RugbyPass Top 100: Picking the 20th to 11th best players in the world
Who is the best player in the world? It’s a question every rugby fan has an answer for, but rarely are any two answers the same.
That’s why RugbyPass has undertaken a comprehensive deep dive into the last 12 months of test rugby to formulate an answer of our own.
In doing so, five members from our editorial team – split between the northern and southern hemispheres – compiled their own lists of the top 100 players on the planet.
From there, the cumulative lists were averaged out to create the RugbyPass Top 100, an overall list of the 100 best players on the planet based primarily on test rugby performances in 2021.
Other factors that, to a lesser extent, contributed to how players were ranked included test rugby performances from previous years, the influence of a player within their team, and how players fared at club and domestic level.
However, in essence, the RugbyPass Top 100 is a celebration of the stars who shone the brightest on rugby’s biggest stage last year.
That celebration continues today by announcing the players ranked 20-11, with the remainder of the list to be released over the course of this week.
20. Samu Kerevi
Test caps: 38
Club: Tokyo Sungoliath
Samu Kerevi spent 2020 in the international wilderness after making the transfer from the Reds to the Sungoliath following the 2019 World Cup and effectively removing himself from the Wallabies equation. That changed last year, however, when Rugby Australia tweaked the rules and when Kerevi made his return to the Wallabies midfield, the impact was immediate. Kerevi is the most devastating midfield ball-runner in the game at present and the momentum he was able to generate for his side in the early parts of last season paved the way for much of the Wallabies’ success – including their two wins over the Springboks. It came as no surprise when the Wallabies struggled on their end of year tour, with Kerevi back in Japan.
19. Ronan Kelleher
Test caps: 15
Not many 23-year-olds earn selection for the British and Irish Lions but it shows how highly regarded Ronan Kelleher is that he was called up by Warren Gatland for the latter stages of the Lions’ tour to South Africa, even if the Irish hooker never made it onto the park. Kelleher is one of the few players on the RugbyPass Top 100 to have debuted after the 2019 World Cup but it shows just how integral the young hooker has quickly become to his nation that he’s so high on the list following a stellar 2021 season that saw him take over as Ireland’s first-choice rake.
18. Jordie Barrett
Test caps: 36
Nation: New Zealand
2021 was a coming-of-age season for Jordie Barrett, who had to fight off Damian McKenzie to claim the starting fullback jersey for the All Blacks. While Barrett didn’t necessarily showcase his ball-running abilities on the test arena that he’s become so known for with the Hurricanes, his work under the high ball was up there with the best and he was well and truly tested in that area by South Africa, Ireland and France, but rarely put a foot wrong. For what felt like the first time in a long time, the All Blacks also had a first-rate goalkicker taking the kicking duties when Barrett was on the field – and it was his last-minute strike against the Springboks that handed NZ the victory in their first encounter of the year.
17. Quade Cooper
Test caps: 75
Club: Hanazono Kintetsu Liners
The Quade Cooper that returned to play for the Wallabies in 2021 was not the same Quade Cooper that last featured for the team four years earlier, that much was clear even from his first appearance in gold last season. While Cooper still seemingly possessed the subtle touches and X-factor that made him such a threat during his younger years, there was a new maturity and conservatism to the way the 33-year-old played – he picked and chose his moments with more forethought and guided the team around the park expertly. Notably, all five of the test matches that Cooper played in 2021 resulted in victories for Australia and if he can maintain his form from last year, there’s no reason why he can’t feature for the Wallabies at the 2023 World Cup.
16. Duane Vermeulen
Test caps: 59
Nation: South Africa
While the Springboks still ultimately managed a series win over the British and Irish Lions last year, it wouldn’t be unfair to suggest that the result could have been somewhat more emphatic had South African talisman Duane Vermeulen not been invalided from the entirety of the series. Vermeulen’s return to the test arena coincided with three straight losses for the Springboks but there was no doubt that the loose forward’s prowess on the kick return and at the base of the scrum added hugely to the world champions’ arsenal on attack. If injury doesn’t preclude Vermeulen from getting a solid run of club matches under his belt before taking the field for South Africa this year, expect the 35-year-old to put his best foot forward and try to guide the Boks towards a more emphatic season as the top-ranked side.
15. Gregory Alldritt
Test caps: 26
Club: La Rochelle
It didn’t take long for Gregory Alldritt to claim a spot in the starting lineup for Les Bleus, with the powerful loose forward debuting in the 2019 Six Nations and taking over as the first-choice number 8 later that season. The 24-year-old has been an automatic selection for France since and after a dogged start to 2021, was rested for his nation’s trip to Australia. Despite the considerable number of talented loosies in France, Alldritt is arguably the pick of the bunch and one of the first names on the teamsheet, forming a world-class 8-9-10 combination alongside Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack.
14. Johnny Sexton
Test caps: 107
It wasn’t long ago that many believed Johnny Sexton was on the way out. With a number of young up-and-coming flyhalves performing well in Ireland and Sexton entering his mid-thirties, it seemed that the death knell of a long and illustrious career was ready to ring. 2021 showed, however, that Sexton is far from finished with test rugby – and it shouldn’t surprise anyone if the centurion keeps weaving his magic in the emerald jersey until 2023. While Sexton did miss the Lions tour, that simply gave him plenty of time to recuperate after a strong showing in the Six Nations and the experienced out-half pulled the strings as only a man of his experience could during November.
13. Stuart Hogg
Test caps: 90
All things going to plan, Stuart Hogg will reach centurion status in 2022, becoming just the fourth Scottish player to manage such a feat. That’s a notable achievement for a man who appears to only be getting better as he clocks up more and more appearances. In 2021, Hogg started the year strongly, putting out some excellent performances in the Six Nations, but his form stuttered as the season wore on, resulting in him losing his starting spot for both the British and Irish Lions, and Exeter. Hogg reclaimed his best form later in the year, however, and finished the season on a high, captaining his nation to a well-deserved win over the Wallabies and scoring two tries against the Springboks in a loss that was a lot closer than the final 30-15 margin indicated.
12. Finn Russell
Test caps: 68
Club: Racing 92
Like his teammate Stuart Hogg, Finn Russell just seems to get better and better with age. While Russell has always played well in a Scotland jersey, his performance in the third test of the Lions series was perhaps one of the most compelling showcases of his career, given the importance of the match. Russell boasts as much X-factor as any other flyhalf on the planet but perhaps more importantly, he’s now honed his trade to the point where he’s not trying to throw the miracle ball at every play – although he still knows when to pull out all the stops to try and wrestle a game off the opposition.
11. Taniela Tupou
Test caps: 38
It’s not often said that one of the most exciting players to watch in the world is a front-rower, but that’s the kind of impact that Wallabies prop Taniela Tupou has had since he debuted for Australia in 2017. Tupou doesn’t always start for the Wallabies, but that’s seemingly so that Australia can bring out his excellent scrummaging and damaging ball-carrying when the opposition are tiring and Tupou can do the most damage. More than once this year, the 25-year-old has earned a crucial last-minute penalty at the set-piece to carry his nation to victory.
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