In a decade which saw three World Cups, five Six Nations Grand Slams and the Tri-Nations expand into the Rugby Championship, there is Test rugby being played all year round.
A big sample of players to assess and make a distinction between when tasked with picking a team of the 2010s.
The Rugby Paper’s Brendan Gallagher holds a grasp of northern hemisphere and southern hemisphere rugby knowledge like no other. Here, he selects a starting XV of influential players.
15 Israel Folau – Australia
In terms of jaw-dropping talent and game changing ability the controversial Folau – no longer persona grata within Rugby Union circles – just gets the nod ahead of Ben Smith and Liam Williams with the latter featuring brightly towards the end of the decade. Hat tips for Rob Kearney, Kurtley Beale and Leigh Halfpenny.
14 Julian Savea – New Zealand
One of those Kiwis stars who seem to peter out aged 27, but for the first five or six years of this decade Savea was sensational and had racked up 46 tries in 54 Tests when he quit for French club rugby in 2017. George North was a force of nature early in the decade and has 41 tries in 94 Tests.
13 Jonathan Davies – Wales
Not too much agonising over this choice. Davies has been a mainstay for Warren Gatland’s Wales and player of the series for the Lions in two series, in Australia and New Zealand. Sonny Bill Williams was more of an impact player off the bench while Wesley Fofana, alas, was hampered by injury.
12 Conrad Smith – New Zealand
Rolls Royce centre who contributed as much if not more than any single Kiwi to successive World Cup titles in 2011 and 2015. Owen Farrell has enjoyed a strong finish to the decade but his very best years might still be ahead.
11 DTH van der Merwe – Canada
A little left field but I’ve often wondered how many tries this world class wing would have scored playing for New Zealand or his native South Africa. As it was he managed 38 in 61 Tests for lowly Canada including six during the three World Cups in which he starred. Shout-outs for Juan Imhoff and Jonny May.
10 Beauden Barrett – New Zealand
Flip of a coin with Johnny Sexton and both would arguably be in the top three for player of the decade. I’m going with Barrett for his sheer X-factor and untouchable gas. For reasons unknown, New Zealand switched him to full-back for the World Cup.
9 Connor Murray – Ireland
Some would go with Aaron Smith and others Will Genia but over the long haul I’m struggling to think of a number nine Murray hasn’t got the better of for Ireland or Munster. High quality and very consistent. Shout out for Ben Youngs who has won all his 94 caps in this decade.
1 Tendai Mtawarira – South Africa
Began his career in earnest against the 2009 Lions and hit the new decade running. In terms of sheer athletic power and aggression he has been different class for a long while and got his just reward with a World Cup-winning medal last month. Mako Vunipola would be his nearest contender.
2 Schalk Brits – South Africa
Another surprise selection but I’ve rarely seen a better hooker than Brits, indeed a better rugby player. South Africa, often obsessed with power and strength, should be kicking themselves for not getting Brits involved sooner. Mentions for Rory Best, Dylan Hartley, Stephen Moore, Gus Creevy and Dane Coles.
3 Owen Franks – New Zealand
Scrummaging used to be, allegedly, New Zealand’s Achilles heel but the younger of the Franks brothers, in tandem with Tony Woodcock changed that, while he was always excellent on the ball. Two World Cup campaigns, two gold medals.
4 Sam Whitelock – New Zealand
Whitelock was a starter in New Zealand’s 2011 and 2015 World Cup-winning teams and also put a huge shift in at RWC2019. Athletic, hard, enduring, disciplined. Maro Itoje has lit it up recently but is still a youngster, Paul O’Connell was great for the first five years of the decade before retiring.
5 Alun Wyn Jones – Wales
Rock of a man at lock who must have been MOM in at least half of his 141 Tests for Wales and the Lions. Just 30 so has power to add, will finish as one of the legends of the game. Fights off Eben Etzebeth and Brodie Retallick… which takes some bloody doing.
6 David Pocock – Australia
A generational player who redefined his position with his speed to the breakdown, his jackal instincts and immense power. Every opposing side had to respond and find their own such player to counter him. Shout-outs for Jacques Burger, Michael Hooper, Jerome Kaino and Pablo Matera.
7 Richie McCaw – New Zealand
In terms of sheer playing ability it’s a dead head between McCaw and Sam Warburton but the enduring McCaw suffered less from injuries and frankly how can you leave out somebody who captained his side to successive World Cups? Justin Tipuric wouldn’t be a million miles away either.
8 Kieran Read – New Zealand
Some great candidates including Sergio Parisse – whose best decade was arguably the noughties – Toby Faletau and formidable Boks hardman Duane Vermuelen, but Read can look back on two World Cup wins and skippering his side to third in Japan. Deadly in the wide channels, never had a bad game.