The Team of the Year
Graham Jenkins
December 14, 2009
South Africa flanker Heinrich Brussow in action against Australia, South Africa v Australia, Tri-Nations, Newlands Stadium, Cape Town, South Africa, August 8, 2009
South Africa's tenacious flanker Heinrich Brussow caps an outstanding year with selection in our Team of the Year © Getty Images

The dust has finally settled on another breath-taking year of international rugby so it is time for us to unveil our Team of the Year.

It was a vintage season for Ireland, with a Six Nations Grand Slam, and it was also an historic year for South Africa, who claimed a series victory over the British & Irish Lions and only their third Tri-Nations title. As a result, it will come as no surprise that both teams are well represented in our selection, but which players make the grade?

There's no place for the International Rugby Board's Player of the Year - New Zealand captain Richie McCaw - but there are three other international skippers and an eye-catching blend of youth and experience. Check out our 2009 Team of the Year and be sure to let us know your views by clicking here.

15. Rob Kearney (Ireland)
The first Irishman to feature in our line-up, Kearney was an ever-present during Ireland's march to Six Nations Grand Slam glory, a key player in Leinster's hard-fought Heineken Cup success and a loyal combatant in the famous red jersey of the British & Irish Lions. He appeared as a replacement in the first Test in Durban for the injured Lee Byrne and grabbed his opportunity with both hands - appearing in the next two matches, scoring a try in Pretoria. A versatile attacking threat, he oozes confidence under the high ball and has a rocket for boot.

14. Tommy Bowe (Ireland)
The stand-out winger in this year's Six Nations with two tries - including a key score against Wales in the Championship decider. Lively and dangerous, he proved a constant threat and his form was rewarded with selection for the British & Irish Lions' tour to South Africa, where he started all three Tests. He rounded out the year with a try in the thrilling draw with Australia.

13. Brian O'Driscoll (Ireland)
The Irish stalwart was pivotal in his country's Six Nations success, producing a try-saving tackle against Scotland and Grand Slam-rescuing tries against England and Wales. Heineken Cup glory followed with Leinster and although he was denied the chance to lead the British & Irish Lions for a second time, his contribution in South Africa was no less significant. He produced a series of outstanding performances and was hailed by captain Paul O'Connell as the team's most potent threat in attack and the benchmark in defence. He brought the curtain down on his year by joining the exclusive Test centurions' club and put his body on the line to ensure Ireland finished the year unbeaten.

12. Jamie Roberts (Wales)
Welshman Roberts was an ever-present in Wales' 2009 Six Nations campaign and although he lost his starting place to Gavin Henson in the title decider against Ireland, his efforts also saw him rewarded with selection for the British & Irish Lions' tour to South Africa. It was there that he struck up a magical partnership with O'Driscoll, memorably linking up with the Irishman to set up Tom Croft for his first try in the first Test. Roberts also played in the second Test but went off with an injury late on, which ruled him out of the third Test, but his performances earned him the Lions' Player of the Series award and selection in our side.

11. Bryan Habana (South Africa)
Habana remains one of the true global superstars following another success-laden year. He grabbed two tries in the Bulls' rout of the Chiefs in the Super 14 Final and notched another brace for the Blue Bulls in their Currie Cup Final victory over the Cheetahs. In between there was the small matter of a series victory over the British & Irish Lions, with Habana crossing for a crucial score in the decisive second Test, and a Tri-Nations title. He finished the year with two more tries against the All Blacks - this time in Barbarians colours. Although those will not count towards his career stats he can still boast an impressive 36 tries from his 57 Test appearances.

10. Dan Carter (New Zealand)
Carter's year began with a crippling Achilles tendon injury that threatened to end his career but happily for him it ended with a breath-taking return to form and fitness. He returned from a lengthy injury lay-off to breathe life back into the All Blacks and although he couldn't rescue their Tri-Nations, he ensured they reclaimed their No.1 ranking. Fresh from eclipsing Andrew Mehrtens at the top of the All Blacks' all-time Test points scorers list, he delivered a virtuoso performance against France in Marseille - pulling the strings as his side swept Les Bleus aside in perhaps the most impressive international display of the year. The enforced lay-off has done him good and served to sharpen his perfect all-round game.

