1 – Cian Healy (Ireland) Now firmly entrenched amongst the very best looseheads in world rugby, he had a massive year winning a Heineken Cup with Leinster and starting all ten tests for his country. A certain Lions tourist and clear favourite for the no1 jersey.
2 – Adriaan Strauss (South Africa) A tough position to choose with several good players but no obvious standout, the Cheetahs captain enjoyed his finest international season, filling in superbly for Bismarck du Plessis and edging the likes of his cousin Richardt Strauss and resurgent French dynamo Dimitri Szarzewski.
3 – Dan Cole (England) An absolute rock for club and country, started all twelve tests and is now arguably the best tighthead in the world. Only Adam Jones can possibly keep him from the starting Lions spot.
4 – Eben Etzebeth (South Africa) What an introduction to international rugby! A more than capable replacement for Bakkies Botha, he started all but one test in his maiden Springbok campaign and won a Currie Cup with his province. Expect him to feature in best-of teams prominently for the next decade.
5 – Pascal Pape (France) Stepped in as captain for Thierry Dusautoir in the French side and looked as if he made for the job. Huge physicality and presence, he is at last enjoying an injury-free run.
6 – Liam Messam (New Zealand) With Jerome Kaino off to pastures new and several key northern hemisphere contenders injured, the Chiefs co-captain had his best ever year winning a Super Rugby title and securing a starting spot with the All Blacks. He seems to have at last matured and found consistency to go with the talent we all knew he had.
7 – Richie McCaw (New Zealand) Honourable mention to the huge breakout year for Michael Hooper, but Sir Richie is the man once again. Here’s to hoping he lasts until the next World Cup.
8 – Kieran Read (New Zealand) Has somewhat quietly gone about establishing himself as the prototype for the modern number eight. Captained his country for the first time, and how he was overlooked for the IRB player of the year award is anyone’s guess.
9 – Kahn Fotuali’i (Samoa) Not a banner year for scrumhalves, but the former Hawke’s Bay man gets the nod for his outstanding end-of-year form, and winning a domestic title with Ospreys in May.
10 – Aaron Cruden (New Zealand) A controversial selection perhaps, but a Super Rugby title combined with five winning starts for the All Blacks is no small accomplishment. Dan Carter, Freddie Michalak, and Jonny Sexton all had good years as well.
11 – Bryan Habana (South Africa) After being written off by some so-called pundits, we were treated to some truly world class finishing from one of the best in the business once more. Despite missing out on the November tour, he did manage to win his second Currie Cup title along the way.
12 – Sonny Bill Williams (New Zealand) Only played half the year but it’s simply impossible to suggest that there was a more influential midfielder to his team’s success during that time. Added a Super Rugby title to his World Cup win, and looked absolutely dominant for the All Blacks before heading to Japan. The rugby world awaits his return.
13 – Conrad Smith (New Zealand) With a certain Irishman out of commission his main challengers were Jonathan Davies and Manu Tuilagi, but the man from Hawera remains the best all-round centre with his distribution and defensive skills unmatched.
14 – Cory Jane (New Zealand) Bested only by countryman Julian Savea in the try-scoring sweepstakes, the former fullback combined genuine footballing skills with absolute safety under the high ball. A terrific year from one of the world’s best.
15 – Israel Dagg (New Zealand) Started all but one test for the All Blacks and displayed all the best characteristics of a modern fullback. Only Kurtley Beale, exiled to the flyhalf jersey this season, comes close in terms of pure attacking prowess.