Player of the Year: Nominations 2021

Usually we wouldn't be so compelled to make such a list, as like the Ballon d'Or in Football and the Sports Personality of the Year prove, Player of the Year awards are pretty pointless. Especially for team sports, in which you can't possibly compare the contribution of one player over another when in different positions... That's why we have different positions, to do different things.

In Rugby however, it has become increasingly popular to not see that number on the back of someone's jersey as a defined role, but rather a cog in a finely oiled machine. If Eddie Jones has anything to say on the matter, which you can almost guarantee that he does, it's about getting the best players, with the best chemistry on the pitch, not about squeezing to traditional positional norms; gosh I sound quite progressive there!

With that in mind, can we quickly remark on how World Rugby did a terrible, inexcusable job at conveying the overall consensus on who is the Player of the Year? We rate Itoje as highly as anyone, and he did have as strong Lions tour, but a season in the Championship and a largely woeful Six Nations cannot buy him an easy trip into this list. Samu Kerevi is an excellent player, currently hitting his peak and putting in a couple of strong performances in the Rugby Championship, but he wasn't even in the top three centres of that competition when push comes to shove - also, are we forgetting that Henshaw had a fantastic Six Nations too? Hooper and Dupont perhaps deserve their nominations slightly more, with Dupont in particular becoming the darling of French Rugby, and Hooper steering a new look Australian side to unlikely victories over the Springboks - but even then, I can't honestly say that Hooper has been the best back rower this year.

We've kept the format, and we've decided to pick our top four players of the season, just to be petty a**holes. We've then crowned who we think should be player of the season below... Feel free to shout at us too!

Lukhanyo Am (South Africa)

As an Englishman, it might surprise you to state that it is an absolute TRAVESTY that Lukhanyo Am was not nominated for World Rugby's Player of the Year. He has quite clearly been the best Centre on the international scene. His tackling is aggressive, and largely dominant too, his link up play with De Allende creates the best partnership in World Rugby, his offloads have dedicated highlight reels on YouTube, with exception of a duff game against Australia, he's consistently been one of the best players on the pitch. A Lions tour under his belt (in which he truly shone), potentially a clean sweep Autumn Nations tour on the cards - it's ridiculous that he wasn't in this conversation as one of the first names down.

Honourable Mentions: Damian De Allende, Robbie Henshaw


Jack Conan (Ireland)

Again, Conan seems to have been completely forgotten about in not just World Rugby's discussions, but also the wider debate about their silly shortlist. One of the ultimate big game players, we most recently saw him take on that formidable All Black back row and send it running, he's rarely even seemed a hair off of the pace throughout his frenetic year of Rugby. Tries against the likes of England in their Six Nations beating, two tries on tour with the Lions, a single penalty given away over all fixtures with Ireland, makes him one of the most complete, and impactful 8's on the international scene. You take into account some of the 8's he's played against this season, and these numbers become even more impressive - he's had one up over Vunipola, Savea, Fagerson, Leitch - pretty much every type of 8 going.

Honourable Mentions: Ardie Savea, Duane Vermeulen, Michael Hooper


Antoine Dupont (France)

Right, so this one we actually agree with, and if we were to pick a POTY candidate for World Rugby to stick to, it would have to be this guy. He has been the best Scrum Half in international Rugby this year, and you can moan and scream all you want about Aaron Smith, but he simply hasn't had the consistent game time that the young Frenchman has had at that level this season. I'm not just picking him here because I won 50 quid on a bet that he'd score earlier this year (although it is satisfying to know I actually got something right for a change), I'm picking him because he was the outstanding 9 against all opposition he's faced so far this season. Dominant against the likes of Tomos Williams, Conor Murray and Ben Youngs (even though France went on to lose), he made those players look ordinary due to his immensely quick thinking and dynamic, attacking ability. Even a poor showing against the All Blacks this weekend wouldn't really do enough to deter him off of this list - also being a European cup winner also helps his cause.

Honourable Mentions: Richie Mo'unga, Marcus Smith, Faf de Klerk

Eben Etzebeth (South Africa)

Probably the toughest choice on this list, both literally and figuratively, Etzebeth squeezes in as our last nomination, I imagine to the annoyance of New Zealand fans everywhere (I just couldn't leave him out). For the best part of four years, if you asked me the one player in World Rugby I'd like to have on my side, the one that I think would make the biggest difference to my club, or the one I hate seeing my side play against the most, it would be Eben Etzebeth. He has had a goliath year, putting in MOTM level showings throughout the Lions tour and fronting up against the best the Northern Hemisphere had to offer. He also put in two outstanding, full match performances against Wales and Scotland most recently, reasserting himself at the top of the Second Row food chain. A lot is said about how strong that South African front row is and how it eats up any side they play against, but that pushing power also comes from the likes of Eben and Lood in the engine room. He's a beast, a true destroyer and a genuinely terrifying talent gearing himself up to being an all time great.

Honourable Mentions: Iain Henderson, Bernard Le Roux, Brodie Retallick


Our Pick for POTY: Lukhanyo Am

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