International Rugby's Team of 2008
December 30, 2008
Richie McCaw of the All Blacks smiles after scoring a try during the Bledisloe Cup match between the Australian Wallabies and the New Zealand All Blacks at Hong Kong Stadium in Hong Kong, China on November 1, 2008.
All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw can look back on another excellent year and as a reward he leads our Team of the Year © Getty Images

As the curtain falls on another action-packed 12 months of top-class rugby we select our team of the year.

But first, what a feast of international action we have witnessed.

Wales swept all before them in the 2008 Six Nations Championship to claim their second Grand Slam in three years. Along the way they claimed their first win at Twickenham for 20 years and wrapped up the Triple Crown at Croke Park before beating France in a title-showdown at the Millennium Stadium.

It was an all too familiar tale when the northern hemisphere's finest travelled south on their respective summer tours with world champions South Africa proving too strong for Wales and Six Nations runners-up England getting swept aside by New Zealand. France were also found wanting against Australia and Ireland came home empty-handed on their Tasman tour but there were some positives for Scotland who shared the spoils in their trip to Argentina.

New Zealand went on to capture their fourth successive Tri-Nations crown but they did not have everything their way and both the Wallabies and Springboks had their moments against the All Blacks. All three sides then headed north for their end of year tours where they would dominate proceedings again. New Zealand went undefeated to register their third grand slam tour of the UK and Ireland while South Africa were also unbeaten - the only success for the home nations was Wales' victory over Australia.

So, who caught our eye and made the cut in the Team of the Year?

15. Lee Byrne
Byrne is widely regarded as the world's best fullback and edges out New Zealand's Mils Muliaina in our selection. His year began with Wales' first try in their unlikely comeback against England (one of three Championship tries) and he has not looked back since - finishing the year with three stand out performances against the Tri-Nations heavyweights last month. Set to star for the Lions in 2009.

14. Shane Williams
Williams went a long way to inspiring Wales' Six Nations grand slam glory with six tries that saw him not only eclipse Gareth Thomas' national mark but also equal the Championship record. A total of 44 tries in 61 appearances for Wales remains staggering. The year would also see him crowned the International Rugby Board's Player of the Year. Dynamite.

13. Stirling Mortlock
Wallabies skipper Mortlock gets our nod at outside centre despite switching to the No.12 spot for Australia midway through the year. His leadership skills came to the fore as the Wallabies, under new coach Robbie Deans, introduced 12 new faces to great acclaim in 2008. And his strong and incisive running almost carried the Wallabies to Tri-Nations glory.

12. Jean De Villiers
Springboks centre De Villiers was another to be bestowed with awards this year having claimed the notable SA Rugby Player of the Year and Players' Player of the year double. He's seen a lot of rugby this year but who's going to drop a player in form? Especially when the master poacher can conjure tries from anywhere.

11. Vincent Clerc
A severe knee injury struck Clerc down earlier this year but not before he had lit up the Six Nations Championship - dazzling his way to five tries with his golden boots that took his international tally to 20 tries in 33 Tests. The injury was a cruel blow following his eye-catching performances over the previous 12 months but the good news is that he's back in action and eyeing next year's Six Nations.

10. Dan Carter
The world's best fly-half underlined his credentials in 2008 by playing a key role in New Zealand's latest successes - responding like many of his countrymen to the post-World Cup criticism. More headlines followed as he opted for a lucrative move to Perpignan in France where he will see in the New Year before returning home for the Tri-Nations. Australia's Matt Giteau continues to press him as the world's best and but expect him to rise to the challenge again in 2009.

9. Mike Blair
The Scotland scrum-half steered his country to victory over England in this year's Calcutta Cup match and although it proved to be their only Championship highlight Blair was rewarded for his own form with a place on the IRB's Player of the Year shortlist. He backed up that nod with three excellent performances in the autumn against the world's best and is hotly tipped to be the first-choice No.9 for the Lions.

1. Tony Woodcock
Already widely considered to be the world's best loose-head prop, Woodcock cemented that reputation with 12 appearances for the All Blacks in 2008 racking up three tries in the process - most notably a brace against the Wallabies in August.

2. Andrew Hore
New Zealand's Player of the Year - and who are we to argue? Rewarded for both his Super 14 and international prowess, he makes it into our side despite missing out on the majority of the end of year tour after picking up an ankle injury in the clash with the Wallabies in Hong Kong. Rotten luck having just made the All Blacks' No.2 shirt his own but he's on his way back.

3. Al Baxter
Wallabies prop Al Baxter earns his spot for answering his critics in style in 2008. Written off by large sections of the English media as part of the Australian pack that wilted at the hands of England in Marseille in 2007, Baxter and his front row cohorts Stephen Moore and Benn Robinson gave their hosts a scrummaging lesson at Twickenham last month.

4. Bakkies Botha
Springboks lock Botha kicked on in 2008 having played a key role in his country's Rugby World Cup glory. His fitness and stamina was there for all to admire when he chased down England's Delon Armitage at Twickenham last month. He is sure to be relishing the challenge of the Lions in 2009.

5. Ali Williams
All Blacks lock Williams cemented his place amongst the world's best with a superb year - an ever-present on their march to Tri-Nations, Bledisloe Cup and grand slam tour glory. He is not only a lineout jumper to match any in the world but a threat in the loose and not afraid to display his kicking skills - or take a leading role in the haka.

6. Sergio Parisse
Italy skipper Parisse continued to lead by example in 2008 and passed the 50 cap milestone in the process. A huge presence at the back of the scrum but he slots in at blindside in our line-up to ensure his selection. Another to make the IRB Player of the Year short-list - expect more of the same in 2009.

7. Richie McCaw (captain)
Simply the best in the game - although the powers that be at the IRB appear to think otherwise. The images of McCaw lifting trophy after trophy this year were a world away from the pictures of a physically and mentally drained McCaw reflecting on the All Blacks' painful Rugby World Cup exit in Cardiff. He continues to set the standard.

8. Andy Powell
Welsh man-mountain Powell announced his arrival onto the international stage with a barn-storming performance against South Africa in November. His powerful running continued to ignite the Millennium Stadium crowd against the All Blacks and the Wallabies and is likely to carry him all the way to South Africa with the Lions.

And who would take charge of this formidable side?

Coach: Robbie Deans
He may have been passed over for the All Blacks but he's our coach of the year. Fresh from steering the Crusaders to Super 14 glory, Deans crossed the Tasman to take charge of the Wallabies. And he wasted no time in putting one over the country of his birth in their first meeting - but he had to settle for second best in the Tri-Nations. He's only just got started in his latest role and with a new wave of exciting Wallabies under his charge you can expect big things in 2009.

What do you think of our selection? Let us know your thoughts in the Scrum Forum


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