9. Fourie du Preez (South Africa)
Arguably the form international player over the last two years, he was unlucky to be overlooked for this year's IRB honour but can rest assured he is the premier scrum-half in the game - and by some distance. A lively attacking threat - with three tries to his name this year - and a formidable defensive presence, it is his incomparable kicking game that perhaps lifts him above his peers. This year has seen him taste both Super 14 and Currie Cup glory in addition to Tri-Nations success and a series victory over the British & Irish Lions. He has also smashed through the 50-Test barrier and looks hungry for more.

1. Benn Robinson (Australia)
The Wallabies' loose-head has been hailed as many as the key to Australia's front-row resurgence and a series of impressive displays in 2009 added weight to that argument. An effective scrummager and industrious in the loose, he appeared in all but one of the Wallabies 14 Tests this year and in the process cemented his status as one of the best loose-heads in world rugby.

2. Bismarck du Plessis (South Africa)
Du Plessis anchored the Springboks' scrum on their march to glory throughout 2009 and was never found wanting when it came to delivering decent ball at the lineout or scrummaging hard. An athletic and powerful presence, he thrived on the confrontational nature of the series against the British & Irish Lions.

3. John Smit (South Africa)
Some may question the propping prowess of the Springboks skipper but as a leader he has no equal on the international stage. He rose to the biggest challenge of his career and led his side to an historic series triumph of the British & Irish Lions and the prestigious Tri-Nations title. In the process, he became the most-capped captain in Test rugby history and weighed in with a fair bit of diplomacy in the wake of his loose-lipped and controversial coach.

4. Bakkies Botha (South Africa)
The Springboks' enforcer underlined his reputation as one of the most fearsome forwards in international rugby with another headline-grabbing year. His physical approach was one of the cornerstones of South Africa's success and also earned him some time in the cooler - most memorably collecting a two-week ban for some excessive rucking on Lions prop Adam Jones. His year also included Super 14 and Currie Cup success with the Bulls and Blue Bulls respectively, but his year ended on the treatment table and an operation on his Achilles that is set to sideline him until March 2010.

5. Victor Matfield (South Africa)
If Botha is the brawn, then Matfield is the brains of the Springboks second row. His aerial dominance was on of the keys to South Africa's success against the British & Irish Lions and in the Tri-Nations. He also led the Bulls to the Super 14 crown and the Blue Bulls to the Currie Cup, and to wrap things up steered the Barbarians to only their second victory over New Zealand earlier this month, meaning he shared in the rare feat of four wins over the All Blacks in '09.

6. Thierry Dusautoir (France)
The French flanker with an unquenchable thirst for tackles led Les Bleus to a shock win over the All Blacks earlier this year and was rewarded with the captaincy on a full-time basis. His unparalleled work-rate was also the foundation of another notable victory over South Africa in Toulouse at the end of the year.

7. Heinrich Brussow (South Africa)
This was the year that the terrier-like Brussow came of age on the international stage. He made his first Test start in the Springboks' opening Test clash with the British & Irish Lions and made an immediate impact as a thorn in the tourists' side. His rapid ascent will have come as no surprise to fans of the Super 14 who have seen him dominate illustrious opponents like New Zealand's Richie McCaw and Australia's George Smith over the last couple of years. Let us not forget that he only had five minutes of international rugby to his name coming into this year and he has only recently turned 23. Australia's David Pocock may well have been hailed as the next big thing but Brussow is the real deal - right now. The plaudits have come thick and fast for the Cheetahs dynamo, most recently collecting two accolades at the South African Rugby Awards.

8. Jamie Heaslip (Ireland)
Heaslip was another to take giant leaps in 2009, coming into his own during Ireland's Six Nations success - scoring a superb solo try against France and the match-winning five-pointer against Scotland. Victory in the Heineken Cup Final followed but he hardly had time to catch his breath before joining up with the British & Irish Lions. He started all three Tests against South Africa and maintained his superb run of form through to the end of the year exacting some revenge against the Springboks in Irish colours.


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