The time has finally come for the esteemed Rugby Rugby Team of the Year for 2011 to be unveiled. And, after much deliberation and debate, we can finally tip our caps to the best in the world from this year.
With the World Cup coming at the end of a hectic schedule which included an extended Super Rugby competition, 2011 was always going to be a significant year in the rugby world and it certainly did not disappoint.
There seemed to be high quality rugby from start to finish with every team and every player focused on ensuring that they would be on top form once the global showpiece in New Zealand rolled around in September.
The tension created by the looming shadow of the Webb Ellis Cup meant that the cream of the crop were giving it their best shot from the word go in an attempt to gather momentum ahead of the big tournament.
This is not our team of the World Cup, check out the Rugby World Cup team of the tournament.
For this team we tried to pick the players that outshone all others in their respective positions over the entire year. In other words, the most consistent performers in their positions throughout 2011. So, thus, form in the different domestic competitions, Six Nations and Tri-Nations was also considered very carefully.
In the end it leaves us with a team that incudes six All Blacks, four Wallabies, two Italians, two Springboks and an Irishman. The team was picked before we started our Readers XV series, and although there are quite a few players who have the honour of gracing both teams there are some differences in pivotal positions. And take a look at the Rugby Rugby Readers Team of the Year and compare it with our selections and leave your comments below.
The official Rugby Rugby Team of the Year for 2011:
15 - Israel Dagg (New Zealand): The electric All Blacks and Crusaders fullback beat off a stern challenge from Australia's Kurtley Beale to clinch his selection in our side. He is one of those players with that something special who seems to make things happen on the field whenever he is involved. Superb on defence and under the high ball, his versatile attacking game which could see him joining the line out wide or running intelligently off the first receiver in the backline make him a particularly tricky customer.
14 - James O'Connor (Australia): The young Wallabies starlet seems to have been around for a while now, and although he may be able to play most positions in the backline, his consistent form out wide this year earned him a spot in our team. He has the pace and skill required of a good wing but also couples that with some impressive decision-making (as he showed at flyhalf for the Wallabies last month), and accuracy off the kicking tee which will surely see him become one of the greats of the game.
13 - Brian O'Driscoll (Ireland): The Irish skipper may be coming towards the end of his illustrious career but he remains a wily competitor who cannot be given an inch. He was the stand-out No.13 in the Six Nations and formed part of the formidable Leinster outfit that marched to Heineken Cup glory before leading his side to the World Cup. The leader of Ireland's golden generation had his World Cup hopes dashed once more in the quarterfinal stage, but not before he had inspired his troops to down the Tri-Nations champions Australia in the biggest upset of the pool stage.
12 - Ma'a Nonu (New Zealand): Although his form in the Super Rugby competition was clearly influenced by a fractious relationship with Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett, once he pulled on an All Black jersey Nonu was simply unrivalled. His physicality coupled with superb timing and a vast array of skills means that on his day he has the ability to make top opposition look ordinary. What was perhaps most impressive was the consistency he managed to achieve when playing for his country in this most crucial year in their rugby history.
11 - Digby Ioane (Australia): The Wallaby flyer set the bar high with some scintillating form in the Reds march to Super Rugby glory, and he never seemed to take his foot off the gas. Although a thumb injury curtailed his involvement in the World Cup, when he was on the pitch he was simply a cut above all others in his position.
10 - Quade Cooper (Australia): Undoubtedly one of our more contentious selections given his poor showing at the World Cup, but with Dan Carter spending a huge chunk of the year on the sidelines due to injury there is no denying that the flyhalf who had the biggest impact this year was the mercurial Cooper. He bossed the Super Rugby competition by employing his wide range of attacking skills to bamboozle the opposition time and again and went on to lift the Tri-Nations after sparking the impressive Wallabies backline which earns him a spot in our side.
9 - Will Genia (Australia): There are few players in the world that have the ability to control a game like Genia. The little general makes things easy for those around him by taking the right options and having the ability to execute his skills with accuracy. Perhaps one of the best passers of a rugby ball that there is, his performances behind a forward pack under pressure put him head and shoulders above the rest.
8 - Sergio Parisse (Italy): The athletic Azzurri captain blends power with a silky touch, and his outstanding performances for a team that are constantly up against sides with more firepower has to be commended. He manages to stand out and achieve consistency despite playing largely off the back foot, a factor which sees this sledgehammer wrapped in velvet edge out All Blacks No.8 Kieran Read.
7 - Richie McCaw (New Zealand): The fearless captain of the world champion All Blacks put the icing on a great career by lifting 'Old Bill', but leadership abilities aside he demonstrated why he is considered to be one of the most influential openside flanks ever to have played the game. His ultimate commitment and uncanny judgement make him a thorn in the side of any team he faces, and with over 100 Test caps worth of experience there are few who can counter him when he has the bit between his teeth.
6 - Jerome Kaino (New Zealand): The rampaging hardman has always had all of the attributes to become one of the most destructive loose forwards on the planet and this was the year in which he put it all together. He made his presence felt by putting in massive hits and punching holes in defensive systems throughout the year and showed just what can be achieved when you couple immense physical strength with a determined attitude. Kaino seems to live for the physical exchanges and loves getting stuck in which makes him an unstoppable force on attack and an immovable object on defence.
5 - Victor Matfield (South Africa): The Springbok line-out legend led from the front as the Bulls mounted an unlikely run to the Super Rugby play-offs after a disastrous start to their campaign. And although they ultimately fell just short he maintained his form throughout the year culminating in a masterclass in the World Cup quarterfinal which saw him comprehensively get the better of the Wallabies line-out one last time.
4 - Brad Thorn (New Zealand): Is there anyone in the world who derives as much enjoyment from the tight exchanges as Brad Thorn? The grizzly veteran adds plenty of grunt to any pack and is able to generate enough power to keep all foes on the back foot. His role in a dominant Crusaders and All Blacks tight five could not be understated, and he bows out of the international stage without peer.
3 - Martin Castrogiovanni (Italy): The hairy Italian tighthead is renowned as one of the toughest customers around, combining power and technique at scrum-time to give looseheads all over the world sleepless nights. His consistently top-drawer performances for the Leicester Tigers and the Azzurri just saw him beat the impressive Owen Franks to our No.3 shirt.
2 - Bismarck du Plessis (South Africa): The Bok battleship plays the game with unrivalled intensity, and his highly competitive nature means that he is never intimidated. On top of his explosive physicality and hunger to make an impact he has an impressive skill-set which makes him so much more than a one-dimensional bully. Although his opportunities were limited by the presence of John Smit, he made more than enough of an impression when he did get the chance to earn his place in our team.
1 - Wyatt Crockett (New Zealand): He may not have been good enough to crack the nod for Graham Henry's World Cup squad, but Crockett's form in the Super Rugby and Tri-Nations competitions simply could not be ignored. He played like a man with a point to prove this year, and although Tony Woodcock's vast experience got him to the World Cup Final in which he scored the All Blacks' only try, Crockett performed to a consistently high standard in the No.1 jersey and he wins a spot in our front row to compensate for the lack of a World Cup winners' medal on his mantlepiece.
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