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The42’s finest international XV of 2018

It’s been a hell of a year. Here’s who really stood out.

IT WAS A momentous 2018 for Ireland as they won a Grand Slam and a much-anticipated Test against the World Champions, but a World XV can’t be made up entirely of Joe Schmidt’s team… can it?

15. Beauden Barrett

Perhaps the best attacking talent in the game, so even though we couldn’t squeeze him into the 10 shirt, we had to find space somewhere. The All Black star’s scorching pace, beautiful passing and running lines ensure he is never far from the World Player of the Year discussion.

14. Aphiwe Dyantyi

South Africa were massively rejuvenated this year under Rassie Erasmus and the electric wing was a major beneficiary. Gave the ‘Boks a razor sharp cutting edge to beautifully complement the traditional sledgehammer up front.

South Africa v England International Test Rugby Dyantyi on the attack against England. Source: Zuma Press/PA Images

13. Garry Ringrose

Ireland juggled their centres by necessity through their stellar year, but the young Leinster man consistently showed up on the biggest stages to offer his classy attack and steely defensive game to the cause.

12. Owen Farrell

Say what you like about his tackles, you want Farrell in the team alongside you rather than opposite you. Brilliant whether he plays 10 or 12 with slick distribution and a willingness to enter contacts well above his weight class.

11. Jacob Stockdale

The irrepressible and prolific Ulster man just keeps answering questions over his game with try after try. His score against the All Blacks was a brilliant example of a man who won’t let setbacks scare him off the trail.

10. Johnny Sexton

Who knows where Ireland’s year might have ended up if Sexton had not stood up and taken all the pressure of Paris on it shoulders when it most counted? The world’s best out-half because he is now an astute game manager as well as an incisive attacker.

Jonathan Sexton celebrates kicking a drop goal to win the game Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

9. Conor Murray

Missed the November Tests despite Steve Hansen assuring us he was fit and ready. But the Limerick man already had more than enough credit in the bank after guiding Ireland to a Grand Slam and the series win in Australia.

1. Cian Healy

A thoroughbred of a workhorse for Ireland. Accurate at the breakdown and still explosive in open play while getting the core duty – scrummaging – square and straight as a matter of routine.

Cian Healy celebrates after the game Healy celebrates in Twickenham. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

2. Malcolm Marx

Had a shaky November, but his power in the tight and the loose was the nucleus of South Africa’s remarkable return to the top echelon of the game.

3. Tadhg Furlong

Passing, boshing and there was even a kick in there. Furlong’s attacking repertoire sometimes sounds like he ought to be an inside centre. The best prop in the game.

4. Brodie Retallick

Wasn’t at his best in the tail end of his season in Dublin, but otherwise maintained his incredibly high standards of physicality and game-turning interventions to ensure New Zealand at least won out in the southern hemisphere.

5. James Ryan

James Ryan with Karl Tu'inukuafe and Aaron Smith James Ryan takes on the All Blacks. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

22 years old, driving Ireland towards titles and the top of world rankings and there is still no sign of a ceiling for his talent.

6. Pieter Steph du Toit

An incredibly physical presence in South Africa’s back row that helped pave the way for their win over England and some ding-dong battles with New Zealand. He was so good, we had to move Peter O’Mahony.

7. Peter O’Mahony

Playing the Munster captain out of position in this team because Ireland found success with a variety of opensides this year. But it is impossible to escape the change in fortunes for Joe Schmidt’s side since O’Mahony was thrust back into the starting line-up against England back in March 2017.

Peter O'Mahony makes a vital interception Gamechanger: Peter O'Mahony beating backs to a loose ball in November. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

David Pocock may remain the best seven in the game, but he doesn’t always play there either. And when pitted toe-to-toe with O’Mahony over the summer, the gruff Corkman was every bit as influential on the ground and they sent Israel Foloau to contend with him in the air.

His finest hour came in the win over New Zealand. His turnover allowed Ireland kick for the line-out that created the decisive try, and even though he hobbled through much of the second half, he came up with a miraculous grab on a loose bouncing ball that looked tailor-made for Ben Smith to power onto en route under the posts.

8. CJ Stander

Source: The rugby bible 2018/YouTube

Really settled into the number eight role with Ireland having initially played blindside for Schmidt. Utterly relentless in carrying through hard yards for his team and clever in his selection of turnover attempts at the breakdown. When he does get set through a gap, he’s hard to stop too.

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