SOANE TONGA’UIHA, THE BRISTOL AND FORMER SAINTS PROP, CHOOSES THE BEST XV HE HAS PLAYED WITH OR AGAINST...
1. Craig Dowd – He was the Auckland and All Blacks loosehead when I was growing up and I was lucky enough to play with him in my first year out of school.
2. Dylan Hartley – Keven Mealamu deserves a big shout but Dylan is still playing so I’ve gone for my old Saints captain. A very good leader for club and country.
3. Carl Hayman – I came up against him a few times and he is as strong as he is honest which as a prop is very rare. Whether on the front foot or struggling he always pushed straight!
4. Courtney Lawes – He’s so athletic and physical in the engine room that it’s like having an extra back row on the pitch.
5. Paul O’Connell – His leadership qualities give him the nod. The way he led was second to none. He did it through his actions: where he went his team followed.
6. Jerry Collins – He was one of the hardest men I ever ran into. Similar to Courtney Lawes, but even more physical.
7. Richie McCaw – Like O’Connell, his presence on the field lifted the entire team. He had such an aura that his teammates never had to look for someone to lead. It was so natural to him.
8. Sione Lauaki – The former All Black who sadly died earlier this year was one of my close friends. Such a physical presence ball in hand given his size which gave you go-forward most of the time.
9. Maxime Machenaud – I played with him at Racing 92 and he’s a really solid player. He’s very physical and never backs down from the challenge against the big Top 14 forwards.
10. Dan Carter – Still one of the best fly-halves in the world. It’s like his rugby brain is a few steps ahead of the opposition and other fly-haves.
11. Jonah Lomu – I played against him in my first year in NPC. I was playing for Auckland and he was at Wellington. If you need more explanations, go on YouTube!
12. Sammy Tuitupou – He reads the game really well and punches well above his weight when it comes to hitting people. Even if he’s half your size you definitely knows when he hits you.
13. Conrad Smith – Similar to Carter in the way he reads the game. Such a good ball-player, he sees things long before they happen.
14. Sitiveni Sivivatu – It was a toss-up with his cousin Joe Rokocoko because they’re both quite similar. Sitiveni edges it because of his ability to turn something out of nothing. Very special player.
15. Ben Smith – I played against him with Tonga and he was just magnificent at returning kicks. Always the one starting the counter attacks to get the All Blacks going from deep. So good under highballs too.