International Rugby: Team of the Year 2018 XV

A rugby player fends off a tackle

With the end of 2018 fast approaching, we take a look at who starred for club and country during the calendar year.

2018 was a great rugby year with the world pecking order getting something of a shakeup due to the rise of the Irish, the fall of the Australians and the South African renaissance.

We'll take a look at which 15 players really caught the eye during the year.

Fullback: Ben Smith (New Zealand/Highlanders)
Like a fine wine, the All Black veteran just seems to get better with age. Yes, niggly injuries saw him miss swathes of the Super Rugby season, but when Smith was on the field, the Highlanders were far more assured on both attack and defence.

While Smith gets into our side at fullback, he did spend the majority of the year on the wing for the All Blacks with coach Steve Hansen testing Jordie Barrett and Damian McKenzie in the last line of defence. Smith was an assured force on the wing and showed no signs of ageing legs as he beat many a defender on his way to a few memorable tries.

Honourable Mention: Israel Folau (Australia/Waratahs)
Both Willie le Roux and Jordan Lamour played some good rugby but Israel Folau's early season form for the Waratahs sees him play understudy to Smith on our list.

The outspoken League convert was almost unplayable at times during the Super Rugby campaign, and the Aussies will be hoping he's back to his best at international level next year.

Right Wing: Aphiwe Dyanti (South Africa/Lions)
What a way to announce yourself on the scene! The Lions young gun was set to be a big part player for his Super Rugby franchise this term with Madosh Tambwe ahead in the pecking order. An injury to the Tambwe would see Dyanti thrown in the deep-end, and boy did he thrive.

A stellar series against England in June saw him become one of the first names on Rassie Erasmus' 'Bok team sheet. And solid Rugby Championship and End of the Year tour displays would see him nominated for the IRB's World Breakthrough Player of the Year accolade, and award he won to top off a stellar year.

Honourable Mention: Jacob Stockdale (Ireland/Ulster)
The Irish winger can count himself unlucky to not make the top of this list having starred for both club and country this term.

Seven tries in five Six Nations games saw the youngster break the tournament's try-scoring record. While that was a stellar start to the year, Stockdale didn't rest on his laurels as he was a key figure in Ireland's 1-2 June series victory in Australia and played a prominent role in his side's November victory over the All Blacks.

Outside Centre: Huw Jones (Scotland/Glasgow)
There weren't actually that many contenders for this one with most of the southern hemisphere sides experimenting with their midfield combinations, and the big guns in Europe suffering injuries to their star centres. Despite this, Jones still deserves a lot of praise.

The former Western Province man enjoyed a solid Six Nations campaign, but it was his November form and combination play with Finn Russell, that really stood out. The Warriors centre scored some magnificent tries during the Autumn International window and really brought the Scottish attack to the next level.

Honourable Mention: Jack Goodhue (New Zealand/Crusaders)
The Crusaders' speedster was lightning in a bottle during the Super Rugby season, scoring some awe-inspiring five pointers as well as being a bit of an assist king.

His solid Super Rugby form earned him an international starting berth, and while he did have some iffy moments in the black jersey, the good still far outweighed the bad.

Inside Centre: Ngani Lamaupe (New Zealand/Hurricanes)
The Hurricanes juggernaut yet again caught the eye during a Super Rugby season but this year saw him step to the plate at international level with the burly inside absolutely destroying opposition teams when taking the field for the New Zealand second-string sides.

A hat-trick against Japan in late October was followed by an impressive November showing against the Italians. With Sonny-Bill Williams and Ryan Crotty both struggling with injuries, we may well see Laumape thrust into the World Cup spotlight.

Honourable Mention: Kurtley Beale (Australia/Waratahs)
Yes, the late-season controversy did take the gloss off Beale's season but the Waratahs utility back was one of the few rays of sunshine in what was a very dark year for Australian rugby.

