WORLD PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Boks and All Blacks snubbed by World Rugby for top honours but their excellence measured in other ways
The Springboks and All Blacks, the top two ranked teams in the world, missed out with no players in either side deemed good enough to make the shortlist for World Player of the Year.
World Rugby’s 2021 Player of the Year award is desperately lacking credibility after the four nominees for the prestigious award are from national teams with worse records than the All Blacks and Springboks.
New Zealand have won 10 of 12 matches and the Boks eight of 12, which are higher winning percentages than Australia and France where nominees Michael Hooper, Samu Kerevi and Antoine Dupont come from. England lock Maro Itoje is also nominated despite being part of an England team that came fifth in the Six Nations and part of a Lions team that lost the series to South Africa.
The panel of Maggie Alphonsi, Fiona Coghlan, Thierry Dusautoir, George Gregan, Richie McCaw, Brian O’Driscoll, Melodie Robinson, John Smit, and Clive Woodward, that settled on the four nominees are rugby luminaries, but the criteria they used to measure, is not clear.
Any regular watcher of rugby will be left scratching their heads. How All Black fullback Jordie Barrett, who has been consistently excellent in a team that has scored the most points ever in a calendar year and are on course for the most-ever tries in a single season, missed out is a mystery.
Kerevi has only played five Tests in 2021 while Dupont’s France finished third in the Six Nations and he didn’t tour Australia with Les Blues. France lost that series 2-1. Both Kerevi and Dupont have been very good when they have played, but have they been as good, let alone better than Jordie Barrett, Lukhanyo Am or Rieko Ioane at the top end?
Hooper has been good, as he always is, but Australia were hammered three times by the All Blacks and have just lost their opening two matches on their UK tour. It seems the Wallabies’ two wins over the Boks in Australia in September have weighted the nominations in Hooper and Kerevi’s favour.
The Springbok pack has dominated every opponent this year. By that logic, they must have some players who are decent at their jobs. Enter Eben Etzebeth and Siya Kolisi. The two great friends and teammates have been quite the double act for the Boks this year.
Kolisi has made 10 turnovers in Test rugby and has been influential in creating many more for his back row colleagues. He has also made some crucial tackles — on Robbie Henshaw in the second Test against the Lions and Louis Rees-Zammit against Wales two weeks ago.
Had either of those tries been scored at crucial times (the score was 6-6 in the Lions test close to halftime), the shape and outcome of the matches could’ve been different.
Kolisi has also captained the Boks to a series win over the Lions, an away win against the All Blacks and a first win in Cardiff in eight years. The Boks are the No 1 ranked team in the world and could end the season in top position if they beat England at Twickenham this weekend.
Etzebeth’s metrics are slightly harder to measure because the work he does is not as easily calculated. His ability to knock two or three tacklers back in contact on the gain line is crucial to the Bok momentum. He is a monstrously powerful scrummager behind the interchangeable and much-vaunted Bok front rows. There are several reasons why the Bok scrum is the most powerful in the world and Etzebeth is a big portion of that reason.
Etzebeth made 40 tackles in the Lions series, including a massive 20 in the deciding third Test.
But he has also evolved his game in the loose, where there are more deft offloads and often Etzebeth is on hand to snaffle one of the Boks’ aerial bombs, while his lineout work remains impeccable. If there was a better lock in world rugby in 2021, we must have missed him. It certainly isn’t the very good Itoje.
Bok forward’s coach Deon Davids happened to be on media duty an hour after the nominations were made public, and while he was diplomatic, he was unequivocal about whom he would choose between Etzebeth and Itoje.
“From the outset, I need to state that I have massive respect for both players and their abilities,” Davids said. “But it’s an easy question for me to answer. It would be Eben.
“Firstly, I’d go to war with Eben because he’s a fellow countryman. He’s been in outstanding form this year. What’s been special is how well he fulfils his fundamental duties. Most importantly, he brings an attitude to the jersey and physicality that’s the hallmark of so many great Springbok forwards.
“He’s such a brilliant ambassador for this team. He puts his body on the line for his country week-in and week-out. I believe what we must do is respect the process.
“The committee that decides (on the nominees) know what they are looking for and have made their decisions according to that. So congratulations to those players and coaches that are in the running. We wish them the best of luck.”
It’s the first time since 2004 that New Zealand have not had a nominee, which is quite staggering for a side that won the Rugby Championship, retained the Bledisloe Cup and have swapped the No 1 ranking with the Boks throughout the season.
The likes of Jordie Barrett, Richie Mo’unga, Rieko Ioane and Ardie Savea have all been outstanding, as has wing Will Jordan, who is nominated as a Breakthrough Player of the Year.
All Blacks coach Ian Foster has been nominated in the World Rugby Coach of the Year category, but despite the Boks’ No 1 ranking and success this season, Jacques Nienaber was not deemed good enough for a nomination.
Apparently, the world’s No 1 ranked team, who won a Lions series — widely regarded as a pinnacle alongside winning a World Cup — do not have a top-class coach. The Boks won that series after playing one Test in 20 months, which was probably the biggest rugby coaching achievement in recent history.
Awards are subjective and every year there are players and coaches that are unlucky to miss out. This time though, it feels like the snubs were just a little more personal.
Could it be that after a leaked video of SA director of rugby Rassie Erasmus dissecting 26 refereeing mistakes after the first Lions Test found its way into the public domain, the Boks are tainted goods?
That incident embarrassed World Rugby and Erasmus and Saru were charged under the disciplinary code. Hearings took place over a week in late October into early November and the findings are still being deliberated.
Regardless, the Boks are not making a fuss. This current crop has always been about collective strength and not individual glory. Every single one of them would give up a personal gong and rather finish the year as part of the top-ranked team in the world. DM
Selected nomination categories
World Rugby Men’s XVs Player of the Year
Antoine Dupont (France)
Michael Hooper (Australia)
Maro Itoje (England/British and Irish Lions)
Samu Kerevi (Australia)
World Rugby Women’s XVs Player of the Year
Zoe Aldcroft (England)
Caroline Boujard (France)
Laure Sansus (France)
Poppy Cleall (England)
World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year
Will Jordan (New Zealand)
Andrew Kellaway (Australia)
Louis Rees-Zammit (Wales)
Marcus Smith (England)
World Rugby Coach of the Year
Allan Bunting/Cory Sweeney (New Zealand Women’s Sevens)
Ian Foster (New Zealand Men)
Simon Middleton (England Women)
Dave Rennie (Australia Men)
International Rugby Players Men’s Try of the Year (fan vote)
Lukhanyo Am (South Africa, v British and Irish Lions on 31 July)
Pierre-Louis Barassi (France, v Australia on 17 July)
Luke Jacobson (New Zealand, v Argentina on 12 September)
Damian Penaud (France, v Scotland on 26 March)
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