The players that shaped the decade
December 23, 2009
Raising the bar: Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll gets our vote as the Player of the Decade © Getty Images
As the decade draws to a close, Scrum Sevens offers our selection of the best players to have laced up their boots in the last ten years.
This has not been an easy task and there are bound to be those who disagree with our choices but these are the players we feel deserve acclaim for helping to shape the game throughout the Noughties.
Four forwards, three backs - four from the south, three from the north - let the feedback commence!
Brian O'Driscoll - Ireland, British & Irish Lions
He may have made his international bow in the latter stages of the 1990s, but it was not until the inaugural Six Nations Championship in 2000 that he came to the attention of the wider rugby audience. A hat-trick of tries against France at the Stade de France by a then 21-year-old O'Driscoll served as a signal of great things to come. Selection for the Lions' tour to Australia followed in 2001 and his eye-catching contribution included a superb try at The Gabba. There was more agony and ecstasy with the Lions in 2005 when the honour of leading the tourists was soured by a tour-ending spear by All Blacks' Tana Umaga and Keven Mealamu.
A third tour with the Lions would come four years later, when he was unlucky not to be handed the captaincy once again, and in between there were three Triple Crowns and a couple of Magners League titles. 'BOD' has been the Six Nations Player of the Year in three of the last four seasons and short-listed for the International Rugby Board's top honour three times, including this year - how he managed to be over-looked is beyond us. Despite his physical approach, no-one has started more Tests than O'Driscoll in the last ten years and there is life in the old dog yet.
Richie McCaw - New Zealand
His value to the All Blacks is clearly evident every time he doesn't suit up - when he does they normally win and can reflect on several Tri-Nations titles and a series victory over the Lions with McCaw at their heart and latterly at the helm. But his side's high-profile failures at the decade's two Rugby World Cups have taken some of the shine off an otherwise glittering CV that also includes five Super Rugby titles with the Crusdaers. His latest IRB honour saw him become the first player to claim the award twice while earlier this month he also collected the Kelvin R. Tremain Memorial, as New Zealand's player of the year, for an unprecedented third time. He will embark on the next decade still in his 20s with some unfinished business high on his agenda at RWC'11 but his rivals for the openside crown are looming large.
John Smit - South Africa
A man of great stature both on and off the field, it his leadership prowess that separates him from his peers, famously delivering an inspirational and game-changing rallying call under the posts against Fiji at RWC'07 and another to unite a side divided by the inclusion of the controversial Luke Watson. He is set to claim his 100th Test cap in 2010 unless the Springboks opt to wrap him in cotton wool ahead of the defence of their RWC crown.
Dan Carter - New Zealand
One of the true superstars of the game, he is the All Blacks' leading all-time Test points-scorer having eclipsed the mark of Andrew Mehrtens earlier this year. As is the case with McCaw, the All Blacks are a far better side when he plays and near unbeatable when he is playing well - just ask France after their recent Marseille mauling. None of his contemporaries have a complete all-round game to match the Cantabrian or the ability to deliver on demand. On-field success has come in the form of Tri-Nations and Super Rugby titles while he also laid claim to the IRB's top honour in 2005 - the same year he helped to dismantle the Lions. He is another of our 'greats' to be missing a Rugby World Cup winner's medal, but at 27 years of age time is still on his side. We'll also forgive him his money-making sojourn to France.
Martin Johnson - England, British & Irish Lions
Johnson led the Lions to a series victory over South Africa in 1997 and so made history in 2001 when he became the first player to be asked to lead the elite tourists for a second time - on this occasion to Australia. The hulking lock was unable to inspire more success but would exact revenge on the Wallabies in time. There was also domestic success aplenty with the Johnson-led Leicester dominating not only their Premiership rivals but their European foes with back-to-back Heineken Cup triumphs. The goodwill generated from his achievements left him in good stead for the rest of the decade but the pressures of international management pose a whole new challenge in the years ahead.
Shane Williams - Wales, British & Irish Lions
George Smith - Australia
Huw Richards assesses where Wales are after a mixed Six Nations, with front row seats still very much available for the World Cup
John Mitchell lapped up the action on 'Sensational Saturday' - but warns not to expect a repeat come Rugby World Cup time later this year
Craig Dowd warns England, Ireland and Wales they should play to their strengths rather than those of the All Blacks and the Wallabies
Tom Hamilton runs the rule over just where the six countries stand ahead of the global gathering in September