The 50 best rugby players of the year, part one: 50-41

Lawrence Nolan
Maro Itoje, Caelan Doris and Owen Farrell in Ireland v England fixture.

Maro Itoje, Caelan Doris and Owen Farrell in Ireland v England fixture.

It’s the end of another rugby year, the end of another Rugby World Cup cycle, indeed, in a couple of cases it’s the end of a career, even the end of an era.

So with all that in mind, the scribes here at Planet Rugby towers put their heads together and nominated their top 50 international players of the past year.

It was a long night. The office first-aid kit is still missing, while accounts has already fired off several mails with us in CC, asking exactly how they believe that such items count as ‘expenses’. One of us doesn’t have a chair to sit on any more (although the window has been fixed), another will now only communicate to the others by recorded mail. Another still has been told that he shouldn’t set foot in Ireland again.

But the deal has been thrashed out, agreed upon, and here it is. Starting now, and culminating on the eve of the new year, this is Planet Rugby’s 50 to 1 of the world’s best players.

50. Angus Bell

Still only 23, Bell’s best years are ahead of him as a prop, assuming the injury curse does not bite. Australia were not up to much in France for a wide variety of reasons, but Bell had a statement game in the Bledisloe Cup against New Zealand in June, while coaches are united in praise for his work-rate outside of just scrums and ball carries. A future great of the front-row.

49. Duhan van der Merwe

Probably didn’t have quite the impact at the World Cup he wanted, but Scotland’s favourite South African scorched into the year with that try against England. 21 tries in 34 Tests is a fine record, and he remains Scotland’s go-to man for front-foot ball in the wide spaces.

48. Davit Niniashvili

Georgia’s hot-stepping back three player was a standout for the Lelos at the World Cup, along with fly-half Luka Matkava, who just missed the cut. Still only 21, he’s already notched 24 caps and 48 points for the Georgians, while Lyon are fully cognisant of the talent they have acquired. He was honoured by Midi-Olympique as the young talent of the season in March.

47. Raffaele Storti

Portugal’s try machine, Storti racked up 11 tries in 13 matches in the Pro D2 with Beziers last season, before helping Portugal to their historic World Cup campaign. He’s still at Beziers, although officially only on loan from Stade Francais, who have already tried to get him back early.

46. Maro Itoje

It’s not been his best year, although it says much about Itoje that even on an average year he’s in the top 50. His career is now at a fascinating crossroads, where he may end up a victim of the English salary crunch and end up playing in the Top 14 next season – a fitting place for a lock of his gladiatorial qualities.

45. Owen Farrell

Farrell remains one of international rugby’s most consistent performers. He might polarize opinion day-to-day, but there’ll be few who don’t think he’s been one of England‘s best-ever pivots and we hope to see him back in white when he’s ready.

44. Johnny Sexton

An anti-climactic year for Sexton saw him banned for three matches for abusing officials and his career come to an end with a heartbreaking defeat to New Zealand in the World Cup quarter-final. He’s been Leinster and Ireland‘s fly-half for so long, it’s hard to imagine either without him. How both do this season will be illustrate of just how important he was; it’s indicative that Leinster stumbled when he was injured at the end of last season.

43. Damian Willemse

There’s a rumour going around that he’s still in his World Cup final kit somewhere in Paris. Probably not South Africa’s answer at fly-half, but Willemse cemented his place as South Africa’s full-back successor to Willie le Roux in France and can look forward to a long stint in the jersey.

42. Caelan Doris

A shoo-in in Ireland’s back-row and a worthy successor to a long line of great Irish number eights, Doris was another who shone at the World Cup and is likely to be a part of the next squad heading into Australia in 2027.

41. Peter O’Mahony

There might not be a more competitive person in Irish rugby – any rugby – than Munster’s long-time captain (he just stepped down), Irish centurion and one-time British and Irish Lions captain. 10 years of international service are yet to end officially, meaning there may yet be a farewell Six Nations or two, but it is unlikely he would ever voluntarily step away from anything.

READ MORE: The 50 best rugby players of the year, part two: 40-31