After the seemingly interminable years of muscle-bound attrition and endless, mindless scrums, 2013 was the year rugby got its groove back. From Kurtley Beale's last-gasp slip in Brisbane, to the All Blacks' incredible injury-time try in Dublin, this year has served up an endless torrent of tragedy, tribulation and titanic achievement.
The task of distilling all those epic clashes into a team of the year is an invidious one. How do you choose between the fire of Israel Dagg and the icy composure of Leigh Halfpenny at full-back? How can you pick an open-side when there are brilliant contenders everywhere, from the galloping Justin Tipuric to the totemic Thierry Dusatoir? And how can you select a front-row when there are any number of young bulls rampaging around the international stage?
Our team of the year has been whittled down after much agonising and debate. But, finally, we have 15. Here are the chosen ones:
Full-back: Leigh Halfpenny (Wales) – Six Nations player of the tournament, Lions record breaking points scorer both in a series and a single test and runner up in the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year, Halfpenny just edges out the brilliant Dagg. He was highly influential in this year's autumn internationals and scored all of Wales' points in epic match against South Africa at the Millenium Stadium. The bigger the game, the better he performs.
Right wing: Julian Savea (New Zealand) – Lightening quick, murderous in contact and not a small man either, reminds me of a certain Jonah Lomu. Scourge of England and many others in 2013.
Outside centre: Ben Smith (New Zealand) – This utility back was a fantastic winger but now seems to have settled at outside centre for the All Blacks, where he can utilise his handling dexterity as well as his finishing prowess. Smith scored 13 tries for the All Blacks last season and 2014 is sure to be no different.
Inside centre: Wesley Fofana (France) – Relatively new to our screens, Fofana picked up player of the year for the 2012/13 season and is the complete centre. He is a powerful line-breaker at 12 and always looking for the offload out of contact.
Left wing: George North (Wales) - At only 21 years old North already has two Six Nations titles under his belt and was a star player for the Lions, scoring a superb solo try in the first test. And who could forget the moment he stunned audiences after slinging the defending Israel Folou over his shoulder in the second Test. A wonderful player to watch, this man has strength, agility and speed and always seems to pop up just where you need him.
Fly-half: Quade Cooper (Australia) – Must be lauded for reinventing himself on the back of controversial off-the-field incidents. Cooper reached his 50<sup>th test this autumn and can often be found at the heart of an Australian performance. His abilities are manifold and his passing and ball handling skills out of this world. Was missed against the Lions.
Scrum-half: Will Genia (Australia) - A sniping and intelligent scrum half and one of the world's greatest footballers around, When the Genia gets out of the bottle, there's almost no stopping him.
Loosehead: Tony Woodcock (New Zealand) - Received his 100<sup>th cap in 2013 and is widely considered to be the best loose-head prop in the business. Made a habit of setting the ideal platform for the backs.
Hooker: Richard Hibbard (Wales) - Made an impact when selected for his first Lions tour this summer and appeared in all three tests. Deceptively quick for such a well-built man, he is effective at the line-out but partiularly shines with the ball in hand.
Tighthead: Dan Cole (England) - It's hard to think of Cole ever doing anything flamboyant in a game, but that's not what he's there for. His job is to keep the scrum steady, lift in the line-out and make his share of tackles, and he's highly competent in all three areas. With Alex Corbisiero emerging on the other side of the scrum, England have a teak-tough bedrock for years to come.
Lock: Eben Etzebeth (South Africa) – A mountain of a man with self-belief and explosive power, the Springboks strength and conditioning coach even had to invest in bigger weights to satisfy this second rower. Etzebeth was called up to the South African senior squad just last year and has already made a name for himself.
Lock: Geoff Parling (England) - Like Corbisiero, this summer saw Parling fly out with the Lions with little fanfare, but he soon established himself with his shrewd line-out calls and high work-rate. Will be missed with a shoulder injury.
Blindside flanker: Sergio Parisse(Italy) – Ok, so we're rejigging the team a bit here, but Parisse is more than good enough to make the switch from No.8. A born leader of men and a talisman of Italian rugby, he has been known to carry his whole team on his back – not to mention the opposition.
Openside flanker: Ritchie McCaw (New Zealand) – No dream team would feel right without this giant of rugby. McCaw has been part of our lives and represented New Zealand for well over a decade now. Led one of the great teams in sport to an unbeaten Test season after stealing victory from the Irish in November and securing the All Black's 14<sup>th straight win.
No.8: Kieran Read (New Zealand) – Who better to complete the 2013 team of the year than the IRB player of the year himself? Read followed Dan Carter and Ritchie McCaw into the IRB hall of fame this year having won almost every other accolade this year. Awesome in every facet of the game.