IRB Player of the Year

The IRB has shortlisted six players for their 2011 Player of the Year award. From left to right: Will Genia, David Pocock (both Australia), Thierry Dusautoir (France), Piri Weepu, Jerome Kaino and Ma’a Nonu (all New Zealand).

IRB nominees

From a Springbok perspective, it’s disappointing that no South Africans feature, but I can’t really think of anyone that was consistently very good this year.

  • Bismarck du Plessis is probably the best hooker in world rugby, but as little as he played it would be difficult to justify even a nomination.
  • Heinrich Brussow was vital to every Bok success, but missed a lot of rugby through injury.
  • Schalk Burger was back to approaching his best, making an estimated 4.3 million tackles this year, but he just doesn’t seem as influential as he used to.
  • Francois Hougaard was the most exciting Springbok backline player, but like Bismarck du Plessis his lack of game time means he’s not really a contender.
The actual shortlist

So, having contented myself that no South African should in fact feature among the six, I took a look at the merits of those that did. For the sake of the Internet’s short attention span, I did this in the style of Twitter’s 140 characters or less.

Two I agree with

Even ignoring the SA vs Aus 1/4 final, Pocock was immense in every game he played – the only man in rugby with bigger arms than legs.

NZ’s blindside often plays in McCaw’s shadow, but Kaino has been a star in his own right, combining muscle and finesse to awesome effect.

Two I can understand

Genia was dominant when Aus went forward, which was most of the year, but suffered when they struggled and when Cooper forgot how to play.

Nonu looks great when bullying smaller teams, but is less effective vs the big guns. Always a threat, but relies a lot on Carter + Smith.

Two are out of place

Weepu kicked well against Argentina in the #rwc2011 quarter, but apart from that I don’t even recall him being NZ’s regular first choice.

He’s a good player, and I thought Dusautoir was having a great #rwc2011, until I realised it was Bonnaire playing with 7 on his back.

My shortlist

Pocock, Kaino and Genia would make my list. And I would add:

Kurtley Beale was consistently the best 15 this year (despite Dagg’s form at #rwc2011), now offering control as well as flair from the back.

Perhaps a sentimental choice, following his sad end at #rwc2011, but Sam Warburton has brought Wales up to a level on par with the best.

Brad Thorn has been colossal at #rwc2011, and for the whole year in fact, bringing an uncompromising toughness to NZ’s now dominant pack.

And the winner is…

For me, the most interesting thing about the nominees this year is that I don’t see any previous winners or established ‘greats’ among them. No McCaw or Carter, no O’Driscoll or Wilkinson, no Burger or du Preez.

Partly that’s because of injury, partly a few are getting old, and partly some are just not the players they used to be. I wouldn’t write them off, but maybe there’s a new crop of great players ready to come through.

As for this year’s winner, I don’t think there’s a clear favourite, but I’d say Pocock will steal it.

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