The diminutive back was in excellent form for the Waratahs during the 2018 Super Rugby season and his link-up play with Bernard Foley was sensational. Oddly enough, Australia coach Michael Cheika opted to break up the Foley/Beale axis during the Rugby Championship, with Beale shifting to ten. This experiment was far from successful and Cheika will need to bring the duo back together if Australia are going to improve next year.

Left Wing: Rieko Ioane (New Zealand/Blues)
The Blues young gun wasn't as prolific as he was in 2017 but was still the best winger on the planet. While the youngster still needs to work on his left pass, he did show there's more to his game than blistering pace and great finishing when he turned up with some deft touches in the Blues' 12 jersey during the Super Rugby season.

Honourable Mention: Semi Radradra (Fiji/Bordeaux)
The Olympic Gold medalist had one of the performances when he inspired the Barbarians to a 63-25 victory over the English back in May. The utility back is unplayable on his day and this performance illustrated just how talented he is.

Fly-Half: Johnny Sexton (Ireland/Leinster)
Mr consistency enjoyed a marvellous year being the linchpin in Ireland's victory over New Zealand as well as his nation's Grand Slam Six Nations campaign. No one will forget that memorable last-minute drop-goal against the French any time soon, while his tactical kicking was on-point for the entirety of the year.

The veteran fly-half also played a prominent role in Leinster winning the Pro14 as well as the European Rugby Champions Cup

Honourable Mention: Richie Mo'unga (New Zealand/Crusaders)
The young New Zealander was by far and away the best player during this year's Super Rugby season. Mo'unga's game reached new levels in 2018 with his tactical kicking coming on in leaps and bounds. He was a major threat with ball-in-hand as well and tore many a defence apart for both his franchise and country.

Scrum-half: Faf de Klerk (South Africa/Sale)
The return of the former Lions man to the Springbok set up was nothing short of a revelation with his energetic displays being the catalyst for South Africa's June victories over the English as well as that famous win against the All Blacks.

While de Klerk was a menace on attack, it was the defensive side of his game that really helped the South African's with his pressurizing of his opposite number causing all sorts of problems for the 'Boks foes.

Honourable Mention: Greig Laidlaw (Scotland/Clermont)
He drifted in and out of the Scottish side this year but Laidlaw was back to his best in November where he put in some mature displays. He has also been a key cog in the revival of French club Clermont, whom he signed for at the close of last season.

Eighthman: Michael Leitch (Japan/Sunwolves)
While Leitch did spend the majority season on the side of the scrum for his adoptive country, he appears on the list as a number eight as this is by far and away his best position.

The Japan captain was one of the standout players for the Sunwolves during his debut season for the Japanese franchise, while he also led from the front for his national side with some uncompromising performances.

Honourable Mention: Duane Vermeulen (South Africa/Kubota Spears)
He didn't play that much rugby this year but Vermeulen put in a few match changing displays for the 'Boks that demonstrated just how good a player he is. While he's not my favourite eighthman, he still deserves a shout out.

Openside Flank: David Pocock (Australia/Brumbies)
The Australian veteran returned from his sabbatical this year and looked like he had never taken a break. He was the standout player for the Brumbies during their ill-fated Super Rugby season, and also starred for the Wallabies during their horror year.

Honourable Mention: Ardie Savea (New Zealand/Hurricanes)
This was the year Savea finally proved he's not just an impact sub as he filled in for Sam Cane after the Chief fractured his neck during New Zealand's final Rugby Championship game.

Savea certainly didn't look out of place as a starter during the All Blacks' tour of Europe and clocked up some stunning bally-carrying stats.

Blindside Flank: Peter O'Mahony (Ireland/Munster)
The Irish loosie saw his stocks rise to new levels this season with a solid Six Nations campaign coupled with a heroic performance against the All Blacks, display seeing him become a hero amongst Irish rugby fans.

