Renowned rugby coach Jake White always says the 15 best players, position specific, never make for the best XV. It is why international Barbarians teams, no matter how star-studded, seldom beat the best national teams.
White won the 2007 Rugby World Cup as coach of the Springboks and in 2020/21 won Super Rugby Unlocked and the Currie Cup with the Bulls.
Jake’s words ring true of the highest paid players. If you picked the highest paid player in every position, how would that team look and how potent would they be? Would they be able to beat the the Springboks, the All Blacks, England, France, Wales, Ireland, Scotland or Argentina. Would they beat teams ranked as low as 10th?
Ruck.co.uk does fabulous things with their ‘five of ….’ series, be it the best five tackles, hardest five opponents, five favourite grounds etc, but the one I enjoyed the most was a recent ‘highest paid run on XV’.
South Africans featured prominently with Montpellier-based Handre Pollard the highest paid rugby player alongside former All Blacks winger Charles Piutau, who plays for Bristol’s Bears in the England premiership.
Toulon’s Springboks World Cup winner Eben Etzebeth (lock) is also in the top 5.
Pollard and Piutau are listed as earning R20 million a year, with Etzebeth and England’s lock Maro Itoje, the next best on R16.5 million. Then comes retired All Blacks captain Kieran Read on R16 million at Japanese club Toyota Verblitz.
Springboks scrumhalf Faf de Klerk is ranked 11th with an annual salary of R12 million. He joined the Sale Sharks in the English Premiership four years ago.
Here’s the starting XV, picked on who gets paid the most in each position.
Highest paid XV
15 – Beauden Barrett (R15.6m, Suntory Sungoliath)
14 – Charles Piutau (R20m, Bristol Bears)
13 – Virimi Vakatawa (R15.6m, Racing 92)
12 – Owen Farrell (R15m, Saracens)
11 – Stuart Hogg (R11m, Exeter Chiefs)
10 – Handre Pollard (R20m, Montpellier)
9 – Faf de Klerk (R12m, Sale Sharks)
8 – Kieran Read (R16m, Toyota Verblitz)
7 – Steven Luatua (R13m, Bristol Bears)
6 – Michael Hooper (R15m, Toyota Verblitz)
5 – Maro Itoje (R16.5m, Saracens)
4 – Eben Etzebeth (R18m, Toulon)
3 – Tadhg Furlong (R9.6m, Leinster)
2 – Guilhem Guirado (R10m, Montpellier)
1 – Mako Vunipola (R9m, Saracens)
The only two certainties in my World XV would be the two locks. They are the best in the world and the only player who could challenge them, when on form, is All Blacks second rower Brodie Retallick. I would pick one of Barrett or Pollard at 10, but wouldn’t pick any other player. I’d have a different fullback, two different wingers, a different midfield and an overall among the loosies and front row.
I’d have seven Springboks in my side and Pollard isn’t in the list of certainties among that seven. Neither is De Klerk.
For purposes of an occasion, the world champion Springboks, missing the Bok trio who make up the highest paid XV, would crush this team.
This team, as picked on annual earning, would struggle to make the top six in the French Top 14.
Which brings me back to Jake and his belief that the best XV individuals are never the best run on XV. Equally, the highest paid XV individuals.
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