Rugby World Cup
World Cup Depth Chart - Round 5
ESPN Staff
July 15, 2015
Dan Carter sparkled in the final regular rounds of Super Rugby © Getty Images
Enlarge

All Blacks complete team: Mauger
%]

So ESPN's Craig Dowd was proven correct in writing that he didn't "share the concern that many are feeling about the form of some leading All Blacks", saying at the time of most conjecture about Richie Mccaw and Dan Carter that there was a lot of rugby still to be played and "their performances now are not the major talking point" - especially as New Zealand had Colin Slade and Sam Cane playing so well that they were included in the depth chart.

McCaw remains outside our depth chart but he showed against Samoa that he was still going to be a key figure for the All Blacks as they bid to go back-to-back. Carter, however, showed that he will be The Man, injury allowing (and let's face it, he's had a few). The Crusaders' attack looked far sharper when he was moved inside from No.12 to direct play in the closing rounds of the season, and he was pivotal with his traditional kicking game when the All Blacks won in Samoa; his banana kick-pass to George Moala for the key try was genius. Welcome back to the ESPN World Cup Depth Chart, Dan Carter.

Carter is joined by another new playmaker after Beauden Barrett failed to recapture his best in returning from a knee injury - the Hurricanes fly-half ineffective in the Super Rugby semi-final success against the Brumbies and particularly indecisive (and errant with the boot) in the decider. Such is the strength and depth of playmakers in New Zealand that Colin Slade also slides out of the Depth Chart because of Lima Sopoaga's superb management of the Super Rugby-winning Highlanders' attack. George Ford is finally - belatedly included - on the balance of form.

The other key point about the final World Cup Depth Chart before The Rugby Championship - and the penultimate column before the showpiece itself - is the absolute quality and depth of No.8s in world rugby. Nasi Manu and Victor Vito of the Highlanders and Hurricanes respectively were superb throughout Super Rugby, and would be fitting selections; as was Michael Leitch of the Chiefs and Japan. But they're just three of eight world-class eightmen who do not feature.

Full-backs

Israel Folau (Aus), Leigh Halfpenny (Wal), Stuart Hogg (Sco), Ben Smith (NZL)

Nehe Milner-Skudder could easily have been picked as a full-back, where he played most minutes for the Hurricanes, but we elected to name him on the wing, where New Zealand selectors are most likely to select him. Hence we stuck with the status quo. Israel Folau is considered to have been below-par in Super Rugby this year, but he still led the tournament in carries and run metres while ranking highly in clean breaks, defenders beaten and offloads; we'll take this type of "disappointing" figuring his lack of try-scoring output is perhaps more a reflection on his fellow dethroned Waratahs.

Wingers

Tommy Bowe (Ire), Nehe Milner Skudder (NZL), Drew Mitchell (Aus), Nemani Nadolo (Fij), Waisake Naholo (NZL), Napolioni Nalaga (Fij), Julian Savea (NZL)

Few players in Super Rugby history have such an impact on a campaign as Waisake Naholo, or set hearts beating quite as fast as Nehe Milner-Skudder. Naholo bagged a Super Rugby-record 13 tries and 33 clean breaks through the season for the title-winning Highlanders, while Milner-Skudder showed the footwork of a ballerina and the electric speed of a cheetah; they are two of the rising stars of world rugby. Cory Jane was an easy omission after injury blighted the end of his season but full-back-cum winger Liam Williams is unfortunate indeed to lose his spot. Drew Mitchell now has to perform after being recalled to the Test arena.

Waisake Naholo was superb for the Highlanders and is seems certain to wear the All Blacks' No.14 jumper © Getty Images
Enlarge

Outside Centres

Malakai Fekitoa (NZL), Jonathan Joseph (Eng), Tevita Kuridrani (Aus), Conrad Smith (NZL)

Tevita Kuridrani retained his spot after recovering from a shoulder injury, proving the scythe around whom the Brumbies attack (and probably that of the Wallabies) function. Adam Ashley-Cooper failed to regain his best form after returning from a knee injury, but this position, fitness allowing, looks reasonably set. Jesse Kriel, perhaps, is one player who can make a major statement through The Rugby Championship.

Inside Centres

Damian de Allende (RSA), Matt Giteau (Aus), Robbie Henshaw (Ire), Ma'a Nonu (NZL)

Just the one change with Wallabies returnee Matt Giteau now eligible for selection, and his European Rugby Champions Cup-winning form for Toulon sees him replace Matt Toomua who struggled with calf injuries in the back end of the season.

