It is one thing for a high-quality player to miss a World Cup because he is injured at the wrong time: think Aaron Cruden, the devilishly tricky little All Black outside-half, or the crack Springbok flanker Marcell Coetzee, who is built on an altogether more substantial scale. It is quite another to be considered one of the best of the best by everyone except the man who picks the squad.
Who could have thought that the British & Irish Lions front-rowers who broke the Australian scrum on that famous night in Sydney two years ago would be watching this forthcoming tournament from their multi-seater sofas? Who believed for a second that the New Zealand back three who finally delivered the Webb Ellis Cup to the All Black nation in 2011 would now be surplus to requirements?
Our team of unworthies – all of them omitted through choice rather than necessity – would certainly find its way out of a World Cup pool and might well make a splash in the knockout stage. Look, and ponder.
15. Israel Dagg (New Zealand)
When the man from Marton (pop: 4,750) was wowing the world in 2011, nobody imagined he would receive the “exit global stage left” treatment this time round. An astonishing fall.
14. Sinoti Sinoti (Samoa)
A 24-carat Premiership box-office attraction, but not good enough for his country. His elderly Newcastle clubmate Alesana Tuilagi was picked ahead of him.
13. James O’Connor (Aus)
No room for the wild child, who turned his back on serious money in Toulon to chase a World Cup place back home.
12. Christian Leali’ifano (Aus)
A first-choice midfielder against the Lions two years ago and even better now, but the Wallabies have an embarrassment of playmaking riches. England would have picked him, for sure.
11. Charles Piutau (NZ)
He looks the bee’s knees whenever he plays, but where do you go when you’re being squeezed by Julian Savea, Nehe Milner-Skudder and Waisake Naholo? Ulster. That’s where.
10. Danny Cipriani (England)
The celebrity playmaker was not given a proper run at selection, so instead of tripping the light fantastic in the great tournament, he’ll be doing it in Greater Manchester. Oh well.
9. Nic White (Australia)
This is what you get for winning a Test match against New Zealand. If he thought he was a shoo-in after his recent heroics in Sydney, he’s now thinking again.
1. Alex Corbisiero (England)
When the Wallabies arrive at Twickenham, they will be mightily relieved not to see the scrum-wrecker from 2013 in a white shirt. Hard to fathom what happened to him.
2. Richard Hibbard (Wales)
Even if Wales had selected three hookers rather than two, the reigning Lions front-rower would not have made the cut.
3. Adam Jones (Wales)
The Hairy One has been out of the loop for months, but there is no guarantee the Jones-sized hole at the scrum will be filled by his successors.
4. James Horwill (Australia)
So important to the Wallabies in 2013 that they moved heaven and earth to get him off a stamping rap, the former captain has been marginalised by two returning exiles.
5. Patricio Albacete (Arg)
Hell hath no fury like a Puma hierarchy scorned. A majestic lock with a proven track record, he fell out with the wrong people and paid for it.
6. Heinrich Brüssow (S Africa)
Precisely the kind of turnover specialist many expect to play a decisive role at this tournament. The man from Bloemfontein’s late selection surge ran out of steam at the death.
7. Steffon Armitage (Eng)
Another of English rugby’s controversialists. A divisive figure who tried to have it all by extending his French club contract against red-rose advice.
8. Ben Mowen (Australia)
Had he done a Matt Giteau or a Dean Mumm and returned home from Europe, the back-rower from Brisbane would have been chosen. Instead, he falls foul of regulations.
Bench: 16 Dylan Hartley (Eng); 17 Thomas Domingo (Fr); 18 Salesi Ma’afu (Aus); 19 Marco Bortolami (Italy); 20 Scott Higginbotham (Aus); 21 Mike Phillips (Wales); 22 James Hook (Wales); 23 Cory Jane (New Zealand).
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