'Clear winner': Former All Black says Will Jordan the favourite for Breakthrough Player award
Jordan had an incredible 2021 season in his second year of international rugby as he scored 15 tries in just 11 tests, including two outstanding efforts against Wales and Ireland on the recent end-of-year tour.
The 23-year-old outside back faces stiff competition from fellow nominees Andrew Kellaway (Australia), Louis Rees-Zammit (Wales) and Marcus Smith (England), all of whom were standouts this year, to bring home the award.
However, former All Blacks hooker James Parsons told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod that Jordan is the “clear winner” to be crowned Breakthrough Player of the Year.
“Rees-Zammit and Kellaway are extremely talented young men and have both had a massive year in terms of their career compared to where they were at the start to where they are now and well-respected they are internationally,” Parsons said.
The two-test rake believes Kellaway, the impressive Wallabies wing, will push Jordan for the honour, but added that the Crusaders flyer’s work without the ball, in addition to his try-scoring feats, should edge him ahead of his competitors.
“But I just can’t go past Will Jordan. Some of the things he’s pulled off this year are just freakish. He is seriously talented and I think a clear winner for me,” Parsons said.
“Even the ones he didn’t score, his assists and his work off-the-ball, he should win that one, I’m certain of. He’s pushed hard by Kellaway probably the most, in terms of breakout [ability].”
Complementing his ability to score tries at a rapid rate, Jordan ended up with 17 line breaks during the season, doubling that of Rieko Ioane, who had the second-most of any All Black with a total of nine.
Jordan’s Crusaders teammate Bryn Hall highlighted his ability to open up a defence as another key differentiator that adds weight to his case, showing that the youngster is a multi-faceted player who offered more than just finishing prowess.
“He’s grown up really fast, I think this year he’s taken it to another level,” Hall told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.
“His influence in games and big moments, whether it be a chip-and-chase against the Welsh team or off a counter-attack, getting through the middle and breaking through, and even his work rate off-the-ball as well, he’s world class.
“And, also defensively, he’s made massive improvement in that department, which is one thing he probably wanted to work on.
“I look at Kellaway, he’s had an outstanding year, someone that’s been earmarked for a while in that environment over there, but you just can’t go past Will Jordan.
“The tries he’s had, the ways that he’s scored them, the way he’s influenced games, I think it’s Will Jordan for sure.”
The rise of Jordan to reach this kind of form for the All Blacks was not lost on the Aotearoa Rugby Pod panel. As a schoolboy, he played halfback due to his lack of size and wasn’t picked in the New Zealand Schools side.
In fact, his first taste of national representative duties came as part of the New Zealand U20 side, where he played an integral role in helping the team become world champions in 2017.
“I think what it teaches you at that age, when you have a bit of adversity, you learn how to work hard,” Parsons told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.
“Your want and your desire to get to the top is a lot stronger because they’ve suffered that heartache earlier on.
“The impact that Will is having on games isn’t by luck. He’s working so hard off-the-ball, he’s creating more opportunities than not to be involved and has the opportunity to make a difference in these games.
“I think that is a cornerstone of his growth and his work ethic through his younger years. He’s still so young now, but you know what I mean, missing out on those [schoolboy] teams, is now probably his biggest strength.”
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