Rugby World Cup 2015
Dan Carter, Richie McCaw drop off Depth Chart
Andy Withers
March 5, 2015

Dan Carter and Richie McCaw are the highest-profile players absent from the second edition of the Rugby World Cup Depth Chart. Class is permanent, form only temporary, but Dan Biggar and Sam Cane have mounted irrepressible claims for inclusion so the All Blacks legends are now absent for a combination of reasons.

McCaw's exclusion is perhaps most controversial, as he has been wearing the No.6 jumper rather than playing his preferred openside position for the Crusaders; but he is certainly yet to produce his best form as a blindside, with Matt Tood preferred as the fetcher in Canterbury, while Cane has been superb for the Chiefs and ESPNscrum Associate Editor Sam Bruce said he produced a "pretty significant impact" in Super Rugby round three. ESPN columnist Craig Dowd, the former All Blacks front-rower, meanwhile wrote that Cane "had a great game … really stepped up because he knew with Richie McCaw on one side and [Matt] Todd on the other that he needed a big game; he showed some really good vision in the pass he threw".

Carter hobbled out of action in the first round of Super Rugby, with a leg injury, and even his most ardent fans now are concerned that his body is failing him after a career in the front line for the Crusaders and New Zealand. He is replaced in the Rugby World Cup Depth Chart by Dan Biggar, who has been in superb form for Wales in the Six Nations; it's also worth noting that ESPNscrum Associate editor Tom Hamilton mounted a strong case for the Welshman's inclusion in the first depth chart, saying he was "playing some wonderful rugby".

Biggar is joined in the second depth chart by Wales halves partner Rhys Webb, who replaces Ruan Pienaar after London-based Hamilton said the No.9 was "now at the heartbeat of Wales; they pivot around the Ospreys half-back combination of him and Dan Biggar, and Webb is the man driving them forward with his darting runs from the breakdown".

Sydney-based Bruce, meanwhile, pushed the cause of Will Genia, who has produced sensational performances for Queensland after the Reds' opening horror show in Canberra. ESPN columnist Greg Growden noted that Genia was "everywhere for the Reds" in Dunedin "and with several sniping runs including an exciting sideline jig alongside Chris Feauai-Sautia and a snappy run that saw him over the line but held up, he stole the show for the Reds".

And so to the second edition of the Rugby World Cup Depth Chart, in which we're approaching the World XV discussion from a different angle; rather than selecting a World XV, we're listing four players in each position, irrespective of nationality, in order to gauge the absolute depth of the respective cup candidates. (We have listed eight wingers and eight locks rather than specifying left and right.) The current list has been selected according to form in the past six months, with a focus on the past month.


Israel Dagg (NZL), Israel Folau (Aus), Leigh Halfpenny (Wal), Willie Le Roux (RSA)

Dagg has played only one game for the Crusaders, but he retains his berth due to the absence of a strong enough push from others (including from Ben Smith). It's worth noting, also, the high-class form of Willie le Roux in Super Rugby - delivering at least two more try assists than any other player while playing just two matches in the opening three rounds.


Tommy Bowe (Ire), Cornal Hendricks (South Africa), Bryan Habana (RSA), Rob Horne (Australia), Cory Jane (NZL), George North (Wal), Julian Savea (NZL), Ben Smith (NZL)

Cornal Hendricks and Rob Horne are included for their superb finishing from limited opportunities in Super Rugby, the pair replacing Niki Goneva and Nemani Nadolo; the Fijians actually play in the centres at Test level, and Goneva now is playing in midfield for Leicester Tigers in the Aviva Premiership. We expect him to push a strong case for inclusion there through the season, while it is surely only a matter of time before Nadolo regains selection once he's playing again for the Crusaders.

Outside Centres

Adam Ashley-Cooper (Aus), Jonathan Joseph (Eng), Tevita Kuridrani (Aus), Conrad Smith (NZL)

Jonathan Joseph replaces Wesley Fofana, whom Tom Hamilton says "remains one of the northern hemisphere's finest players but he has barely had a chance to showcase his remarkable arsenal of deft touches and side steps". Hamilton accepts that Joseph had a chastening experience against Ireland in Dublin "but he is the man on whom England are pinning a large portion of their World Cup hopes". Jonathan Davies is also close to grabbing a berth for his form in the Six Nations.