Australia's Matt Giteau fends of Nick Phipps at training © Getty Images
Enlarge

The Highlanders' Malakai Fekitoa and Lima Sopoaga celebrated Super Rugby victory © Getty Images
Enlarge

Fly-halves

Dan Biggar (Wal), Dan Carter (NZL), George Ford (Eng), Lima Sopoaga (NZL)

Twickenham gives England advantage
%]

Colin Slade was sensational for the Crusaders, and he was the obvious replacement for Aaron Cruden, when his All Blacks team-mate went down injured. He is hugely unlucky to be omitted this time, especially with Beauden Barrett dropped after failing to recover his best since returning from a knee injury, but such was the form that Dan Carter, for the Crusaders and the All Blacks, and Lima Sopoaga, for the Super Rugby-winning Highlanders, had to be included. Carter is a fine second five-eighth, but he showed with his form after being moved inside that he is a much better fly-half; the Crusaders were good with Slade in the saddle, but the backline simply hummed with Carter directing play. Sopoaga shows the enviable depth of playmakers in New Zealand with his inclusion and Test call-up after a superb season for the Highlanders. George Ford is belatedly rewarded for a strong season. Handre Pollard remains on the outer, but we expect a strong showing in The Rugby Championship.

Scrum-halves

Conor Murray (Ire), TJ Perenara (NZL), Aaron Smith (NZL), Rhys Webb (Wal)

Again no reason for change here, with the incumbents superb and Aaron Smith proving himself perhaps the best player in the world right now with his pivotal form for the Super Rugby-winning Highlanders.

No. 8s

Jamie Heaslip (Ire), Scott Higginbotham (Aus), Kieran Read (NZL), Warren Whiteley (RSA)

How to omit players the like of Ben McCalman, Samu Manoa, Sergio Parisse, Toby Faletau and Billy Vunipola? Simply because the four blokes named have been at the top of their form. Scott Higginbotham replaces the injured Duane Vermeulen as the result of his inspirational and free-roaming Super Rugby campaign for the Rebels. The world, as we noted last time, is seriously stocked with quality eightmen.

Opensides

Sam Cane (NZL), Sean O'Brien (Ire), David Pocock (Aus), Ardie Savea (NZL)

Liam Gill is unlucky to make way after a superb season for the Reds, and there is a huge case to be made that he should have been named in the Wallabies squad to face South Africa and Argentina, but someone had to make way for Ardie Savea such was the Hurricanes flyer's form in the run to the Super Rugby final; he was quite simply monumental at the breakdown and in the loose. Gill is just one of the players unfortunate to miss our call, with Sam Warburton, Chris Robshaw, Marcell Coetzee and Francois Louw also absent to show the depth of sevens in world rugby.

The Lions' Jaco Kriel © Getty Images
Enlarge

Blindsides

Elliot Dixon (NZL), Jaco Kriel (RSA), Dan Lydiate (Wal), Peter O'Mahony (Ire)

Jerome Kaino makes way after missing matches through his finger injury, his form in the six-month selection window not enough to repel the charge of fellow countryman Elliot Dixon who went from unheralded workhorse to potential Test player with a string of outstanding and match-winning performances in the Highlanders' run to the Super Rugby title. Jaco Kriel joins Lions team-mate Warren Whiteley in our selection, after season-long excellence that sees him replacing the beast-like and damaging Liam Messam.

Locks

James Broadhurst (NZL), Jonny Gray (Sco), Alun-Wyn Jones (Wal), Courtney Lawes (Eng), Paul O'Connell (Ire), Brodie Retallick (NZL), Sam Whitelock (NZL)

Brodie Retallick finally returned to the top of his game after injury, so he retains his spot on more than the six-month selection window. James Broadhurst was one of the key players for the Hurricanes as they charged to the Super Rugby final, and we envisage him making a strong bid for Rugby World Cup selection through The Rugby Championship - particularly with Tuipolotu on the sidelines.

Tight-heads

Dan Cole (Eng), Ben Franks (NZL), Owen Franks (NZL), Greg Holmes (Aus)

Juan Figallo and Ramiro Herrera remain key bookends for Argentina, and we're looking forward to seeing their form through The Rugby Championship, but they have made work for Ben Franks and Greg Holmes - the pair rewarded for their excellent seasons in Super Rugby. Holmes' excellence as the strongman in the front-row has also been rewarded by his first Wallabies call-up in seven years. We wonder if he might show exactly what a succession of Wallabies coaches have missed.

Hookers

Dane Coles (NZL), Agustin Creevy (Arg), Hika Elliot (NZL), Bismarck du Plessis (RSA) Bismarck du Plessis put behind him the disciplinary issues that blighted his campaign earlier in the campaign to prove himself a shining light in the Sharks' underwhelming Super Rugby campaign.

Steven Kitshoff is the first change all year at loose-head © Getty Images
Enlarge

Loose-heads

Marcos Ayerza (Arg), Cian Healy (Ire), Joe Marler (Eng), Steven Kitshoff (RSA)

We finally made a change in the No.1 jumper, with South Africa's Steven Kitshoff rewarded for a fine body of work that saw him named in our Super Rugby Team of the Season

Teams represented: Argentina 1, Australia 7, England 5, Fiji 2, Ireland 7, New Zealand 21, Scotland 2, South Africa 4, Wales 4

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.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

Live Sports

Communication error please reload the page.

  • Football

  • Cricket

  • Rugby

    • Days
    • Hrs
    • Mins
    • Secs

    F1 - Azerbaijan GP

  • OtherLive >>

    Golf - Houston Open
    Snooker - China Open
    Tennis - Miami Open