Planet Rugby’s Team of the Year

Planet Rugby

As the year comes to a close, Planet Rugby sat down to select its best XV from the past 12 months of thrilling action.

Three players keep their places from the 2020 campaign but, unlike last year where they didn’t play a match, there is plenty of South African representation.

Planet Rugby’s Team of the Year

15 Jordie Barrett (New Zealand and Hurricanes): After several years battling to force his way into the side, Barrett finally cemented his place in the first team following a string of impressive performances in the full-back jersey. Damian McKenzie started off as the number one but it became quite clear that Barrett was the better option, given his skills under the high ball. The Hurricanes man also counter-attacked well and provided accuracy off the tee, which included a late winning penalty against South Africa. As a result, he sees off Stuart Hogg (Scotland) and Melvyn Jaminet (France).

14 Will Jordan (New Zealand and Crusaders): An outstanding first full season in Test rugby for the Crusaders star, who scored a staggering 15 tries in 11 internationals. Yes, eight of those were against Tonga and USA, but the only matches he failed to score in came against Argentina and France. Jordan has been compared to the legendary Ben Smith and you can see why as he makes the sport look so effortless. He has wonderful balance and an exceptional rugby brain, which means Australia’s Andrew Kellaway misses out.

13 Lukhanyo Am (South Africa and Sharks): The Springboks’ defensive master finally got the recognition he deserved in 2021 after another stellar campaign. Am is also very good in attack, as shown by his deft off-load for Damian de Allende’s try against New Zealand, but the way South Africa play rather negates his influence in that respect. Nevertheless, it doesn’t stop him from impressing and the Sharks centre deservedly gets in ahead of Scotland’s Chris Harris and New Zealand’s Rieko Ioane.

12 Samu Kerevi (Australia and Suntory Sungoliath): This was a tough call between him and Damian de Allende. It was a matter of whether we went for the South African’s consistency or Kerevi’s impact and we’ve gone for the latter. After almost two years away from international rugby, the 28-year-old made an immediate impression on his return. Kerevi might have only played five matches but he was arguably the Wallabies’ best player in all of them and helped them finish the Rugby Championship in fine form. As a result, he edged out the aforementioned De Allende, as well as Gael Fickou (France).

11 Makazole Mapimpi (South Africa and Sharks): In a team which doesn’t move the ball wide too often, Mapimpi has a staggeringly good scoring record. He now has 20 tries in 25 matches and helped the Springboks to a series victory over the British and Irish Lions, crucially touching down in the second Test. The wing also fits South Africa’s game plan perfectly with his ability under the high ball and sheer work ethic aiding his side in the territory battle. Duhan van der Merwe and Marika Koroibete were perhaps more eye-catching for Scotland and Australia respectively, but no one does the basics as well as Mapimpi.

10 Matthieu Jalibert (France and Bordeaux-Begles): This was a very tough call as no one was clearly ahead of the pack. Romain Ntamack perhaps produced the best fly-half performance of the year in France’s victory over New Zealand but he barely played any Test rugby in 2021. Instead, it was Jalibert who dictated proceedings from pivot during most of the Six Nations campaign. As a result, he was named in our Team of the Tournament and did enough to get into this side in front of New Zealand’s Beauden Barrett and Australia’s Quade Cooper.

9 Antoine Dupont (France and Toulouse): No contest here with the World Rugby Player of the Year head and shoulders above everyone else. Aaron Smith was excellent when he featured for New Zealand but was absent for quite a few Tests, while Ali Price was consistently good for Scotland. However, Dupont is simply a level, maybe even two levels, ahead of every other scrum-half on the planet. The Toulouse man has an incredible understanding of the game, has a sharp pass and is always a threat around the fringes. There’s no doubt in our minds that in a few years he will considered one of the best ever.

8 Ardie Savea (New Zealand and Hurricanes): One of the unlucky ones not to make it onto World Rugby’s shortlist for their prestigious Player of the Year award which was a baffling decision as he showed his class throughout the campaign in the All Blacks’ back-row. It was a no-brainer to have Savea in our team and what makes it more remarkable is that he comes in at number eight which is not his preferred position as he is primarily an openside flanker. Savea was in excellent form throughout the year and that consistency made him an easy choice for this position. Comes in ahead of France’s Gregory Alldritt and Australia’s Rob Valetini.

