Planet Rugby

Farrell's POTY nomination a mistake

29th November 2012 12:25

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Owen Farrell England v South Africa 2012

Surprise pick: Owen Farrell

On what proved to be a difficult day for the IRB following the five-week ban handed out to Andrew Hore, the general reaction to Owen Farrell's inclusion on the shortlist of nominees for this year's IRB Player of the Year award has been one of derision and surprise.

First and foremost, Farrell is a great talent who made important progress during his first year in the Test arena, with crucial kicks against Scotland and Italy in the Six Nations leading to England's second place finish.

He is not the type to arrogantly swagger around following the news of his nomination - if anything he will be slightly embarrassed.

Farrell will be around for some time too and will continue to improve, but was he one of the top four players in the world over the last 12 months? Absolutely not.

The Player of the Year award is designed to celebrate the sport, not mock it, yet since Richie McCaw contentiously picked up the award in 2009 ahead of Brian O'Driscoll and Fourie du Preez, the system has left itself open to scepticism.

Although McCaw and 2005 winner Dan Carter have been phenomenal and are clear frontrunners, there are still six or so players whose performances over the last 12 months deserve to be recognised ahead of Farrell and perhaps as well Frédéric Michalak.

The immediate name that springs to mind is Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe. Argentina's talisman has led them superbly throughout the first Rugby Championship and then the November Internationals, with the draw against South Africa and win against Wales in Cardiff both testament to the Pumas' growth in 2012.

In this bold new era for Argentinian rugby, they need a leader who possesses both outstanding leadership skills but is also a world-class talent. Fernández Lobbe's offload for Argentina's first try against Wales defines his talent perfectly.

But what about Kieran Read? The undisputed best number eight in the world, Read's form has not dipped in about two years. On top of that, he has been the best player in the world's best team throughout 2012, with the All Blacks winning 12 tests and drawing one. His team-mate Israel Dagg has also done enough to be involved from full-back.

Then there is Bryan Habana. 2012 has been a renaissance year for one of South Africa's all-time greats, with seven tries in nine Tests including a hat-trick against Australia. His young team-mate Eben Etzebeth is another worthy of recognition, with his performance against England at Twickenham underlining what a promising talent he is.

Finally, despite Wales' slump from the high of a Grand Slam to a winless tour of Australia and three defeats so far in the November Internationals, Leigh Halfpenny has remained constantly impressive. One of the first on the plane for the Lions tour next year, Halfpenny's solidity under the high ball, pace going forward and excellent kicking game make him worthy of nomination.

All of those six players would have been included without great contention, yet now Farrell must prepare to face fellow nominee Carter on Saturday with the added pressure of being labelled as one of the four best players in the world. It has been hard enough alone for him to re-gain the starting fly-half spot for England, only getting his opportunity due to Toby Flood's injury.

For such an esteemed panel of Will Greenwood, Gavin Hastings, Raphaël Ibanez, Francois Pienaar, Agustín Pichot, Scott Quinnell, Tana Umaga and Paul Wallace to opt for a bizarre pick is surprising, but what it makes clear is this.

The IRB Player of the Year award clearly does matter to fans and the media, otherwise there would not be such an uproar over Farrell's inclusion. By continuing in the future to make similar eccentric picks, the award will lose it's value.

by Ben Coles

@bencoles_

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