Rugby Union: Fifteen in a fantasy world

Jonathan Davies battles long and hard to select a side that is out of this hemisphere
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The Independent Online
Picking a World XV should be easy now that we've had a close look at the best players on earth during the past month or so. But they've given us such a rich and exciting time, trying to sort them out is a good way to drive yourself barmy.

It is not a job to take on if you want to please everybody, or even please anybody, but these are my choices and I make no apologies for the presence of three Welshmen.

Christian Cullen has to get the vote at full-back, although there is no shortage of strong competition. I'm very impressed with Percy Montgomery and the Australians Matt Burke and Stephen Larkham. This is the sort of player we don't have enough of in Britain - fast and strong attacking full-backs.

I feel able to leave Jonah Lomu out of my team because the wingers Jeff Wilson and Joe Roff are simply better all-round players than the massive All Black. Wilson and Roff may not be giants but they are big and fast enough and are exceptional finishers. Added to which, they can both kick - Wilson with his right foot and Roff with his left - which is a tremendous asset for a winger.

I feel fully justified in promoting the Welsh centres Scott Gibbs and Allan Bateman to the highest level of all. The fact that they are friends and countrymen of mine is no influence on my decision. The fact that I know them and their games so well enables me to pick them ahead of any other centre I've seen in action over the past month or so.

I've been impressed with South Africa's Andre Snyman, Will Greenwood has thrilling potential and it's difficult to discount Walter Little and the French pair of Thomas Castaignede and Christophe Lamaison. But the claims of Gibbs and Bateman should not be ignored because Wales are out the top bracket at the moment.There is no question in my mind that Bateman is the best outside centre in the world. He is a fantastic tackler, has great acceleration and has developed by leaps and bounds as a footballer this year.

All the excitement we've had recently may tend to make us forget the great achievement of the Lions in South Africa. These two were a powerful part of that performance and the inspirational defiance of Gibbs got him the man of the tour title.

The same reasoning lies behind my choice of Rob Howley at scrum-half. Injury robbed him of a chance to shine in South Africa but his play in a Welsh team generally under pressure shows what a great player he is. Many would go for Joost van der Westhuizen, but I don't think the South African has lived up to his reputation. The New Zealand captain Justin Marshall comes closest to beating Howley to the position but the Welshman not only has all the vital ability, he thinks quicker than anyone else. To have a brain like that at the centre of the action is a plus you would be foolish to overlook.

At outside-half, I go unhesitatingly for Carlos Spencer who was the reigning All Black stand-off before they arrived here last month. Andrew Mehrtens played in the first two runaway victories in Wales and kept Spencer out thereafter. Mehrtens is obviously a good player but to my mind Spencer is the better footballer. The fact that he is a running outside-half like I was probably helps him get my vote.

The forwards present hard choices in every position. Up front I would go for Adrian Garvey of South Africa at tight-head prop and the New Zealander Craig Dowd at loose-head. They're both tremendous scrummagers and very lively around the field but I was also very tempted by the Frenchman Christian Califano, Richard Harry of Australia, Olo Brown of New Zealand and the South African Os du Randt.

At hooker and captain, I would have no one but Sean Fitzpatrick. I know he was injured and that his international future is in doubt but his leadership was sadly missed at Twickenham last weekend and he'd still be in my side.

The second row is another area where the candidates are of super quality. You shudder to overlook players such as John Eales, Martin Johnson, Garath Archer, Doddie Weir and Jeremy Davidson but my locks would be Mark Andrews and Robin Brooke. Even in that company their all-round skills and power stand out.

The back row is just as difficult to sort out. Zinzan Brooke must have great claims at the climax of his career but I didn't think he played well on this tour. Leaving out Gary Teichmann gave me a bigger headache. In the end, I must select New Zealand's Taine Randell at No 6 because he was the outstanding forward of the All Blacks tour. The English captain Lawrence Dallaglio has been playing No 6 recently but I have no hesitation in switching him to openside in my team. As for No 8, I can see no real challenger to my old favourite Abdel Benazzi of France.

No doubt, others can pick teams that would give this lot a run for their money. But I reckon my side has the balanced brilliance to beat all-comers. Pity we'll never see them in action.

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