Rugby fans are, by their very nature, natural-born selectors. The chin-stroking, the armchair expertise, the bellowing from the rafters, well it comes as second nature. The passion, the strident views and hellbent conviction that goes into selecting teams every week, in any given position, is a head scratcher all supporters empathise with.
With that in mind, the Guinness Pro14 is giving you the opportunity to put your rugby nous to the test by running the rule over the Dream Teams selected by rugby’s cognoscenti (the media) since the 2006-07 season. Our ultimate aim is to pick one Ultimate XV. A fine body of men fit to take in rarefied air and reign supreme over the thousands of professionals who have run out to represent their province, region, club or franchise over the years.
The choice is intoxicating. Over 13 seasons, 143 players have been selected in the Dream Team meaning voting will leave no room for sentiment.
The jostling for selection will commence on Monday 29 June and continue for three weeks. We start at the coalface and the loosehead. Past Dream Team winners include British & Irish Lions Gethin Jenkins and Ryan Grant and they will vie with modern-day grafters Dave Kilcoyne and Rob Evans.
As we move through the Week One and the front five, hooker throws up players of the calibre of seasoned internationals Ken Owens, Leonardo Ghiraldini and Rory Best, right through to Richardt Strauss and Matthew Rees. Tighthead is no less irksome as Euan Murray and Adam Jones must be prised apart from the likes of Mike Ross, WP Nel and Zander Fagerson.
In your engine room, you are spoilt for choice. Alun Wyn Jones stands out in any crowd after four Celtic League titles and six Dream Team places, but he has stern competition in Justin Harrison, that Wallaby tower of strength, totemic Irish legend Paul O’Connell and Scottish giant Richie Gray. In recent years, the gifts of Tadhg ‘Long Dog’ Beirne and Leone Nakarawa would make any opposition coach lay awake in beads of sweat. Some choice.
In Week Two, we will move to the spine of the Ultimate XV; the backrow and halfbacks. The 6, 7, 8 combination is frightening. Jamie Heaslip stands as a colossus with five nominations at the base of the scrum, keeping Bill Mata and Jack Conan at arm’s length, but at blindside it’s a dogfight on the deck that includes Jerry Collins, Rocky Elsom, Alessandro Zanni and Sean O’Brien. The burning of the digital candle gets even worse at openside, where the Welsh triumvirate of Justin Tipuric, Martyn Williams and Sam Warburton are challenged by gifted upstarts Josh van der Flier and Callum Gibbins.
Into the backline and your petit-generals don’t get much snarlier than Gareth Davies and John Cooney but the more statuesque Mike Phillips and Ruan Pienaar will take some budging from the No 9 jersey.
The orchestrator to the organised chaos that serves up such a rich tapestry of attacking play is a battle of British & Irish Lions as Johnny Sexton, Ronan O’Gara and Dan Biggar go toe-to-toe. However snapping at their studs are Argentine maestro Felipe Contepomi and Scottish general Dan Parks. Both men stand up to scrutiny. As we move towards the grand finale in Week Three, we have the outside backs; the creators and finishers. In midfield, inside-centres are led by Gordon D’Arcy, Hadleigh Parkes and adamantine Stuart McCloskey before the regal shapes of Brian O’Driscoll and Jonathan Davies appear reassuringly in the outside channel.
As a last line of defence and an attacking outlet running from deep, the Dream Team can count on the likes of Lee Byrne, Ben Blair and Isa Nacewa to cut a stylish dash and that’s not forgetting fresh-faced conquistadors, Stuart Hogg and Liam Williams. These are players who can prise open the narrowest of defensive openings and quicken the pulse of all those around them.
Out on the flanks, who can forget the élan shown by Tommy Bowe for Ulster and the Ospreys? For a more compact package, how about the fleet-footed brilliance of Shane Williams, or instead the cold-eyed finishing ability of three-time winner Tim Visser or Scottish compatriot Tommy Seymour. Hey, if that’s not your bag, James Lowe can power through you or around you, and do it with a smile.
That smile is what we want from all of our protagonists in this three-week extravaganza celebrating all that is meritorious about a tournament which has thrown up talent in abundance.
Oh, there’s one more note to add; GET VOTING! Visit pro14.rugby for more information!