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2021 World XV

Updated: Jan 24

Written by Max Sharp


After a highly disrupted 2020 international rugby season, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, fans and pundits alike now have the evidence they need to select a genuine World XV this season.


Selection criteria can vary from person-to-person, for me, the criteria is mostly based around which players were able to perform the basics of their position best in 2021. I’ve also selected a team based on their abilities regarding teamwork.


In the tight five forwards, I’ve been looking for players who are able to use soft hands, give a strong set-piece performance, while powerful carrying is always a plus from your tight-five, you can’t rely just on the backline to gain carry metres with ball-in-hand. Test rugby is won based on the performance of the tight-five.


I’ve looked for loose forwards who can win a strong turnover, carry hard, while also being tackling machines.


My inside back selections have been based around passing, kicking and communication ability, while I chose my midfield combination around similar lines, while also wanting powerful defence from my 12-13 combination.


Criteria for my outside backs was to be a player unlocked by the midfield and using finishing abilities to score many tries and beat defenders one-on-one.


Read through for a summary of my selection and their individual player statistics!


World XV Replacements:

16. Ronan Kelleher (Ireland)

17. Wyn Jones (Wales)

18. Taniela Tupou (Australia)

19. Adam Beard (Wales)

20. Siya Kolisi (South Africa)

21. Tate McDermott (Australia)

22. Marcus Smith (England)

23. Gael Fickou (France)


Loosehead Prop: Steven Kitshoff (South Africa)


Tests played: 12 tests

Minutes played: 548 minutes

Tries scored: 0 tries

Metres run: 38 metres

Defenders beaten: 3 def. beaten

Clean breaks: 0 breaks

Carries: 44 carries

Passes: 10 passes

Offloads: 2 offloads

Tackles completed: 69 tackles

Turnovers won: 3 turnovers


Picking a loosehead prop was a hard choice, as it was a strong 50/50 split between Kitshoff and Wyn Jones (Wales). I went on to pick Kitshoff for the basis of his impact off the bench, which proved to be instrumental for South Africa’s ability to close out tests. Kitshoff’s highlight of the season was the second test of the British and Irish Lions series, when he won his 50th test cap for South Africa.


Hooker: Codie Taylor (New Zealand)


Tests played: 10 tests

Minutes played: 521 minutes

Tries scored: 3 tries

Metres run: 153 metres

Defenders beaten: 5 def. beaten

Clean breaks: 2 breaks

Carries: 28 carries

Passes: 15 passes

Offloads: 2 offloads

Tackles completed: 74 tackles

Turnovers won: 3 turnovers


Although Dane Coles was able to grab the headlines for scoring 7 tries from 6 tests in 2021, Taylor remains by a long distance, the first-choice All Blacks hooker. Taylor’s lineout throwing, which was proven to be the most important element of the team’s set piece, was often targeted by opposition because of this stated importance. Taylor’s carrying and robust hits are still prominent features of his game, as he enters the twilight of his career.


Tighthead Prop: Tadgh Furlong (Ireland)


Tests played: 11 tests

Minutes played: 576 minutes

Tries scored: 0 tries

Metres run: 115 metres

Defenders beaten: 13 def. beaten

Clean breaks: 2 breaks

Carries: 65 carries

Passes: 23 passes

Offloads: 2 offloads

Tackles completed: 52 tackles

Turnovers won: 0 turnovers


After missing the bulk of the 2020 season with injury, Furlong returned to action by resuming his status as the best scrummager in the world. The British and Irish Lions scrum was noticeably weaker whenever he left the field, while his powerful running is unmatched by most props. Furlong is perhaps one of the most elite athletes in Ireland, second only to Conor McGregor.


Lock 4: Eben Etzebeth (South Africa)


Tests played: 12 tests

Minutes played: 858 minutes

Tries scored: 0 tries

Metres run: 106 metres

Defenders beaten: 6 def. beaten

Clean breaks: 1 break

Carries: 53 carries

Passes: 21 passes

Offloads: 2 offloads

Tackles completed: 83 tackles

Turnovers won: 5 turnovers


Etzebeth, now his nation’s greatest-ever player, remains on top of his game at 30, after 97 tests. Etzebeth was perhaps the most consistent tight-five forward in 2021 and was unlucky to miss a nomination for World Rugby Player of the Year. The behemoth of a man remains an intimidating force in the South African defence line, while his rugby IQ is often on display during the lineout. Although Etzebeth’s running statistics are low, as expected, his mammoth work rate is showing no sign of stopping. His biggest achievement for the year was being named Man of the Match vs Scotland.


