The Team That Never Travelled: Part Three, The Backrow

In the words of New York Jets coach Rex Ryan: “Oh. OH.” This morning’s underperformance by Zoolander Spies and Ben McCalman make Part 3 of The Team That Never Travelled particularly relevant.

Josh Sole [31, Italy & Aironi]
Sure you can never bring too many sixes to the World Cup! This selection proves my theory that coaches get a bit conservative when it comes to selecting world cup squads. Most of them shy away from the idea of bringing two dedicated opensides, but they’ll think nothing of bringing three  players who are primarily blindsides. The logic behind it is a bit crazy. Openside is definitely more of a specialist position that blindside, but coaches think nothing of playing a blindside there while hardly ever playing two opensides together!

Sione Lauaki [30, NZ and Bayonne] still has the ability to look awe-inspiring with the ball in hand, but is either a world-class flat track bully or a world class flake. Interestingly, he made his international debut for the Pacific Islanders in 2004, along with Sitaveni Sivivatu: he scored tries in their three tests [against Australia, NZ and South Africa] and was picked for the All Blacks within the year. He has blown too hot and cold in his test career to make this team. On this count, the Mole’s decision is final. South Africa left the shite Jean Deysel at home, despite him featuring heavily in this year’s Tri-Nations – no loss.

Sole’s omission from the Italian squad is surprising, because he can play No8, No6 and No4 and has 47 caps for Italy, including some this year. His injury obviously counted against him, because he was an ever present in the 2008-2010 Six Nations campaigns for Mallett’s Italy.

George Smith [31, Australia and Sanyo Wild Knights]
George may have taken the sweet €800,000 for a 13 game season that Japan had to offer, but he was fresh off the back of a season in Toulon where he played a whopping 1729mins of gametime, the second most of any openside in the league. The guy has still got that thing called ‘it’. People are going on and on about David Pocock. He has a great career ahead of him, but he won’t be able to take a year off to beat Smith’s records:
– Two-time John Eales Medallist [2002, 2008]
– Super 14 Player of the Year [2008]
– Four-time Australian Super 14 Player of the Year [2006, 2007, 2008, 2009]
– Nine-times ACT Brumbies Players’ Player of the Year
Robbie Deans has brought Ben McCalman ahead of a guy who played all three backrow positions internationally, who captained his country for two years, who was a test centurion before he was thirty years old and was nominated for IRB International Player of the Year as a 21 year old. George’d be in my squad every time. He’s only 100 days older than Richie McCaw!

Martyn Williams [35, Wales & Cardiff Blues]: 99 caps is enough, I’m sure. Poor bastard – what a cracking player he is. Deserves the century. Yannick Nyanga [27, France and Toulouse] has never been picked in a French squad by Marc Lievremont – that’s 47 months in the international wilderness. Incredible. He has 25 caps to his name, 19 of them wins. Justin Tipuric [22, Wales & Ospreys] is a serious openside talent but is very likely going to live in the shadow of Sam Warburton for the best part of his career; like a taff version of Marty Holah to Warburton’s McCaw.

Joe van Niekerk [31, SA & Toulon]
One of the hardest positions to pick; there are so many excellent candidates. Liam Messam [27, NZ & Chiefs] was very close to making the Plane That Never Travelled. Indeed, his omission from the New Zealand squad was commented on in the Mole’s NZ Squad Review, and Victor Vito’s non-performance against Samoa paves the way for serious questions to be asked over Henry’s call. Chris Masoe [32, NZ & Castres Olympique] on the back of an incredible season for Castre [winning Midi Olympique’s Les Classement des Etoiles for best player in the Top 14] would also have been a better bet than Vito. However, they do have Kieran Read to come back in, so the damage shouldn’t be terminal.

Johnny Beattie [25, Scotland & Glasgow Warriors] was unlucky to miss out in Andy Robinson’s selection, but Richie Vernon has performed reasonably well so far. Ryan Kankowski [25, SA & Sharks] and van Niekerk were both excluded in favour of Pierre Spies. Of these two players, van Niekerk would be my preference, hands down. With reference to Spies, Kankowski is more of the same: a guy who looks good running in open play but goes missing for entire matches. Joe is the type of player who can put the team on his back and do it all, as he has show with Toulon over the last two years.

[I’ll also miss the way that hero of a South African commentator pronounces his name: Shuhh’fun Nee-uh’Kuhhk.]

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