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RugbyPass Top 100: Picking the 30th to 21st best players in the world

By RugbyPass
(Photos: Getty Images / Photosport)

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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.

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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.

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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 30-21, with the remainder of the list to be released over the course of this week.

30. Damian de Allende

Age: 30
Test caps: 58
Nation: South Africa
Club: Munster

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(Photo by Jono Searle/Getty Images)

A bona fide Springboks veteran, Damian de Allende’s value to the South African national team cannot be denied. A 2019 World Cup champion, the Munster man has been an invaluable asset to South Africa since his test debut in 2014, with his powerful frame and elusive footwork becoming a common sight in the Springboks backline. In 2021, De Allende started in all but two tests for the Springboks and looks set to resume his world-class midfield partnership with Lukhanyo Am this year.

29. Rieko Ioane

Age: 24
Test caps: 47
Nation: New Zealand
Club: Blues

(Photo by Jono Searle/Getty Images)

One of the standouts for New Zealand in an underwhelming All Blacks season, Rieko Ioane will bring up half a century of test caps by the age of 25 this year. That’s no mean feat, and it’s a reflection of how he has realised the potential almost everyone saw in him as a 17-year-old when he burst onto the professional scene back in 2015. After two below-par seasons in 2019 and 2020, Ioane was back to his best last year in his new home at centre, which is where he will likely stay in 2022.

28. Makazole Mapimpi

Age: 31
Test caps: 25
Nation: South Africa
Club: Sharks

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(Photo by Paul Devlin/SNS Group via Getty Images)

Among the stars of South Africa’s World Cup success in 2019, Makazole Mapimpi remains at the top of his game at international level. That’s impressive for a 31-year-old winger, but Mapimpi’s nose for the tryline and finishing prowess makes him a first-choice selection for the Springboks, as was the case in all but two of their test matches in 2021.

27. Freddie Steward

Age: 21
Test caps: 5
Nation: England
Club: Leicester Tigers

England Steward Biggar Barrett
(Photo by Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images)

After making his test debut against the USA Eagles in July, England fullback Freddie Steward has emerged as one of the game’s most promising young talents. An imposing physical specimen whose size and kicking game are his points of strength, the 21-year-old featured in all three of England’s Autumn Nations Series matches against the Springboks, Wallabies and Tonga. Steward starred in all three fixtures, especially against South Africa and Australia, cementing his place as one of the hottest properties in world rugby.

26. Jack Conan

Age: 29
Test caps: 25
Nation: Ireland
Club: Leinster

Lions Conan Warburton
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Ireland loose forward Jack Conan has been part of his national squad for quite some time now, but he is now beginning to forge a reputation for himself as one of rugby’s top back rowers. His selection in the British and Irish Lions squad to tour South Africa, as well as his three test starts against the Springboks, is evidence of that, as was his involvement in Ireland’s demolition of the Brave Blossoms and All Blacks in November.

25. Faf de Klerk

Age: 30
Test caps: 36
Nation: South Africa
Club: Sale Sharks

(Photo by Scott Powlick / www.photosport.nz)

Blessed with his iconic blonde locks, Springboks halfback Faf de Klerk is the beating heart of South Africa’s kick-heavy game plan. While that style of play has drawn widespread criticism, its effectiveness has benefitted the Springboks and De Klerk’s kicking game and directorship has been crucial in his side’s success. Although it’s rarely seen in the test arena, De Klerk is also equipped with an impressive running game, and his standing in South Africa’s squad makes him a key figure leading into their World Cup defence next year.

24. Hamish Watson

Age: 30
Test caps: 46
Nation: Scotland
Club: Edinburgh

Lions Watson Jones
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

He has been part of the Scotland side since 2015, but Hamish Watson enjoyed a breakout year at test level in 2021. After claiming Six Nations Player of the Tournament following a string of compelling displays, Watson’s defensive work ethic and tenacity at the breakdown earned him selection in the British and Irish Lions squad. Constantly punching above his weight, Watson is among a core group of players who are primed to help push Scotland to greater honours in 2022.

23. Malcolm Marx

Age: 27
Test caps: 46
Nation: South Africa
Club: Kubota Spears

(Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

Despite his involvement primarily as a bench player for the Springboks as part of the infamous ‘Bomb Squad’, Malcolm Marx remains arguably the best hooker on the planet. His barnstorming running game and exceptional breakdown work makes him an extremely player for any team to have, and it’s hard to believe he is still only 27-years-old given how long he has been a key member of the Springboks squad.

22. Marcus Smith

Age: 22
Test caps: 5
Nation: England
Club: Harlequins

Jones Smith England
(Photo by PA)

Alongside Steward, mercurial playmaker Marcus Smith looms as one of England’s brightest young talents. The 22-year-old’s potential has long been heralded since his Premiership debut as a teenager, but that talent wasn’t realised until a dream run of result last year. That included a title-winning domestic campaign with Harlequins, a test debut against the USA and a call-up to the British and Irish Lions and a nomination for World Rugby Player of the Year, all of which culminated in Smith becoming England’s first-choice No 10 by the end of the year.

21. Beauden Barrett

Age: 30
Test caps: 101
Nation: New Zealand
Club: Blues

Beauden Barrett
(Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Heading into the 2021 international season, debate swirled over who would start at No 10 for the All Blacks between Beauden Barrett and Richie Mo’unga. By the end of the season, there was no question that Barrett was the leading contender for that role. The two-time World Rugby Player of the Year benefitted from Mo’unga’s prolonged absence from the Rugby Championship and made first-five position his own as he brought up a century of tests in stunning fashion against Wales in October.

Click here to view players ranked 31-40

Click here to view players ranked 41-50

Click here to view players ranked 51-60

Click here to view players ranked 61-70

Click here to view players ranked 71-80

Click here to view players ranked 81-90

Click here to view players ranked 91-100

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