The 2023 yearly calendar is almost behind us, and what a year it’s been. In international rugby, the Six Nations Championship saw a dominant Ireland take yet another Grand Slam, New Zealand took another Rugby Championship, and South Africa won their record fourth World Cup.
The club calendar saw Saracens return to the English Premiership to take back their crown, Munster pulled out a shock victory in the URC, the Crusaders won their 12th Super Rugby title and Toulouse won their incredible 22nd Top 14 title.
With so many team successes and incredible moments from individuals, here’s our attempt at picking the greatest men’s XV of 2023:
1: Ox Nche
One of the most technically gifted front rowers in world rugby, Nche was the primary catalyst behind South Africa’s reemergence from English dominance in their World Cup semi-final victory in Paris, and without Nche the Springboks probably wouldn’t have won their fourth title.
2: Peato Mauvaka
The journey from backup hooker to starting World Cup finalist pips Mauvaka just above Dan Sheehan in this selection. It was only when Julien Marchand’s hamstring forced him to step back on the opening night of the World Cup that Mauvaka found himself in prime position for the number two shirt. He took it with both hands, and in doing so pulled off one of the finest performance of any player in the World Cup when he took the Springboks to the cleaners in their quarter-final clash in Paris.
3: Ben Tameifuma
Not just a 150kg battering ram, Tameifuma has offered Bordeaux Bègles and Tonga the greatest performances of any tighthead prop available in world rugby this year.
4: Eben Etzebeth
Arguably now established as one of the greatest second rows of all time, Etzebeth was dominant in every hit, every run, and every catch he made throughout the year. Refusing to leave anything less than 100% out on the field, he greatly deserved his World Player of the Year nomination.
5: Scott Barrett
Barrett enjoyed yet another dominant year as part of the Crusaders, but in doing so found his form rise to yet another level in an international shirt. The youngest Barrett brother has now established himself for the first time as the prime lock moving forward under Scott Robertson’s All Blacks.
6: Siya Kolisi
South Africa’s charismatic captain captivated his team and the world with his pre and post match speeches during this year’s World Cup, but the ability to be a stand out player among a team of stand out players proves that he can also walk the walk.
7: Pieter-Steph Du Toit
The 2 metre tall back rower almost lost a leg in 2020 due to a rare condition, but has now won yet another World Cup and made 28 tackles in a World Cup final just three years later. Not much more needs to be said. Probably the best flanker in the world currently.
8: Ardie Savea
Deserved winner of the Men’s 15s World Player of the Year award. Dominant in every area of the game. Only noticeable mistake all year was the final knock on to give the Springboks the World Cup trophy. Otherwise, a faultless year. Kiwi’s will forgive him, a class act.
9: Antoine Dupont
Despite missing half of France’s home World Cup through an injury that he sustained in an early pool match, Dupont returned completely unplayable in their quarter final exit against the Springboks. Throughout the year his talent, effort and overall skill level has been utterly undeniable, leading club side Toulouse to yet another domestic trophy and providing his national side with unquestionable commitment.
10: Finn Russell
Scotland were dealt a tough hand at the World Cup being stuck in a group of death with both Ireland and South Africa, so much so that even Finn Russell’s genius couldn’t save them from an early exit. International woes aside, Russell has been on utter fire since arriving at Bath after the World Cup, and it’s hard to argue that there is a more talented number ten out there.
12: Bundee Aki
Ageing like a fine New Zealand wine. Now 33 years of age, the adopted Irishman has honed his impressive size with fast footwork, deft hands and an eye for the tryline to become probably the greatest inside centre in world rugby currently.
13: Waisea Nayacalevu
The Fijian captain was simply incredible during the recent World Cup. Unstoppable on the ball, impassable off of it, and a great leader among his teammates. Another impressive season with Toulon under his belt too, it’s hard to argue that there are many better than this man currently.
11: Damien Penaud
Admittedly he ordinarily finds himself on the opposite wing, but it was impossible to leave this flying French machine out of the side. Devastating for Bordeaux Bègles in the Top 14, and nearly impossible to stop in a France shirt.
14: Will Jordan
Absolutely tears it up in the 15 jersey for the Crusaders, and should have broken the try scoring record in the recent World Cup. Could well become the All Blacks most prolific ever try scorer within the next few years.
15: Thomas Ramos
Oozes class and calmness, able to slot into fly half and play as well as he does at fullback. Has had his finest season in Toulouse and French colours yet.
This may seem like a particularly leftfield choice, considering the majority of the players have been chosen for their exploits on the international stage. But hear us out, Munster were heavy underdogs heading into the URC playoffs after finishing in fifth place in the championship, but after incredible victories over rivals Leinster and the Stormers, Munster fans fell back in love with rugby after eleven years without a major trophy.
Don’t worry Springboks fans, we’ve not forgotten about Jacques Nienaber, but he’s got a World Cup so he’ll get over it.