Inside Centres

Robbie Henshaw (Ire), Jamie Roberts (Wal), Matt Toomua (Aus), Sonny Bill Williams (NZL)

The absence of Jean de Villiers is harsh on the Springboks captain, as he is injured so can't put forward his claims, but Tom Hamilton says Robbie Henshaw's performance against England - when he reinforced his claims for the No.12 jersey - was enough to warrant inclusion. Sonny Bill Williams, meanwhile, has been sensational since returning to the Chiefs and we expect him to put Ma'a Nonu under real pressure for New Zealand's No.12 jumper - especially if Chiefs team-mate Aaron Cruden gets the No.10 jersey.

Robbie Henshaw is at the heart of Ireland's charge © Getty Images


Dan Biggar (Wal), Beauden Barrett (NZL), Aaron Cruden (NZL), Jonny Sexton (Ire)


Will Genia (Aus), Conor Murray (Ire), Aaron Smith (NZL), Rhys Webb (Wal)

Dan Biggar is becoming increasingly influential for Wales © Getty Images

No. 8s

Samu Manoa (USA), Sergio Parisse (Ita), Kieran Read (NZL), Duane Vermeulen (RSA)

We have to mention the form of Ben McCalman, who has been a shining light and a standout in the underperforming Western Force. He was close to forcing his way into the chosen four - especially while Kieran Read is on a "mini sabbatical". Read is expected to return to Super Rugby in round five.


Sam Cane (NZL), Francois Louw (RSA), Chris Robshaw (Eng), Sam Warburton (Wal)

We've already explained why Sam Cane has replaced Richie McCaw. Michael Hooper, meanwhile, hasn't really been sighted for the Waratahs, and he might still be feeling the effects of a long season last year, when his form certainly tailed off at the end; so we had to include Sam Warburton for two strong performances in the Six Nations. Marcell Coetzee is excelling as a fetcher for the Sharks.

Sam Warburton has been superb for Wales in their past two Tests © Getty Images


Jerome Kaino (NZL), Dan Lydiate (Wal), Liam Messam (NZL), Peter O'Mahony (Ire)

Lydiate was an easy inclusion for his performances for Wales, especially with Willem Alberts having been sidelined by a hamstring injury. Alberts returns to the field against the Stormers in Super Rugby round 4, while Scott Fardy is also another pushing for inclusion with performances catching the eyes of Growden Medal judges in Australia. Will Richie McCaw push for selection as a six?


Eben Etzebeth (RSA), Alun-Wyn Jones (Wal), Courtney Lawes (Eng), Victor Matfield (RSA), Paul O'Connell (Ire), Brodie Retallick (NZL), Sam Whitelock (NZL)

What to do with Etzebeth and Lawes, who only now are returning from injury for the Stormers and Northampton Saints respectively? Pieter-Steph du Toit, Sam Carter and Lopeti Timani, meanwhile, have been tearing it up in Super Rugby. We've stuck firm, but it was a tight call. It's up to them, and maybe even Matfield, now to retain their stripes.

Lopeti Timani is making waves in Australia, where the Wallabies need a hard-hitting second-row © Getty Images


Dan Cole (Eng), Juan Figallo (Arg), Owen Franks (NZL), Ramiro Herrera (Arg)

Tom Hamilton says: "No one is quite sure exactly what is going on with France's team selection, but Nicolas Mas is currently on the discarded heap of bemused tricolours coterie. Dan Cole is back for England and has rarely taken a step back in the Six Nations to date. He deserves to feature on this list."


Dane Coles (NZL), Agustin Creevy (Arg), Bismarck du Plessis (RSA), Adriaan Strauss (RSA)

Adriaan Strauss is another player yet to convince this season after injury, and a late return to the Bulls; Scotland's Ross Ford and Italy's Leonardo Ghiraldini have performed to a high standard in games, without producing the necessary consistency, so the Springboks rake retains the jumper. Just. Hika Elliot, meanwhile, has been sensational for the Chiefs and he's an interesting contender for the All Blacks given the lack of depth behind Coles and Keven Mealamu.


Marcos Ayerza (Arg), Cian Healy (Ire), Joe Marler (Eng), James Slipper (Aus)

We've stuck firm given the absence of a consistent push from anyone outside the four.

Teams represented: Argentina 4, Australia 7, England 5, Ireland 7, Italy 1, New Zealand 16, South Africa 9, United States 1, Wales 8

Who should be here? Who shouldn't be here? Who do you think will move in and out of the list before England and Fiji kick-off Rugby World Cup at Twickenham on September 18? Join the debate in the comments fields below, or on Twitter using the hashtag #RWCDepthChart. We look forward to hearing from you.

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