Fans backing the old guard

Thu, 19 Dec 2013 07:59
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Experienced players such as Will Genia, Dan Carter and Jean de Villiers cracking the nod

Rugby fans have spoken, and their World XV of the Year differs dramatically from the combination picked last week by international players.

While fans mirrored the players in voting New Zealand’s Kieran Read their “Player of the Year”, they made as many as six changes when it came to their overall XV, with experienced players such as Will Genia, Dan Carter and Jean de Villiers cracking the nod.

The fans’ opted for Australian scrumhalf Genia ahead of the Players’ pick, All Black Aaron Smith; flyhalf Carter over countryman Aaron Cruden, South Africa’s De Villiers over Wesley Fofana at inside centre, and Israel Folau ahead of New Zealand’s Ben Smith.

However, the fans were at one with the players when it came to hailing three of the stand-out performers on the world stage in 2013 - England prop Alex Corbisiero, South African lock Eben Etzebeth and Welsh wing George North.

Corbisiero played a vital role in the British and Irish Lions’ series win over Australia; Etzebeth enjoyed a stellar second international season with South Africa, and North scored one of the tries of the season in the opening Lions’ test, before dotting down again in the series decider.

Read narrowly won the vote for the Fans’ ‘Player of the Year’ ahead of Wales and Lions’ star Leigh Halfpenny, with Folau, Ireland flank Sean O’Brien, and North the next most heavily supported.

Genia said he was thrilled to be recognised by the fans.

“It’s great the fans have been invited to participate in these awards,” he said. “They’re such a vital part of the international rugby machinery; it’s good to see they have a chance to have their say.

“And, of course, I’m doubly pleased they’ve included me in their World XV.”

Corbisiero said inclusion in the fans’ team capped off for him a memorable year.

“Being part of the first Lion’s series win since 1997 was always going to make this year very special, but to then be named in the Players World XV and also the Fans’ World XV has topped it all off, really."

Etzebeth, also named last week in the Players’ World XV of the Year, echoed those sentiments, saying it was humbling to be honoured by the people who made rugby such a successful product - the players and the fans.

“I’ve really enjoyed my rugby through 2013,” he said. “It’s been a fantastic experience and this makes it all the sweeter.

North was another favourite of both the fans and players alike; his eye for the line balanced by a strong defensive performance  - including a memorable tackle on Folau during the second Lions test.

“This has been a fabulous year for the Lions and Wales and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being part of it,” he said.

“I felt honoured to be picked in the Players’ World XV and feel similarly about being recognised in the fan’s team. It’s a lovely book-end for the year.”

IRPA officials reported tens of thousands of rugby fans voted for their Player of the Year and World XV of the Year, as part of IRPA’s first annual awards ceremony.

IRPA Fans’ world XV of the year: 15 Leigh Halfpenny (Wales), 14 Israel Folau (Australia), 13 Conrad Smith (New Zealand), 12 Jean de Villiers (South Africa), 11 George North (Wales), 10 Dan Carter (New Zealand), 9 Will Genia (Australia), 8 Kieran Read (New Zealand) 7 Richie McCaw (New Zealand), 6 Liam Messam (New Zealand), 5 Alun-Wyn Jones (Wales), 4 Eben Etzebeth (South Africa), 3 Adam Jones (Wales), 2 Bismarck Du Plessis (South Africa), 1 Alex Corbisiero (England).