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4 Test rugby rookies made it into our World XV of 2016

England and New Zealand dominated our selections.

Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

IT’S ALMOST THREE whole weeks since international rugby rode off into the sunset for another year. Now we face some long dark days until it returns in February. To help pass the time here’s an international XV we rowed and rowed over.

15. Ben Smith (New Zealand)

In a team with an all new centre combination to build, Smith’s ability to consistently do the perfect thing at the right time typified the way the All Blacks play the game. Reliable, but never short of a bit of brilliance.

New Zealand All Blacks Ben Smith is tackled by Ireland’s Garry Ringrose Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

14. Israel Dagg (New Zealand)

Missed out on the World Cup due to a combination of form and injury, but settled back into the All Black back three brilliantly despite being slightly out of position.

13. Anton Lienert-Brown (New Zealand)

World Rugby’s young player of the year didn’t enjoy quite as much space in November as he did during the Rugby Championship, but never looked fazed on the big stage and is a frightening prospect to add to the Kiwi midfield.

12. Owen Farrell (England)

Tackles like a man possessed and drives back players who are well above his weight class. Yet he endlessly dusts himself down and nervelessly kicked the goals in a year when England swept the board.

Owen Farrell celebrates Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

This list is based on Test performances, but it would be remiss not to mention the brilliant double-winning Saracens contribution to England’s success too – we’ll hear more from them before the team-sheet is complete.

11. Stuart Hogg (Scotland)

Deservedly claimed Player of the Championship despite Scotland’s fourth-placed finish in the Six Nations. The Glasgow man lit up a tournament that was dominated by a steam-rolling chariot and continued to be a bright spark for his nation through November.

10. Beauden Barrett (New Zealand)

Let’s get the one minor flaw in his game out of the way early: his goal-kicking percentages could be improved, but hey, there are other lads well capable of taking the tee in this team.

Beauden Barrett scores a try Source: Photosport/Andrew Cornaga/INPHO

Barrett was a shoe-in for the World Rugby Player of the Year because of his combination of pace, passing skill and intelligence make him the bane of defensive coaches everywhere. He scored nine tries in his 13 Tests this year and had a hand in countless more scything Kiwi attacks.

It’s been said a thousand times before this year, but replacing Dan Carter was supposed to be difficult. Barrett has taken the baton on from the great DC and powered away.

9. TJ Perenara (New Zealand)

Aaron Smith was the first-choice All Black scrum-half for the majority of the year, but each and every time Barrett’s fellow Super Rugby-winning Hurricane half-back stepped on the field, he made an impact. His pace and love of a bit of audacious handling skill have brought him to six tries in his 12 Tests this year.

1. Mako Vunipola (England)

The pack is where we start having to pay serious credit to England’s exploits. The older of the Vunipola brothers was central to the dominant scrum which Eddie Jones built his success on. Mako was also an important carrying weapon whenever his nation needed a gainline.

2. Rory Best (Ireland)

The captain of this team. Best is belying his 34 years by continuing to show off an incredible level of fitness to dominate breakdowns and scrummage for at least 65 minutes of each punishing Test – only the comfortable win over Italy saw him called ashore any earlier.

Rory Best celebrates with teammates after the game Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

3. Tadhg Furlong (Ireland)

The New Ross in so many ways. Furlong made his presence felt when pitted against Tendai Mtawarira and has continued to make Ireland’s scrum a weapon in a momentous November. On top of the fundamentals, he is incredibly mobile and absolutely LOVES a big fend.

4. Brodie Retallick (New Zealand)

Remains the standard-bearer of the modern day second row: incredibly physical, agile, incisive and with great handling skills. New Zealand are the best team in the world, but it was no coincidence that their only defeat since August 2015 came in his absence.

5. Maro Itoje (England)

Given how well-flagged his talent was, it’s worth remembering that Itoje only made his England debut this year. An intelligent and incredibly powerful weapon around the park, the European player of the year can’t be overlooked for any team selection in the near future.

Maro Itoje with Taulupe Faletau Source: Andrew Fosker/INPHO

6. CJ Stander (Ireland)

Our fourth newcomer in this selection, Stander has been nothing short of sensational for Ireland since making his debut in February. Ireland’s Rugby Writers’ Player of the Year has worked tirelessly in every chance he’s been given in green, consistently topping the carry charts and making hard yards suddenly not so difficult to come by.

7. Michael Hooper (Australia)

Some nations struggle to get their best opensides into a balanced back row, but Hooper’s brilliance over the years forced David Pocock to shift to number eight. The pair continue to work brilliantly in tandem, but Hooper complements his exemplary post-tackle efforts with sublime open field play to link Wallaby attacks.

8. Billy Vunipola (England)

Bosh!

England’s Billy Vunipola Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

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