Lock 5: Maro Itoje (England)


Tests played: 11 tests

Minutes played: 880 minutes

Tries scored: 2 tries

Metres run: 122 metres

Defenders beaten: 12 def. beaten

Clean breaks: 1 break

Carries: 56 carries

Passes: 29 passes

Offloads: 2 offloads

Tackles completed: 89 tackles

Turnovers won: 13 turnovers


Itoje, named as the Lions’ Player of the Tournament, after a Man of the Match performance in the first test, reached 50 tests this year and looks to have reached the height of his rugby career. His 13 turnovers were the most of any player in test rugby for 2021, while he played the full 80 minutes of every test he was eligible for. Itoje’s efforts are to be commended, a brilliant season.


Blindside Flanker: Courtney Lawes (England)


Tests played: 8 tests

Minutes played: 516 minutes

Tries scored: 0 tries

Metres run: 89 metres

Defenders beaten: 7 def. beaten

Clean breaks: 1 break

Carries: 40 carries

Passes: 38 passes

Offloads: 0 offloads

Tackles completed: 58 tackles

Turnovers won: 3 turnovers


Missing the bulk of the 2021 Six Nations due to injury, I suspected that Lawes would miss the Lions tour for this reason. Lawes bounced back from this injury to display his athletic ability and ferocious tackling. Soft hands and an eye for good decisions also saw the 32-year-old veteran captain England for the first time. Lawes is a player who was first capped very young and has gone on to fulfill his potential


Openside Flanker: Hamish Watson (Scotland)


Tests played: 10 tests

Minutes played: 616 minutes

Tries scored: 2 tries

Metres run: 128 metres

Defenders beaten: 13 def. beaten

Clean breaks: 0 breaks

Carries: 79 carries

Passes: 23 passes

Offloads: 2 offloads

Tackles completed: 98 tackles

Turnovers won: 5 turnovers


In a struggling Scottish side, Hamish Watson continues to be world class, not only producing Man of the Match performances against Australia and Italy, but also being named as Six Nations Player of the Tournament. Easily made the most tackles in test rugby for 2021 and although one of the smaller flankers playing today, Watson continues to run the ball like a battering ram. The Lions potentially could have won the South Africa series with more game time from Watson.


Number 8: Ardie Savea (New Zealand)


Tests played: 10 tests

Minutes played: 737 minutes played

Tries scored: 4 tries

Metres run: 312 metres

Defenders beaten: 21 def. beaten

Clean breaks: 3 breaks

Carries: 67 carries

Passes: 53 passes

Offloads: 8 offloads

Tackles completed: 89 tackles

Turnovers won: 5 turnovers


Savea is easily the most complete athlete in World Rugby. The beast reached 50 tests for the All Blacks in 2021, captaining the team for the first time, in Perth. Savea can beat defenders at will, while also amassing high running metres and a great amount of passes, while his knowledge on when and when not to attempt turnovers often reduces his team’s penalty count. He continues to prove his status as a household name in the nation with his fearlessness, even in losing causes. The best player in World Rugby by a country mile.


Halfback: Antoine Dupont (France)


Tests played: 8 tests

Minutes played: 574 minutes

Tries scored: 3 tries

Metres run: 340 metres

Defenders beaten: 26 def. beaten

Clean breaks: 9 breaks

Carries: 58 carries

Passes: 402 passes

Offloads: 12 offloads

Tackles completed: 54 tackles

Turnovers won: 5 turnovers


Although not the world’s best rugby player, Dupont is peerless when discussions around the world’s best 9 arise. His passing game and support lines are unparalleled right now, while he also has extreme competence in the tackle. The World Rugby Player of the Year had season highlights in three tries, captaining his nation for the first time, as well as a Man of the Match performance against Italy. At 25, Dupont will undoubtedly become an even better rugby player, which is a mouth-watering prospect.


First-Five Eighth: Richie Mo’unga (New Zealand)


Tests played: 10 tests

Minutes played: 537 minutes

Points scored: 95 points

Tries scored: 3 tries

Metres run: 408 metres

Defenders beaten: 26 def. beaten

Clean breaks: 6 breaks

Carries: 42 carries

Passes: 175 passes

Offloads: 8 offloads

Tackles completed: 33 tackles

Turnovers won: 2 turnovers


Despite Ian Foster’s best efforts to undermine the 27-year-old’s playmaking, he remains the best 10 in World Rugby. Back-to-back Man of the Match performances against Australia saw Mo’unga beat defenders en masse, while he also proved many a time, to be competent under pressure. The All Blacks removed him from first-reciever in the bulk of end-of-year test attacking patterns and looked directionless without his communication abilities and tactical kicking ideas. Easily New Zealand’s most accurate goal-kicker, another player seems to be best from long range however.


Left Wing: Duhan van Der Merwe (Scotland)


Tests played: 11 tests

Minutes played: 860 minutes

Tries scored: 6 tries

Metres run: 524 metres

Defenders beaten: 50 def. beaten

Clean breaks: 10 breaks

Carries: 63 carries

Passes: 18 passes

Offloads: 0 offloads

Tackles completed: 32 tackles

Turnovers won: 1 turnover


The Springboks will truly see van Der Merwe as one that got away. The 26-year-old proved crucial to the Lions’ tactics in 2021, despite his position, while he was the top try-scorer of the Six Nations, scoring 6 for the year. A complete finisher, he has essentially become Scotland’s first-ever power winger, which has done wonders for the team. His jaw-dropping 50 defenders beaten has made him very difficult to tackle, long may his form last.