7 Siya Kolisi (South Africa and Sharks): This was a tough decision as Michael Hooper delivered several outstanding performances for the Wallabies throughout the year but we’ve settled for the Springbok captain, who had one of his best campaigns at international level. Tom Curry (England) and Hamish Watson (Scotland) also had their moments and although Kolisi is not a breakdown specialist in the mould of the aforementioned trio, he puts his body on the line in other areas and his team-mates usually reap the rewards. Counter-rucking, ball carrying and defence have been the standout features of his game while his leadership – especially in the series against the British and Irish Lions – also caught the eye.

6 Courtney Lawes (England, Lions and Northampton Saints): Also a fine second-row, Lawes has matured into an outstanding blindside flanker and he has taken his game to the next level in 2021. England had a forgetful Six Nations campaign but he had little to do with that as he only featured in two matches with his only start coming against Italy. The 32-year-old was injured during the latter part of that tournament which ruled him out for three months but he was fit for the Lions’ tour of South Africa and was one of the tourists’ best players. He started in all three of those Tests with his aerial work, carrying and defence superb throughout. Beats out Ireland’s Tadhg Beirne and New Zealand’s Ethan Blackadder.

5 Lood de Jager (South Africa and Sale Sharks): The gargantuan Sale Shark has had several injury blows since South Africa’s victorious 2019 Rugby World Cup campaign and was also laid low by Covid-19 earlier this year. But once he overcame those setbacks, De Jager soon found his best form and played a crucial part in the Boks’ triumphant series victory over the British and Irish Lions. The 29-year-old is arguably the best lineout exponent in the game and his aerial prowess helped him edge out Alun Wyn Jones (Wales).

4 Eben Etzebeth (South Africa and Toulon): Although there were fine performances from England’s Maro Itoje and New Zealand’s Brodie Retallick, this was a fairly easy choice as Etzebeth stood head and shoulders above his closest competitors and we can’t remember him playing poorly for his country in 2021. The Springbok enforcer was usually at the forefront of the world champions’ forward effort with his aerial, attacking and defensive work of a high quality throughout the year. Another surprising omission as a nominee for World Rugby’s Player of the year award but he is one of the favourites to be crowned South African Player of the Year.

3 Taniela Tupou (Australia and Reds): Started numerous Tests on the replacements bench for the Wallabies but when he did enter the playing field the ‘Tongan Thor’ usually made his presence felt with several excellent all-round performances. Be it in the implementation of his core duties or whether he was breaching defensive lines with his excellent attacking game, Tupou gave a 100 per cent in all of his endeavours and usually with devastating impact. He makes our team for the second successive year and beats out Tadhg Furlong of Ireland and Vincent Koch and Trevor Nyakane, who dovetailed superbly for South Africa throughout the campaign.

2 Julian Montoya (Argentina and Leicester Tigers): The Pumas had a forgetful year as they had much more defeats than victories but that was not due to a lack of effort from the Leicester Tiger, who was ever-present for his country in 2021. For a long time he was the understudy to Agustin Creevy, but the 29-year-old has cemented himself as his country’s first choice hooker with an outstanding skill-set and he has also impressed as the team’s captain. A strong ball carrier, solid scrummager and accurate with his lineout throw-ins, Montoya leads by example and beats out South African duo Malcolm Marx and Bongi Mbonambi, as well as France’s Julien Marchand.

1 Steven Kitshoff (South Africa and Stormers): Part of his country’s much vaunted ‘Bomb Squad’, the Stormers captain might make most of his Test appearances off the replacements bench but he usually makes a positive contribution in matches and is a valued member of the Springbok squad. The 29-year-old enjoys the physical nature of rugby with his scrummaging, while his attacking and defensive play are also top class features of his game. Cyril Baille and Wyn Jones also impressed for France and Wales respectively but it’s Kitshoff who gets the nod and completes the XV.

 

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Planet Rugby's Team of the Year 2021

Features writer James While delves into Planet Rugby's Team of the Year and what led us to choosing this XV.