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Selecting the Greatest Australia XV

Danny CoyleFeatured ColumnistJanuary 23, 2014

Selecting the Greatest Australia XV

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    ADAM BUTLER/Associated Press

    They have won the World Cup twice, finished runners-up once and produced some of the world’s greatest players.

    Australian rugby union has, in truth, punched above its weight when you consider the preference in their own country for rugby league and Aussie Rules.

    But with innovative coaches and hugely talented individuals, they have always been a side capable of beating all comers.

    Here’s my greatest XV.

Full-Back

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    15. Matt Burke

    Burke was big, fast, had a huge boot and a great sense of space.

    He seldom put a foot wrong in the No. 15 jersey and played 81 times for the Wallabies.

    He scored a hatful of points in the Wallabies' 1999 march to their second World Cup, including 25 in the final. He was also instrumental in their defeat of the Lions two years later.

Wings

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    11. David Campese

    Campese is a giant of the game. He was one of rugby’s first genuine superstars, with a mouth often as quick as his feet. Campese ran like a player in a computer game with someone holding down sprint button on their joy pad. He had a bag of tricks unrivalled by anyone else in his era, with a wicked sidestep and the classic "Campo" goosestep he made his own. Simply, a legend.

     

    14. Joe Roff

    Roff was fast, big and supremely talented, playing for Australia in three World Cups and forming a crucial part in the all-conquering side of the late '90s. He gets in ahead of Lote Tuqiri. The dual-code star is by far the most successful rugby league convert to have played for the Wallabies. He plundered 30 tries in 68 caps so has a higher scoring rate than Roff, but Roff has the greater all-round ability.

Centres

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    Getty Images/Getty Images

    13. Jason Little

    A hard call between Little and Dan Herbert, but Little gets it for the two World Cups, rather than just the one for Herbert. Both men acted as excellent foils for the sublime Tim Horan during the 1990s.

    In fact, Herbert eventually usurped Little as the starting outside centre, but the older man replaced him on 46 minutes of the 1999 final to get his share of the spoils. 

     

    12. Tim Horan

    Horan was a total footballer. He could run, pass, tackle and kick and possessed a terrific rugby brain.

    It was never more in evidence than when he ran a clever support line to the jinking David Campese in the 1991 World Cup semi-final against New Zealand, plucking the wing’s blind pass out of the air to score the decisive try.

    He was part of that World Cup-winning side and was still in the No. 12 jersey eight years later when Australia triumphed again in Wales.

Half-Backs

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    Ross Setford/Getty Images

    10. Mark Ella

    Ella was one of the most gifted players ever to pick up a ball. His skill level was way beyond that of anything seen before when he burst on the scene in the 1980s. His finest hour perhaps came on the 1984 tour of the UK, when he scored a try in every game.

    He only won 25 caps before calling it quits in 1984, but left with an endorsement from another sublime Australian talent, David Campese, who is quoted in Ella's ESPN scrum.com profile as saying the fly-half was "the best rugby player I have ever known or seen."

    He is followed closely for this shirt by Michael Lynagh.

    Lynagh achieved that rare feat of appearing as calmness personified no matter the situation.

    A superb goal- and place-kicker, he controlled a game with an ease bordering on nonchalance.

    He broke Irish hearts at Lansdowne Road in 1991 when he scored the try that knocked them out of the World Cup quarter-final, right at the death. 

     

    9. George Gregan

    Gregan raised the bar for scrum-half play to a new level. Capped 139 times, Gregan was the ultimate No.9. He had genuine pace, a rocket-like pass and marshalled his forwards with a rod of iron.

    He was also a fierce competitor, never better evidenced than by the jaw-dropping tackle he put in on a full-tilt Jeff Wilson to deny the All Black what would have been a match-winning try in 1994.

    Gregan beats out competition from the great Nick Farr-Jones.

Back Row

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    Getty Images/Getty Images

    8. Willie Ofahengaue

    Wille "O" was a beast of a No. 8, constantly in amidst the muck and bullets and a tireless runner with ball in hand. He carried the fight to all and sundry as part of the 1991 World Cup-winning side.

     

    7. George Smith

    As the breakdown became an area of great importance in the modern game, Smith was one of the best genuine opensides at making it his speciality. In fact, he is one of the best opensides of all time.

    He combined a raw physicality with a brilliant rugby brain and skill set that would not have looked out of place in the midfield.

     

    6. Owen Finegan

    Finegan was a bruising blindside flanker, accomplished at the dirty work at the breakdown. He also had a lightness of touch in his link play and scored a memorable try in the 1999 World Cup final. He edges out the all-action Rocky Elsom for this shirt.

Second Row

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    5. John Eales

    The man christened "Nobody," because nobody’s perfect.

    Eales is to Australian rugby what Willie John McBride is to Ireland and Martin Johnson is to England. He was in the 1991 World Cup-winning side and skippered them to the 1999 title, too.

    Along the way, he not only held his own as one of the world’s best second rows, but turned his size 12 feet to goal-kicking as well. He famously elected to go for the posts at the fag end of a Bledisloe Cup clash with New Zealand in 2000, with Australia down by two.

    He wellied it over with his forward’s ankle boots and cemented his hero’s status in Australian rugby.

    The Australian player of the year has, since 2002, been awarded the John Eales medal, as voted for by his peers.

     

    4. Nathan Sharpe

    Sharpe simply never had an off-day in a green and gold jersey.

    He ran the Wallaby lineout expertly in a ten-year career at Test level, and epitomised the modern-day lock, doing the hard yards and also capable of running with the ball in the open spaces.

    He also underlined his leadership qualities as the first captain of the newly formed Super Rugby Franchise, the Western Force, established in 2005.

Front Row

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    1. Tony Daly

    Daly wore the look of a truck driver after a hard night at the roadstop, but scrummaged with a fierce intensity and never took a backward step. He was on the loose-head side of the 1991 World Cup squad and scored the game's only try. His technique and strength made him a formidable scrummager.

     

    2. Phil Kearns

    Phil Kearns was in the front row who won the 1991 World Cup and was still in the squad eight years later when Australia regained the Webb Ellis Cup. His battles down the years with Sean Fitzpatrick were the stuff of legend. Kearns memorably stuck two fingers up to the All Black hooker after barging past him to score in a Bledisloe encounter in 1990.

     

    3. Ewen McKenzie

    McKenzie completes the front row trio who saw the Wallabies lift the second ever World Cup. The current coach of the national side, McKenzie only made his debut the previous season but became a firm fixture over a 50-cap career.

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