Second-Five-Eighth: Robbie Henshaw (Ireland)


Tests played: 9 tests

Minutes played: 685 minutes

Tries scored: 1 try

Metres run: 198 metres

Defenders beaten: 16 def. beaten

Clean breaks: 4 breaks

Carries: 92 carries

Passes: 62 passes

Offloads: 4 offloads

Tackles completed: 63 tackles

Turnovers won: 5 turnovers


Henshaw’s game could be described as having pin-point passing to compliment his crash-ball running. Although he only scored one try for himself in 2021, he perfectly embodied my selection criteria, with his ability to enable finishers outside him. Despite low metres-run, Henshaw’s ability to beat defenders is a huge ask for opposing defences to stop. His Man of the Match performance against England was a great summary of his game, he put on a great defensive showing. Henshaw would have undoubtedly played a crucial defensive role in an Irish victory over the All Blacks if not for injury.


Centre: Lukhanyo Am (South Africa)


Tests played: 11 tests

Minutes played: 880 minutes

Tries scored: 2 tries

Metres run: 198 metres

Defenders beaten: 6 def. beaten

Clean breaks: 3 breaks

Carries: 32 carries

Passes: 15 passes

Offloads: 4 offloads

Tackles completed: 44 tackles

Turnovers won: 5 turnovers


Am is another player who was very unlucky to miss nomination for the World Rugby awards. Am perfectly embodies the definition of teamwork, with seemingly no interest in running metres himself, his eyes only on enabling teammates to score. The powerful number 13 also makes huge dominant tackles and continues to have strong shoulders over the ball. Playing in 11/13 of South Africa’s tests, he remained on the field for 80 minutes in all 11 tests he played. Easily the world’s best centre and a great partner in the midfield for Henshaw.


Right Wing: Will Jordan (New Zealand)


Tests played: 11 tests

Minutes played: 704 minutes

Tries scored: 15 tries

Metres run: 732 minutes

Defenders beaten: 31 def. beaten

Clean breaks: 28 breaks

Carries: 63 carries

Passes: 52 passes

Offloads: 6 offloads

Tackles completed: 39 tackles

Turnovers won: 5 turnovers


If you want a winger who can score anywhere, Jordan is your answer. He became a regular starter for New Zealand in 2021 and this career-first saw the World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year amass 15 tries from 11 tests. Jordan’s perfected his chip-and-chase abilities while he continues to be one of few All Blacks to consistently run excellent support lines in 2021. Although highly unlikely to wear the 15 jersey this World Cup cycle, his defence remains an ally to his team as well. Can Jordan buck the trend of wings having short careers in New Zealand though? Let’s hope so.


Fullback: Jordie Barrett (New Zealand)


Tests played: 13 tests

Minutes played: 727 minutes

Points scored: 102 points

Tries scored: 3 tries

Metres run: 503 metres

Defenders beaten: 26 def. beaten

Clean breaks: 8 breaks

Carries: 55 carries

Passes: 69 passes

Offloads: 9 offloads

Tackles completed: 27 tackles

Turnovers won: 1 turnover


When thinking of a player who gained the most out of the Hurricanes’ 2021 campaign failure, look no further than Jordie Barrett, who has stepped out of the shadow of his older brothers, to become the world’s best fullback. His long-range goal kicking will become a real asset for the All Blacks whenever Mo’unga is unavaliable, while he remains a valiant runner. Barrett’s defence, once laughable, has now stepped up majorly, to become world class. Barrett has played 1161 minutes of test rugby since Ian Foster became the All Blacks coach, don’t be surprised to see him surpass 2500 before the World Cup.


Max Sharp’s 2021 World XV Recap:

1. Steven Kitshoff

2. Codie Taylor

3. Tadgh Furlong

4. Eben Etzebeth

5. Maro Itoje

6. Courtney Lawes

7. Hamish Watson

8. Ardie Savea

9. Antoine Dupont

10. Richie Mo’unga

11. Duhan van Der Merwe

12. Robbie Henshaw

13. Lukhanyo Am

14. Will Jordan

15. Jordie Barrett

Reserves:

16. Ronan Kellher

17. Wyn Jones

18. Taniela Tupou

19. Adam Beard

20. Siya Kolisi

21. Tate McDermott

22. Marcus Smith

23. Gael Fickou


Honourable mentions: Demba Bamba, Malcolm Marx, Julian Marchand, Alun Wyn Jones, Gregory Alldritt, Santiago Arata, Damian de Allende, David Havili, Rieko Ioane, Damian Penaud, Cheslin Kolbe

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