Gregor Townsend: My Fantasy XV
We tasked Gregor Townsend to create his own Fantasy XV – a list of players against whom he pitted his wits across his own 10-year international career.
The Scotland Head Coach decided not to select any players he played alongside, ruling out “all those excellent British and Irish players from that 1997 tour to South Africa.”
1. Os Du Randt – a huge man who won two World Cups with South Africa. I still have pain in my ribs from when I once went to tackle him and he used me as a speed bump…
2. Sean Fitzpatrick – a terrific competitor and great New Zealand captain. Thought I’d scored a try at Eden Park against the All Blacks after I chased after a kick over the defence. He came out of nowhere to deny me (although I still believe I got to the ball first…!)
3. Pieter de Villiers – a champion player who had an excellent career, winning multiple French championships with Stade Francais and a few Six Nations titles with France. A great guy who’s also a very good scrum coach…!
4. Fabien Pelous – another massive unit who looked like Ivan Drago from Rocky 4. I ran into him playing for Scotland at the Stade du France in 2001 and it felt like smashing into a brick wall. Worse still was the fact I injured my knee as I got twisted in his tackle. Tried to avoid him on the field after that experience…
5. John Eales – his nickname was ‘Nobody’ – because nobody is perfect. He could do it all on the field, lineout, attack, defence and an outstanding goalkicker. Led his country to a World Cup win and a win over the Lions in 2001. One of the nicest men you could meet too.
6. Jerry Collins – another player to give my ribs a good whack, breaking one of them with his famous high knee ball carries when we toured New Zealand in 2000. One of the toughest players to played the game, and has many legendary stories told about him. Sadly no longer with us.
7. Richie McCaw – I remember thinking in 2001 that New Zealand might be struggling at openside for their first time in decades as they had picked McCaw straight from the NPC tournament. I’d previously played against Michael Jones and Josh Kronfeld who are legends of the game so I thought this shouldn’t be as difficult an opponent. I got that badly wrong… He’d won man-of-the-match in his first cap the previous weekend against Ireland, was outstanding against us and went on to become probably rugby’s best ever player.
8. Zinzan Brooke – I used to love watching him play, probably the most skilful forward to play the game – dropping goals from the halfway line in a World Cup semifinal and offloading out of the tackle on a regular basis. It was great to go up against him in 1996.
9. Joost van der Westhuizen – one of the most competitive players I’ve come up against, and such a running threat with ball in hand either side of the ruck. Another World Cup winner, he raised a lot of awareness about MND before succumbing to the disease a few years ago.
10. Stephen Larkham – started out as a scrum-half before becoming one of the all-time greats at stand-off. He was a pretty good fullback too, as I remember him scoring two tries at Murrayfield when he first got into the Wallabies team in 1997. He had such a flow to his running game, how he played the game is still the best template of how to attack the line with ball in hand. With pace on the ball he was a ‘dual threat’ – either putting players into space or gliding through gaps in the defence himself. He was also tough and had outstanding passing skills. Australia won the World Cup in 1999 with him at 10, and his drop goal against South Africa in the semi-final made it possible.
11. Jonah Lomu – a phenomenal player and a wonderful human being. I felt privileged to play in the same era as Jonah and get to spend time with him on a few occasions outside of rugby. He was the player that transcended rugby, and for a time between 1995-1997 he seemed impossible to tackle one-on-one. I failed on a couple of occasions here but was in good company! So sad that both his rugby career and life was cut short because of illness
12. Tim Horan – as a stand-off you often dreaded playing against massive inside centres who wanted to run straight at you for 80minutes, but it was the smarter rugby playing 12s that were much more of a threat. Australia used to produce lot of them like Lloyd Walker, Pat Howard, Rod Kafer and Matt Giteau. Tim Horan was from a similar mould, but he also had outstanding pace, so could break through defensive lines in an instant. Another lovely man too.
13. Brian O’Driscoll – he made an incredible breakthrough to Test rugby and continued to display brilliant attacking and defensive skills for the rest of his career. I first came up against him in the Six Nations match in 2000. We went 10-0 up in Dublin, and were thinking we were on our way to a good victory. O’Driscoll’s ball carrying – combining strength, evasion and sheer determination – inspired Ireland to an incredible turnaround victory. He scored a try that afternoon and probably should have scored two more. A few weeks later he grabbed his opportunities in scoring a hattrick against France in a great irish win at the Stade du France. He had many, many more great days in the green of Ireland as well as for Leinster and the Lions over the years. He was some player.
14. Jason Robinson – what a compliment to big Jonah on the other wing! He was electric, with the ability to step late and off either foot. Was equally as dangerous at fullback and worked very hard to make a successful transition from rugby league. A key component in England’s World Cup win in 2003.
15. Christian Cullen – probably my favourite player in this team! I loved his balanced running, his bravery and also his ability to score so many world-class tries. His performances also show that you don’t need to be a certain weight to make an impact, as he was actually pretty slight for a professional rugby player, but exceptionally strong and explosive. Back in 1996 we didn’t know that much about him so focused a lot of our defence out wide on making sure Jonah wasn’t given any space. That strategy worked well, as the big man didn’t score a try that afternoon in Dunedin. Unfortunately for us Cullen had a field day in more space – scoring 4 tries…!