Coles should win World Player of the Year

Date published: November 8 2016

Even with three candidates from England’s Grand Slam-winning side, the award for the world’s best player should be heading back to New Zealand.

Six of the last seven winners have been All Blacks, but that doesn’t enter the argument here, because what Dane Coles achieved in Super Rugby with the Hurricanes, in the Test series against Wales and then in the Rugby Championship cemented his status as the best hooker in the world.

The reason he fits the bill is not only down to the fact that his set-piece work is of the highest order.

It is because he goes beyond the normal parameters of even the best hookers with his ability in the loose. Coles in 2016 has been a highlight reel waiting to happen.

Scoring spectacular tries is one thing, but how about this three assists against the Springboks in Christchurch, including that pass to Sam Whitelock?

Step back from those clips – not easy to do, given they run well into double figures – and something else has to be considered.

Coles captained the Hurricanes to a first-ever Super Rugby title, and now on the verge of turning 30, has become a senior figure for the All Blacks in a year when prior to last weekend’s loss to Ireland, they won ten straight games and frankly looked unbeatable.

Beauden Barrett has been right there alongside him when it comes to producing the spectacular, in the process making himself the All Blacks number one fly-half.

The snag with the Barrett argument is his goalkicking. While it never cost New Zealand a win, it has been enough of a problem for us all to take notice.

And who is to say it won’t be a problem in November? Prior to the start of this month, via the team over at, Barrett had converted only 51 of his 78 kicks for the All Blacks at a success rate of 65.4 per cent, ranking him 39th out of all international kickers this year. Their system also takes into account the difficulty of each attempt as well as the number of successful strikes.

More to the point, after the first 12 rounds of Super Rugby he ranked as the worst kicker in the competition, although that matters less when you are scoring and creating a hatful of blockbuster tries.

As for the rest, having three players from the same club shortlisted for the award is a remarkable achievement for Saracens, and a reflection of their dominance in the Premiership and Champions Cup this season as well as England’s revival under Eddie Jones.

Out of Maro Itoje, Owen Farrell and Billy Vunipola, the England lock has the strongest claims, having been named European Player of the Year and after his multi-month unbeaten stretch with club and country.

If he does not win it this year, and his claims this time for me are edged out by Coles, then he undoubtedly will in the future if he keeps up the same rate of progression. His presence on this shortlist and the one for ‘Breakthrough Player of the Year’ make him appear set to win the latter award.

Jamie Heaslip meanwhile won’t win, but has produced some of his best rugby for some time for Ireland this year, including last weekend in Chicago.

Others are very unlucky to miss out. Facundo Isa for one, the 22-year-old Argentina number eight, is on track to become the best in the world at his position and has shown that time and again this year.

Ben Smith too, the world’s top full-back, should have been considered for a second time having previously made the shortlist in 2013.

And had Coles not dominated this year, then Agustín Creevy would have received more recognition too. Conor Murray also put his hand up.

All will be revealed at Sunday’s awards but expect plenty of disagreement if Coles does not walk out with the trophy under his arm. In the age of the mobile front-rower, he has set new high standards.

by Ben Coles