Following a memorable international season, we acknowledge the leading players of 2013 in our annual Team of the Year. Rugby365 gives us their teams
Although the British and Irish Lions secured their first series win in 16 years when they won the three-Test series against Australia 2-1, Southern Hemisphere sides again ruled the rugby landscape this season.
That superiority is reflected in our selection with just three Northern Hemisphere players – a trio of Lions no less – cracked the nod in our 2013 vintage.
The All Blacks, after becoming the first team to complete a perfect season in the professional era, provide the bulk of our team with six players selected.
The Springboks showed vast improvement in their second season under Heyneke Meyer and are rewarded with three players in the side while three Welshmen are included after playing integral roles in Wales’ Six Nations and the Lions’ series triumphs.
Only two Wallabies made the grade after a topsy-turvy season for the Australians while an Argentine adds some Puma flavour to our granite pack.
The bubbling under section has a good mix of Northern and Southern Hemisphere players with players from South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Wales, Argentina and France all in the mix.
Our Team of the Year:
15 Leigh Halfpenny (Wales)
The baby-faced assassin was the embodiment of a match winner this year and deservedly received the honour of being named the British and Irish Lions Player of the Series as well as the Six Nations Player of the Championship. He shattered records Down Under and proved he’s more than just a metronomic goal-kicker, the diminutive fullback rock solid on defence, dependable under the high ball and involved on attack.
Bubbling under: Willie le Roux (South Africa)
14 Ben Smith (New Zealand)
In many respects, 2013 was the year of Ben Smith. The 27-year-old was the breakout backline star of the year, terrorising defences on the wing before moving into the midfield and making a strong case to inherit namesake Conrad Smith’s No.13 black jersey. The multi-talented utility back was the most lethal and elusive strike runner and the deadliest finisher of the year bar none.
Bubbling under: Israel Folau (Australia)
13 Conrad Smith (New Zealand)
The wily wizard consolidated his status as the world’s pre-eminent outside centre this year with vintage inventiveness and unrivalled defensive capabilities in midfield. He’s the brains of the All Black backline – a rugby genius – and one of the classiest and most respected players of all-time. He only enhanced his reputation in 2013.
Bubbling under: Jonathan Davies (Wales)
12 Jean de Villiers (South Africa)
With lingering doubts over his longevity, the 32-year-old made a definitive statement and produced consistently stellar performances that rivalled his 2008 form, when he won both the SARU Player of the Year and Players’ Player of the Year awards. The Springbok captaincy has reinvigorated and brought out the best in De Villiers, a natural leader, who led by example all year.
Bubbling under: Wesley Fofana (France)
11 George North (Wales)
Arguably the most prolific wing in the Northern Hemisphere, North starred for both Wales and the British and Irish Lions this season. He scored some sensational tries and etched his name in Lions history with a 60-metre gem of a try in the opening Test as well as with a unique feat of strength as he lifted Israel Folau while in possession of the ball.
Bubbling under: Julian Savea (New Zealand)
10 Quade Cooper (Australia)
Cooper’s resurgence was one of the comeback stories of the year. After a couple of indifferent seasons and a highly publicised spat with Robbie Deans, the outspoken flyhalf found himself in the wilderness at the start of the international season. Recalled by new coach Ewen McKenzie after the series loss to the British and Irish Lions and subsequent sacking of Deans, Cooper returned to his bamboozling best and thrived as newly appointed vice-captain. He’s a game changer for the Wallabies, who look lost without him.
Bubbling under: Aaron Cruden (New Zealand)
9 Aaron Smith (New Zealand)
The All Black scrumhalf started the Test season on a high with a string of spectacular performances against France and went on to make the No.9 black jersey his own. Fourie du Preez enjoyed a successful return to Test rugby, but the periodic nature of his Springbok comeback saw him lose out to Smith.
Bubbling under: Fourie du Preez (South Africa)
8 Kieran Read (New Zealand)
Already a virtuoso, Read lifted his game to even greater heights in 2013 and established himself as a true great. The 28-year-old is undoubtedly the best player in the world, thoroughly deserving of the IRB Player of the Year award, and is likely to go down in history as the most complete, well-rounded No.8 in history. Never before has an eighthman displayed such an astonishing array of skills – he’s the gold standard, be it his workrate, ball-carrying, defence, line-out and breakdown prowess, ability in the air, sublime offloading skills or knack of scoring tries. His man of the match performance in the epic Rugby Championship decider at Ellis Park was as good a No.8 outing as you’ll ever see.
Bubbling under: Duane Vermeulen (South Africa)
7 Michael Hooper (Australia)
Hooper was by some way the premier openside flank of 2013 and one of if not the most consistent player of the year. He made an absolute menace of himself at the breakdown which, coupled with his tireless workrate, could see him retain the Wallaby No.7 jersey when David Pocock returns from injury.
Bubbling under: Sam Warburton (Wales)
6 Liam Messam (New Zealand)
Messam’s trademark physicality and exemplary support play contributed to an influential individual campaign in 2013. His in-your-face style and aggressive defence make him the ideal man to have in the trenches, while he also possesses sublime ball skills and impressive pace, which saw him being included in Gordon Tietjens’ best New Zealand Sevens team of all-time.
Bubbling under: Juan Manual Leguizamón (Argentina)
5 Sam Whitelock (New Zealand)
Whitelock stood head and shoulders above the rest at No.5 this year and had no real rival to this distinction, which is a testament to his great talent. He ruled the skies and ran the All Black line-out with aplomb. He also hit the 50-Test milestone this year and, at 25 years of age, the best is yet to come.
Bubbling under: Alun Wyn Jones (Wales)
4 Eben Etzebeth (South Africa)
The South African prodigy grew in stature in his second international season. The hot-tempered rookie of 2012 was replaced by a mature, cerebral giant in 2013. His rapid development hints at further evolution – a daunting prospect for all who opposes him. Already the world’s apex enforcer, the 2.04m, 123kg behemoth became a force to be reckoned with at line-out time as well this year, his agility and timing proving he’s the full package.
Bubbling under: Rob Simmons (Australia)
3 Adam Jones (Wales)
The Welsh warhorse was worth his considerable weight in gold for the British and Irish Lions and Six Nations champions in 2013. He was somewhat of an unsung hero as he anchored the scrum for both sides with his vast experience and scrummaging prowess. A real character of the game, the 32-year-old finished the year on 89 Tests.
Bubbling under: Juan Figallo (Argentina)
2 Bismarck du Plessis (South Africa)
Du Plessis was at his abrasive best as he made his return from injury. Although he rotated in and out of the Springbok starting line-up with Adriaan Strauss, he showed during his time on the pitch just why he is the world’s best hooker. His set-piece play was of the highest calibre, his bruising defence and powerful ball carries fierce and his ability to turnover possession unrivalled at No.2.
Bubbling under: Stephen Moore (Australia)
1 Marcos Ayerza (Argentina)
Ayerza spearheaded the Pumas’ scrum challenge both prior and after the implementation of the new scrum sequence this year. The 30-year-old used his brute strength and technique to turn the scrum into an attacking weapon, dishing out scrummaging lessons to the likes of the All Blacks, Springboks and Wallabies in the process.
Bubbling under: Alex Corbisiero (England)
Our individual selections:
Jan de Koning XV: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Israel Folau, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 George North, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Juan Manual Leguizamón, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Quintin van Jaarsveld XV: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 George North, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read,7 Michael Hooper, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Alex Corbisiero.
Michael de Vries XV: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read,7 Michael Hooper, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Paul Dobson XV: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 George North, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Alex Corbisiero.
By Quintin van Jaarsveld