The other day The Guardian named their best XV of the past 20 years of European club rugby [see here]. Their only criteria were that candidates must have made “a significant tournament impact” as well as featured in at least one final.
In their final XV there were a few obvious, non-contentious choices, such as Paul O’Connell and Martin Johnson as the two second-rows. Some generated a degree of thought such Jonathan Sexton pipping O’Gara to the fly-half position while Anthony Foley won the number 8 over the likes of Lawrence Dallaglio and Jamie Heaslip. Other decisions, though, were simply baffling. Sitiveni Sivivatu was named on the right wing based solely on his performances for Clermont during one season, en route to a final in 2013 they failed to win. Trevor Leota and Philippe Carbonneau were another two choices, at hooker and scrum half respectively, that left me perplexed.
As with every dream team selection, irrespective of the sport, you’re never going to keep everyone happy. National and club loyalty will hold great sway over the decision-making process, however best you try to avoid it. Rather than poke holes in The Guardian’s XV, I decided I would craft my own dream team.
The 42.ie posted an article yesterday [see here] looking at five previous winners of the PFA Young Player of the Year award in England who never truly fulfilled their potential. Aside from thinking that the inclusion of Michael Owen was a little harsh, it got me thinking about an equivalent award in rugby; the World Rugby Junior Player of the Year.
In 2001 the International Rugby Board, now known simply as World Rugby, handed out their inaugural awards for the best of the past calendar year. Ireland’s Keith Wood was named the International Player of the Year; while Australia were named International Team of the Year after a stellar 2001 which saw them defeat the Lions 2-1 and successfully defend their Tri Nations crown. Among the other winners that night was a young 19-year-old Welshman who was named Young Player of the Year. His name was Gavin Henson.
This weekend sees the semi-final stage of the Heineken Cup. Oops! I mean the European Rugby Champions Cup, a name that wouldn’t be out of place in a Playstation game that was unable to secure official licencing.
After prevailing over Bath in the quarter-finals in Dublin, Leinster must travel to Marseille to face the defending champions, Toulon (if you can technically call them that, considering this is a new competition run by an entirely new organisation).
After Toulouse’s last Heineken Cup win in 2010, Leinster and Toulon became the prominent powers in the European club game, sharing the last four editions between them. While Leinster’s successes were a product of the academy system, Toulon’s victories were paid for in millions.