Last week, World Rugby announced their 5-man shortlist for the World Rugby Men’s 15s Player of the Year 2018. This year’s list surprisingly omits Tadhg Furlong (a prop has still never been nominated) and David Pocock despite impressive seasons, leaving Malcolm Marx as the only forward on the list, while Ireland’s Johnny Sexton is the only representative from the Northern Hemisphere.
So who deserves the award this year? I thought it would be interesting to have a look at the 5 nominees and see who I feel should be named Player of the Year.
The New Zealand fly half has been the winner the last 2 years and has the opportunity to match Dan Carter and Richie McCaw as the only players to win the award 3 times, but honestly I think he has made the list this year on the strength of his previous seasons and his role as the All Blacks’ starting 10 rather than on the strength of his performances.
While he is still an above average fly half, I think that this season he has benefited from the quality of his supporting cast and I think that his goal kicking has been too unreliable. I may be in the minority here, but I would love to see Richie Mo’unga to be given the starting 10 role for a while to create a fight for the coveted position.
Barrett is undeniably a talent, but I think both David Pocock and Tadhg Furlong have done more this year to justify a spot on the list.
Faf de Klerk
The Springboks turnaround under Rassie Erasmus has been phenomenal and a big part of that has been the play of de Klerk. The Sale scrum half is probably the form 9 in World Rugby at the moment and does a wonderful job of hassling the opposition (just ask Aaron Smith during the Rugby Championship and Nathan Hughes in the June Tests). Not only that but in attack he has done a good job of keeping the ball coming to the backs quickly and has also given an extra dimension to South Africa’s play with his tactical kicking.
Though I may be an England fan, I really wish the weekend’s Test match against South Africa had been inside World Rugby’s Test window so that he and Willie le Roux could play, even though that would have likely given them the victory.
Ioane has played in 8 matches for the All Blacks this year and amassed 11 tries, 2 assists, and 771 metres off 35 carries with 36 defenders beaten and 26 clean breaks.
Like Barrett, while he obviously benefits from being in a fantastic team, Ioane is a real talent with incredible space and footwork but is also deceptively strong in contact. This year has been no fluke as he has 22 tries from 21 Tests for New Zealand in his career and I will not be surprised to see him pushing for the record of most tries in a World Cup, currently held by Brian Habana, Jonah Lomu and Julian Savea.
The second South African on this list, I am a big fan of Marx and recently picked him in my World XV Challenge. He is a powerful ball carrier and in defence it is like having an extra flanker on the pitch. When South Africa have a lineout within 10 metres of the opponent’s line, I have just got to the point now that I expect to see Marx at the back of a driving maul going over for a try.
Unfortunately for Marx, he does have a weakness at the moment – his unreliable lineout throwing – which proved costly against England at the weekend and will probably stop him from winning this year’s award.
What a year Ieland have had! A 6 Nations Grand Slam and a series victory against Australia in the June Tests represents on of their best ever years, and Sexton has been at the heart of this.
He may not be the most reliable kicker off the tee, but his command of his back line is incredible and even though everyone knows his classic wraparound move is coming, they still seem incapable of stopping it. Add in his willingness to play a high bomb into the opposition 22 and his supremely accurate kicking out of hand and he is arguably one of – if not the best – 10s in the world right now, especially when he can stay in one piece as he has done more so this year.
If he can earn Irleand the victory over New Zealand later this month, then he is surely a shoe-in for the award!
So who gets the vote? I decided to ask a couple of friends for their opinions having looked at the shortlist. Phil is a colleague from work and an England fan, while Tino is an old uni friend and former Pistol Shrimps teammate who supports England and Italy.
Phil’s vote: Faf de Klerk
Tino’s vote: Johnny Sexton
As for me? While I want to give the award to Ioane for such a prolific season, I think the run of 6 consecutive awards for Kiwis is coming to an end. De Klerk very nearly got my vote and could still get it if he can help lead South Africa to victories over France, Scotland and Wales. But for me, this year’s winner has to be Johnny Sexton, irrespective of the result against the All Blacks.
Who gets your vote?