Honourable Mention: Pablo Matera (Argentina/Jaguares)
Harsh on Pieter Steph du Toit but Matera gets the honourable mention vote here. The former Leicester Tigers man was an absolute rock for the Jaguares this season, and took that form with him into the national set-up, starring for Los Pumas during their Rugby Championship victories.

Tighthead lock: Devin Toner (Ireland/Leinster)
The giant Leinster lock played a vital role in Ireland's great season, with the almost seven-foot toner being an absolute menace at lineout time.

The big man also got around the park and produced some great carries during Leinster's run to 2017/18 European Rugby Champions Cup glory.

Honourable Mention: Franco Mostert (South Africa/Gloucester)
He may not be the most mesmerizing lock in the world but Mostert is an absolute workhorse who never seems to let his teammates down, whether that be his former Lions colleagues or his South African compatriots.

The lock racked up more than 220 tackles during the Lions run to the Super Rugby final, which says all you need to know about his work ethic.

Loosehead Lock: Brodie Retallick (New Zealand/Chiefs)
Tina Turner may well have been gazing into a crystal ball when she wrote her classic 'Simply the Best' as this song could be based on Rettalick.

Rettalick underlined his world-class ability during New Zealand's game against the English when he came to the fore in the second-stanza causing mayhem amongst the English lineout ranks. It's not often that a Test is won by a lock, but that day will be remembered as the day Rettalick conquered the English.

Honourable Mention: James Ryan (Ireland/Leinster)
This young man underlines Ireland's strength in depth with the Leinster youngster coming out of nowhere to stake a claim as one of the best locking prospects in world rugby.

He had an absolute blinder of a season for his club which saw him force his way into the national ranks, where he has excelled dishing out some memorable displays in 2018

Tighthead Prop: Tadgh Furlong (Ireland/Leinster)
This was the easiest position to pick with Furlong head and shoulders above all of his tighthead compatriots. The Irishman was an absolute rock at scrum time, but it was his bally-carrying that really made onlookers take notice this year with the Leinsterman carrying the ball like a physical outside centre.

Not only did he crash through defences but he also threw some delightful offloads that even the mercurial Beauden Barrett would envy.

Honourable Mention: Frans Malherbe (South Africa/Stormers)
This may be slightly biased as there were a few northern hemisphere players that thrived in the tighthead position but a few of Malherbe's displays for the 'Boks see him appear on this list ahead of the Northern contingent.

The Stormers big man had some iffy moments this term but when he was on song he was an absolute nightmare to deal with.

Hooker: Malcolm Marx (South Africa/Lions)
He may have had a shocker against the English at Twickenham but Marx was still the standout hooker this term with the Lions man playing a crucial role in the Springboks' revival.

Marx was yet again the most dynamic hooker in world rugby with his barnstorming runs seeing him break the line on a very regular basis. If he can become slightly more consistent with his lineout darts, he will definitely be involved in a World Cup final next year.

Honourable Mention: Guilhem Guirado (France/Toulouse)
The only Frenchman to make this list, the Le Bleu number 2 can hold his head high after having a solid season for his national side. He has also been moving mountains at domestic level and is one of the key players in the upswing in Toulouse's fortunes.

Loosehead Prop: Cian Healey (Ireland/Munster)
The part-time DJ headlines our loosehead list having put in a number of barnstorming displays for both club and country. Healy was an absolute monster during the second and third Tests of Ireland's tour of Australia.

He may not have been as eye-catching with ball-in-hand as his front-row partner Tadgh Furlong, but Healy was a dominant force at the set-piece and got stuck in at ruck time.

Honourable Mention: Karl Tu'inukuafe (New Zealand/Chiefs)
The former bouncer may have a fairytale story behind his rise to international stardom but he's been more Shrek than Prince Charming tearing opponents apart like an angry ogre.

The Chiefs' front ranker is a wiley scrummager for someone who didn't come through the All Black youth ranks. He's simply was one of the strongest men roaming around a rugby park this year.

 Written by Darry Worthington for Hollywoodbets


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