Autumn Internationals Best XV
by Curtis Reed – The Autumn Internationals are now in the books and we’ve chosen our Best XV. There were a lot of players that we’ve had to leave off the roster but we think we’ve got it right. What changes would you make?
1. James Slipper-Australia: After enduring a miserable summer Australia had a strong fall with four wins and only one respectable loss to England. It says a lot for Slipper’s contribution that he started all five matches.
2. Bismarck du Plessis-South Africa: England and Australia fans will have shouts for Dylan Hartley and Stephen Moore but there shouldn’t be any question that du Plessis is the best at his position in the world.
3. Owen Franks-New Zealand: The backs and the back-row may get the most press for the All Blacks but the front-row deserve praise as well with Franks as the centerpiece. The only match he didn’t start was against Ireland but he did come on and make an impact as a substitute.
4. Eben Etzebeth-South Africa: 2013 was Etzebeth’s coming out party capped off by a very strong fall. Still young, he has all the tools be the best at his position for years to come.
5. Courtney Lawes-England: He hasn’t always been in favor in the England camp but stepped in big time this fall when give the opportunity. He finally used all of his physical tools to their fullest extent.
6. Tom Wood-England: Another player that excelled for England. He does all the little things well and brings excitement to a team that often misses that. He went up against some of the best back-row players in the country and bested all of them.
7. Sean O’Brien-Ireland: In many ways it was a disappointing Autumn for Ireland in that they didn’t pick up any notable wins. As we all know they came close against the All Blacks. O’Brien was at the heart of that effort and but in one of the best performances of any player all year.
8. Kieran Read-New Zealand: IRB Player of the Year award says it all. Against Ireland he was fantastic and a leader when the team needed it. Enough said.
9. Fourie du Preez-South Africa: Injuries decimated du Preez in 2012 but now back to full healthy he has put his hand up for best scrumhalf in the world. Will Genia fans will still make their claims but du Preez was the best this fall.
10. Quade Cooper-Australia: Cooper looked rejuvenated this fall. His passing was brilliant, his tackling was strong, and his kicking was on the mark.
11. Julian Savea-New Zealand: Sure, he’s the beneficiary of nice passing and movement from his teammates but Savea is often underrated in what he brings to the All Blacks. They score tries in bunches for a reason and a big factor in that reason is Savea.
12. Jean de Villiers-South Africa: There aren’t many better at his position. He was solid throughout the fall but especially shined against Wales.
13. Ben Smith-New Zealand: Yet another classy All Black. The emphasis is off Smith to score with players like Ma’a Nonu and Julian Savea around him but where he excelled in the fall was in his defense. He had a well-deserved nomination for Player of the Year.
14. George North-Wales: Absolutely massive against Australia in the losing effort North had a fantastic fall. The move to England has been just what North needs to continue to grow his game. Any other team around the world would take him in a heartbeat.
15. Israel Folau-Australia: Is there any question that Folau has been Australia’s best player over the last year? He is a perfect fit for the Wallabies at fullback. The more and more he plays with the team the better he looks as the Autumn Internationals showed.