An action-packed year of international rugby saw Wales claim another Six Nations title, the British & Irish Lions claim a rare series victory against Australia and New Zealand clinch the Rugby Championship crown on their way to a ‘perfect’ season.
Along the way we have been treated to a host of eye-catching performances but consistent excellence was the key to selection in this Team of the Year. Do you agree with this selection?
15. Leigh Halfpenny (Wales)
The sure-footed fullback not only booted Wales to Six Nations glory – with his contribution earning him the Player of the Championship honour – but he also starred in the Lions’ historic triumph over the Wallabies when he was once again recognised as the outstanding talent on display. His superb form and the small matter of 173 Test points also saw him shortlisted for the IRB Player of the Year. Many may hail the emergence of Wallabies fullback Israel Folau and his exciting game-breaking ability but Halfpenny also boasts a cutting edge and smart rugby brain as part of his personal arsenal.
14. Ben Smith (New Zealand)
Smith lit up the Super Rugby stage where he starred as a fullback in an under-performing Highlanders side and he kicked on when he returned to the All Blacks’ ranks with a dazzling run of form that brought a world-leading 11 tries in 14 Test appearances. A switch to centre for the end of year tour of Europe underlined his versatility and his form saw him nominated for the IRB Player of the Year award but he had to settle for the New Zealand Super Rugby Player of the Year gong.
13. Jonathan Davies (Wales)
Davies was another key figure in Wales’ Six Nations triumph but passed a greater test during the Lions’ series victory over Australia. Davies got the nod ahead of veteran Brian O’Driscoll for the deciding Test against the Wallabies and he dealt with the pressure superbly on a famous night for the Lions.
12. Jean de Villiers (South Africa)
The South Africa skipper was an inspirational figure throughout 2013 as he steered the Boks to 10 victories and did more than most to rattle the All Blacks. The no-nonsense centre was at his defence-busting best for much of the year and bagged five tries in the process. France’s Wesley Fofana may ooze flair but De Villiers’ all round game earns him a place in this line-up.
11. George North (Wales)
The Welsh powerhouse may not have been among the leading Test try scorers this year but when he did cross the whitewash it certainly made an impact. The pick of his six Test tries was his sensational score for the Lions against the Wallabies in Brisbane. Equally impressive was his outrageous man-handling of Wallabies rival Israel Folau during the second Test in Melbourne.
10. Aaron Cruden (New Zealand)
Australia’s Quade Cooper may have restored his reputation as a creative force but New Zealand’s Aaron Cruden claims the No.10 shirt. The 24-year-old playmaker, who also helped the Chiefs to yet another Super Rugby title, stepped up to fill the void left by an injured Dan Carter. His enviable composure was there for all to see as he slotted a last-gasp match-winning conversion against Ireland in Dublin.
9. Aaron Smith (New Zealand)
Smith featured in all but one of the All Blacks’ victories this year with his sharp distribution and pace a key feature of their success. Aided by a dominant pack, he delighted in getting New Zealand’s talent-heavy backs division flowing.
1. Marcos Ayerza (Argentina)
Ayerza earned rave reviews during the Rugby Championship despite the Pumas’ win-less campaign thanks to his consistency at scrum time. The experienced loose-head is a pillar of strength that will need a little help to lift Argentina out of the doldrums.
2. Bismarck du Plessis (South Africa)
Du Plessis bounced back from a serious knee injury to eventually wrestle the Springboks’ No.2 jersey back from the equally impressive Adriaan Strauss. He also refused to dwell on a his incorrect sending off against the All Blacks during the Rugby Championship – a resilient enforcer.
3. Adam Jones (Wales)
A model of consistency, Jones shared in yet another Six Nations triumph and was at the heart of the Lions’ series victory over Australia. Injury may have sidelined him at the end of the year but his star shows no sign of waning with a century of Test caps now within his grasp.
4. Eben Etzebeth (South Africa)
A rising star of the game, Etzebeth was an ever-present for the Springboks and his contribution to their cause was rightfully rewarded with a nomination for the IRB Player of the Year award. Remarkably assured and self-confident for someone who only made their Test bow last year.
5. Sam Whitelock (New Zealand)
Whitelock hit a rich vein of form during the Super Rugby season and later cruised through the 50 Test cap barrier as a key member of a dominant All Blacks side. Still only 25-years-old, he is solid at the set piece but just as hungry for action in the loose.
6. Liam Messam (New Zealand)
Another player to also shine on the Super Rugby stage, Messam was a major driving force behind the All Blacks machine with his work rate key to their success. Grabbed two crucial tries in the Rugby Championship title-deciding victory over South Africa and was also shortlisted for the New Zealand Player of the Year award.
7. Michael Hooper (Australia)
The Wallabies may have struggled to make their mark in 2013 but the same could not be said for flanker Michael Hooper. Australia’s Super Rugby Player of the Year, Hooper held his own in the Rugby Championship and David Pocock faces a fight to reclaim his shirt next year.
8. Kieran Read (New Zealand)
The All Blacks’ No.8 was a class apart this past year and unsurprisingly has claimed a host of awards including the IRB Player of the Year and the Kel Tremain Memorial Trophy as New Zealand’s best player. His industry was unrivalled and his influence unparalleled. A rock in defence and a key link man in attack, Read also underlined his leadership credentials when regular skipper Richie McCaw was on his sabbatical earlier this year.
Do you agree with Graham’s selections? Who would you have in or out of this side? Comments below…