will be a key player in New Zealand’s attempt to retain their crown over the coming weeks.

4. Martin Johnson (England)

As only man to lead a northern hemisphere side to victory, the Leicester colossus has to be in this side. Leaving that aside, his inclusion is more than merited on the basis of his playing contribution. Johnson offered not only a massive physical presence but a psychological one also as refused to take a backward step against anyone. The England front I’ve that delivered the Webb Ellis trophy in 2003 wasn’t exceptional when compared to some of the other winners but with Johnson on board, everybody played that little bit better.

5. Victor Matfield (South Africa)

A tight call between Matfield and Australia’s 1999 winning captain John Eales but the Springbok gets the nod on the basis of his better all round game. Incredible to think that the line out king is back competing at this level again, at 38 years of age, having announced his retirement at the conclusion of the 2011 event. After a stint coaching and in the commentary box, Springbok coach Heyeneke Mayer persuaded him to come back last year for one last stand in this tournament. Superb athlete.

6. Richard Hill (England)

Dallaglio and Back were more high profile but Hill was the key member of England’s all-conquering, World Cup winning, back row in 2003. His ability to play across the back row meant he had an encyclopaedic knowledge of all three roles which made him very difdcult to play against. While his tackle count was usually the highest in the team, he was equally adept at the breakdown where his work on the deck in tandem with Back generated countless turnovers. Holds off strong claims from Schalk Burger and Jerome Kaino.

7. Richie McCaw (New Zealand)

You have to be a special player to captain New Zealand 105 times and McCaw is certainly that. Leading his country in a World Cup for the third time, nobody appreciates more what it takes to lift the trophy. After the devastation of losing out to France in the quarter final in 2007, McCaw’s dream of finally delivering on home soil four years ago looked in tatters when he was hampered with a debilitating foot injury. Having already lost Dan Carter, he was needed more than ever and despite not being able to train throughout the tournament still delivered. Edges fellow All Black Michael Jones for the coveted No 7 jersey.

8. Kieran Read (New Zealand)

Another close call here between two outstanding All Blacks in Read and Buck Shelford. Reid gets the nod due to the way he always produces something special when the need is greatest. New Zealand’s captain in waiting when Richie McCaw retires, it is his ability to deliver sensational, try scoring, off loads that set Read apart. While his work at the set piece and at the breakdown is top drawer, it is his vision that make him such a special talent. New Zealand’s most consistent performer throughout the successful 2011 campaign.

9. Joost van der Westhuizen (South Africa)

Behind the gargantuan packs that the Springboks regularly provide, van der Westhuizen ran the show. Big and arrogant, he took on opposition back rowers with relish and regularly came out on top, scoring innumerable tries for South Africa. In the epic 1995 final, he threw down an early marker with a smashing, trade mark, cover tackle on Jonah Lomu that set the script - “you will not run through us today”. A winner in every sense, he has displayed even greater resilience in recent years, fighting his personal battle with Motor Neurone disease with great personal dignity.

10. Michael Lynagh (Australia)

Strong competition for the key No 10 shirt from the likes of Jonny Wilkinson, Grant Fox and Stephen Larkham but Lynagh gets the nod from me for the audacious manner with which he, almost single handedly, rescued the Wallabies bid for glory with that last ditch try against Ireland in the 1991 quarter final in Dublin. When all around were losing their heads after that Gordon Hamilton try, Lynagh delivered. Was equally clinical in the final when he beat the English at their own game through his tactical kicking and astute game management.

11. David Campese (Australia)

Player of the tournament in 1991, Campo’s flamboyant style and incredible try scoring record (65 in 101 tests) set him apart. Outstanding in the semi-final win over New Zealand in Dublin that year, arguably his biggest contribution to the final success over England was to challenge them, in the days leading up to the decider, into running the ball. England took the bait and abandoned their power game up front. He had the confidence to try anything, and invariably had the skill levels to make it work. A super star of his time.

12. Tim Horan (Australia)

The first of my double World Cup winners, Horan was as tough as nails yet had the subtlety and soft hands to create opportunity for those around him. A relative newcomer to the scene when he one his first medal in 1991, he displayed remarkable resilience and determination to make the 1995 event after a shattering knee injury that experts predicted would finish his career. Named player of the tournament in 1999, Horan led an impregnable Wallaby defensive effort that conceded just a single try in six games when regaining the trophy.

13. Conrad Smith (New Zealand)

It is only when Smith is an absentee from the New Zealand back line that you really begin to appreciate what he brings to the table. Since 2008 the mercurial centre has provided the brains that has enabled the likes of Ma’a Nonu and Julian Savea to punch holes through the opposition. His vision is incredible and he invariably delivers the rapier pass that opens up defences. Despite being comparatively small in stature, his reading of the game is such that he is rarely exposed in his defensive duties. Led the way behind the scrum for the 2011 triumph after Dan Carter was lost to injury.

14. John Kirwan (New Zealand)

Lit up the inaugural event on home soil in 1987 when he sprinted 70 metres, leaving countless Italian defenders in his wake, en route to one of the most spectacular tries to grace any tournament. Backed that up with another powerful effort in the final against France. Kirwan was one of the new breed of big, powerful New Zealand wingers, with pace to burn. A strike rate of 35 tries in 63 tests was an outstanding return.

15. Jason Robinson (England)

His dazzling feet and lightning acceleration make the former rugby league star a must in this incredible back three. Robinson lit up the game and was devastating in broken play. His try in the 2003 final proved crucial in getting England over the line and while most of his union career was spent on the wing, he qualifies for the full back slot having featured there in the 2007 event in France including his second final appearance in the defeat to South Africa.

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