With the Lions’ tour of Australia drawing ever closer I thought I’d speculate on what sort of a side the South might be able to turn out if a match between the two hemisphere’s ever occurred.
For selection purposes I’ve assumed everyone is fit, and other than that I’ve pretty much made my decisions based on which players I personally prefer!
So, for what it’s worth, here’s the team I’d pick if I were putting together a Southern Hemisphere side to play the British & Irish Lions.
The pool of potential players I had to choose from in the tight five was slightly smaller than for the rest of the field, as I essentially discounted the Aussies straight off the bat. I was tempted to include Nathan Sharpe (Just because I appreciate his hard-nosed, passionate approach to the game), but as he has retired from test footy I ruled him out.
So, from the Springbok and All Black front rowers I went for the Beast, Tendai Mtawarira, and New Zealand’s Owen Franks for my props, with Bismarck Du Plesis in the number two jersey. The fact that I instantly overlooked veterans Keven Mealamu and Andrew Hore for the Sharks’ rake says much about Du Plesis, a player I hold in the highest regard.
In the second row I went for two All Blacks, Brodie Rettallick and Sam Whitelock. The ‘Boks are in a rebuilding phase with their locks, and like I said, outside of Sharpe I didn’t really consider any of the Wallabies up to the job, so I was essentially forced to choose from the world champions. Whitelock was a given, and Rettallick compliments his style of play more than Luke Romano, who I think is a bit over-rated.
Of all the Southern Hemisphere sides I genuinely believe the Africans have the most exciting young talent and will soon have the most depth in the loose, and I was really looking for at least one of their players to include here. But I found myself struggling to single one of them out, and came to the conclusion that none of them were genuinely dominating their respective positions yet.
The three I picked, on the other hand, do just that: the fate of the Wallabies’ relies heavily on whether Pocock is on the field or not, Kieran Read has established himself as one of the world’s finest players over the last couple of seasons, and everyone knows how influential Richie McCaw is.
At halfback I went for Will Genia, Australia’s only other genuine world class player. Personally I think Aaron Smith has the potential to go on to become a great All Black, but he certainly hasn’t done enough yet to usurp Genia, who is far and away the best halfback on the planet.
There wasn’t much of a competition at fly-half either, with Dan Carter comfortably earning selection. Aaron Cruden was probably the only other contender, with Quade Cooper, Berrick Barnes, James O’Connor and Morne Steyn all struggling for consistency in the last six-odd months.
I’ve chosen a bit of a bolter on one wing, going for the only other Aussie to make my side in Digby Ioane. I picked him purely and simply because I like him. I think he’s exciting to watch, has genuine physicality and speed to burn, and looks to create something each and every time he’s involved in the play.
On the other flank I went for a more predictable option by selecting Bryan Habana. He had a superb year in 2012 and showed the world he still has what it takes to be one of the game’s finest finishes. Habana has that incredible inherent ability to turn up at the right place at the right time, and combined with his ruthless ability to get himself across the line he remains one of the world’s most dynamic players.
The number 12 jersey was a tough one. I never really used to like Ma’a Nonu, but I think he’s matured as a footballer in recent years, and has certainly ironed out some of the deficiencies in his game. I was sorely tempted to keep the All Blacks’ midfield pairing together for my sides’ clash against the Lions, but in the end I went for South African stalwart Jean De Villiers. De Villiers is barnstorming on attack and incredibly dependable on defence, and has leadership qualities to boot.
I’ve paired De Villiers with New Zealand’s Conrad Smith. Smith is the mainstay of the All Blacks’ backline; an intelligent player with an unparalleled ability to read the game. His near-flawless decision making on defence has been an integral part of the All Blacks’ success in recent years, while his silky lines and ability to create space for those around him remain potent weapons on attack.
Rounding out my team is Israel Dagg. He may have been a bit hot and cold in 2012, but Dagg’s cold is still pretty warm compared to any other player in the game. I thought about Kurtley Beale…briefly. But realistically Dagg is the best in the business at the moment, and when he’s on top of his game he’s almost unstoppable, as the Wallabies found out in the World Cup semi-final.
So there it is, my Southern Hemisphere selection side to face the Lions. It’s full of contentious decisions, but at the end of the day that’s the side I would pick if I had to send a side out to represent the underside of the globe.
Who would you choose?