Using the ‘Watford Gap’ as a generous dividing line for a North v South selection policy and, allowing the Worcester Warriors to even things up by being included dubiously in The North, Last Word on Rugby contributor Steve Kendall picks his current dream Aviva Premiership teams from the two regions of England.
If ever a North v South match was needed, then 2016 is one where the rebuild from last year’s World Cup disaster can be repaired.
The North –
Players from Newcastle, Sale, Wasps, Northampton, Leicester, Worcester
- Ellis Genge – Leicester -Destructive loose-head with a promising future ahead.
- Dylan Hartley – Northampton -No.1 hooker in the country currently, England captain and tip for Lions leadership. Say no more.
- Kieran Brookes – Northampton -A physical monster making his presence felt wherever he goes. Suring up the scrum.
- Joe Launchbury – Wasps -Sitting on the England bench behind Itoje and with Maro in the South side, Joe is first choice for the North.
- Courtney Lawes – Northampton -As above but for substitute Kruis for Itoje.
- Alafoti Faosiliva – Worcester -Unlucky to be picked to be made an example of with sending off against Gloucester but his carrying at 6 is vital in the modern game.
- Guy Thompson – Wasps -Has made the biggest impact of any player this season whether at 7 or playing 8 in place of Nathan Hughes. Tip for England in November internationals & a headache for coaches when James Haskell returns.
- Josh Beaumont – Sale -A real leader in the old fashioned sense of the word. Commanding presence and good control at the base of the scrum. Sale’s sole representative.
- Sam Harrison – Leicester -Although not first choice yet for Leicester, his performance marshalling the comeback against Leicester gets him into this team. Union’s Sean Long.
- Danny Cipriani – Wasps -Could watch him all day. Ford, Farrell & Steenson all tremendously safe & secure but Cipriani has the X-factor and if harnessed, could be truly world class.
- George North – Northampton -The Welsh Lomu. Has gone looking for the ball again and is benefitting because of it. Still a genetic freak that is poetry in motion.
- Jimmy Goperth – Wasps -Just a great rugby player. Not fancy or flash but actually very skillfull and with a heart and engine that would run through walls for you. Combo with Cipriani is working so well.
- Peter Betham – Leicester -Great ball handler and powerful runner providing the impact game outside Goperth. Has added another dimension to Leicester’s back line this season after taking time to adjust to the Premiership last year.
- Christian Wade – Wasps -The speedster, the flyer, the finisher and with all the talent inside him, he should get plenty of chances in a game like this.
- Telusa Veainu – Leicester -Twinkling feet and powerful upper body strength endow this guy with all the tools to be a stunning counter-attack rugby player.
Director of Rugby – Dai Young
Now, look 180 degrees and you will have the second half of this North v South composition.
The South –
Players from Exeter, Bristol, Bath, Gloucester, Saracens, Harlequins
- Mako Vunipola – Saracens -Outstanding so far this season. His work-rate for a guy of his size is incredible. Becoming more and more experienced also.
- Luke Cowan-Dickie – Exeter -One of the most exiting forward talents around. Is pushing Hartley for the England No.2 jersey and an almost certain Lions contender.
- Thomas Francis – Exeter -Another victim of the letter of the law this season after seeing red against Halequins. Propping up a very decent scrum down at Sandy Park.
- Maro Itoje – Saracens -The form player in every element. Rate at which he has taken to international rugby is frightening. An athlete who is probably the first name on this team sheet.
- George Kruis – Saracens -The partnership he is building with Itoje for club and country is Matfield & Botha-esque. Hugely powerful and the real ‘engine’ in the ‘engine room’.
- Ross Moriarty – Gloucester -Has always shown potential but has started to discover how to use it this season. On paper part of an awesome Gloucester back row but he is the current star of it.
- Jack Clifford – Harlequins -No.1 choice to replace Haskell in the test side before he was injured. A fierce competitor over the ball and an enticing contest against Thompson here.
- Billy Vinupola – Saracens -Becoming more dominant with every game. He has no right to be making the breaks and collisions he regularly does late in games with his size & bulk on board. Nothing between him and Taulupe Faletau for Lions’ shirt.
- Kahn Fotuali’i – Bath -The ‘Aaron Smith of the Premiership’. Game management and forward marshalling along with partnership between himself and George Ford have got Bath to where they are at this stage.
- Gareth Steenson – Exeter -After an early season experiment with Henry Slade at 10, Exeter have gone back to the Steenson/Slade combo at 10/12 with dramatic effect. His game control is remarkable.
- Anthony Watson – Bath -Playing on his less favoured wing, he is talented enough to cover both and is still one of the most exciting players to watch in the league. Has made the England berth his own.
- Owen Farrell – Saracens -You cannot deny what Farrell gives you as a player. Though not graced with the natural skills and fluency of a Cipriani or the man outside of him – Henson – he is a tough, no-nonsense and dependable rugby player. Oh and he can kick a bit.
- Gavin Henson – Bristol -A rugby player who divides opinion like no other. He is a gifted runner with the ball in two hands with a strong defense. Very few have as much time on the ball as Henson appears to and that, you cannot teach.
- Jack Nowell – Exeter -Both England wingers in the side for obvious reasons. Nowell not as flashy a runner as Watson but equally effective.
- Alex Goode – Saracens -With an ability to seemingly always evade the first tackle, this inevitably leads to gains every time he gets the ball. As dangerous a counter attacker as any in the league.
Director of Rugby – Mark McCall
In any North v South clash; as seen in the New Zealand Super Rugby context and across the rugby globe, it is a parallel world. Teammate v mate, and with regional lines meaning balance is only ever, on a geographical basis.
With those two sides selected, ‘Who do you think would win?’
Main Photo Credit