Next week, rugby royalty from across the globe will gather to dish out a range of coveted awards.
Chief amongst those awards is the World Rugby Player of the Year, a prize handed to the player that has stood out from amongst his peers throughout the international season.
Since it was first conceived in 2001, the award has been given to thirteen different players. New Zealanders Beauden Barrett (twice), Dan Carter and Richie McCaw (both three times) have all risen to the top on more than one occasion.
In the four World Cup years that the Player of the Year has been awarded, a finalist has earned the title. Only once, in 2011, did the award go to a losing finalist – in that instance, Thierry Dusautoir.
World Rugby will announce their nominations in the coming days – who is likely to be on the shortlist for 2010?
Continue reading below…
Maro Itoje (England)
Maro Itoje has already been nominated for the Player of the Year award on two occasions, 2016 and 2017.
Itoje actually won the Breakthrough Player of the Year award in 2016, after debuting against Italy in the Six Nations.
The future England captain has gone from strength to strength this year and played a massive part in his side’s semi-final shut-out of New Zealand.
England's defeat of New Zealand wasn't just physicality and passion.
It was also ruthlessly planned
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 27, 2019
He’s regularly one of the top tacklers on matchday and causes havoc in opposition lineout feeds. With a 91% tackle success rate to his name, Itoje is not just destructive but also highly accurate.
Despite being just 24 years-old, another man-of-the-match performance in the final would almost certainly instate Itoje as the favourite to be crowned Player of the Year.
Owen Farrell (England)
Like his fellow countryman, Farrell was nominated for the award in 2016 and 2017, when England won the Six Nations. Farrell also received a surprise nomination in 2012.
The England captain is one of the most criticised players in the world game – though that almost exclusively stems from his referee management skills and his propensity to use his shoulder in tackles.
Say what you will about Farrell’s captaining, but there are no questions that he’s been one of 2019’s top performers.
Farrell is kicking at 83% this year and has scored 173 points – the most by any player of the world circuit.
Flyhalves are the most frequently awarded winners of the Player of the Year award, with seven wins in total. Many expect a close contest in next week’s final between England and South Africa where the team with the better field possession and greater goal-kicking accuracy is most likely to come out on top. That sounds like a game made for Farrell.
Pieter-Steph du Toit (South Africa)
The Springboks’ converted flanker is yet to have a bad game in 2019.
Pieter-Steph du Toit has been on the international scene for South Africa since 2013 but has come of age this year, monstering opposition forward packs on both attack and defence.
du Toit has averaged almost 14 tackles per match this year and was the Springboks’ only forward to play in all three games of the Rainbow Nation’s Rugby Championship title run.
How the big South African matches up against England’s ‘kamikaze kids’ in next week’s final could have a large say on whether du Toit earns the Player of the Year award, but he’s been one of the Springboks’ best throughout 2019 and thoroughly deserves any platitudes he receives.
Ardie Savea (New Zealand)
It’s been a year dominated by defence in the international game, which is why loose forwards have stood out so much.
Ardie Savea entered the year as the All Blacks’ incumbent openside but has spent time in all three loose forward roles.
The flanker has been monstrous for New Zealand on both attack and defence – his leg drive is an absolute sight to behold.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 27, 2019
Despite there being questions in the past concerning Savea’s size, he’s stood up against larger opposition on more than one occasion in 2019 and did everything he could to get the All Blacks over the line in their semi-final loss.
For all the work that Savea does in the tight, he’s still one of the world’s best forwards when it comes to open-field running.
A third-place finish at best might hamper Savea’s chances at the top gong, but if World Rugby are willing to look outside the World Cup finalists for the Player of the Year then Savea would be a worthy recipient.
The best of the rest
Alun Wyn Jones (Wales) has been a tireless grafter for his side over the past 10 months and has led his team with aplomb. Being dubbed the Player of the Year would cap off an excellent career for the Northern Hemisphere’s most capped player.
Anton Lienert-Brown (New Zealand) wasn’t a shoo-in to even start in the midfield for the All Blacks but he’s taken his chances well and has regularly been one New Zealand’s best on the park.
Semi Radradra (Fiji) put on two of the best performances you’ll ever see in the Pacific Islanders’ pool games against Australia and Wales. In fact, there’s more than one player that stood out from the Flying Fijians but a pool stages exit won’t have helped their cause.
Cheslin Kolbe (South Africa) is excellent to watch and has re-affirmed the place of the ‘little men’ in world rugby.
Kazuki Himeno (Japan) wouldn’t have been on many people’s radars prior to the World Cup, but that’s all changed now. Himeno’s carrying was up there with the best and fans will be hoping to see more of the number 8 on the world stage moving forward. The same could be said for Japan’s wings, Kotaro Matsushima and Kenki Fukuoka.
Japan stood out at the 2019 World Cup for their exciting play – what does the future hold for the Brave Blossoms?:
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