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The 50 best rugby players in the world in 2020

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It’s a debate as old as time.

Or at least as old as the sport of rugby.

Who is the best player in the world?

Our panel of Wales Online rugby experts have got together to come up with the finest 50 players on the planet right now.

This is the countdown to rugby’s greatest in 2020…

50. Sam Simmonds

He hasn’t played for England since 2018, but that’s their loss. For his double-winning club Exeter, the back-rower has been an inspiration en route to being named European player of the year.

49. Josh Adams

Not a vintage year for Adams, given his try-scoring exploits of 2019. Yet he’s still been quietly good in a Wales team that hasn’t provided him with too many opportunities.

48. Zander Fagerson

Quite possibly the form tight-head in the northern hemisphere, Fagerson has been in fine form for Scotland. Surely on course to be a Lions tourist next year.

47. Nicolas Sanchez

When Argentina defeated New Zealand for the first time in their history earlier this year, the cool, calm Sanchez was the difference. It was a performance that had many waxing lyrical that the fly-half is still world class.

Nicolas Sanchez has been in dazzling form in the Tri-Nations

46. Stuart Hogg

The dangerous runner from deep is a double-winner with Exeter Chiefs and has been integral to Scotland’s improvement.

45. Peceli Yato

If this guy is fit and firing, any opposition in the world will know they’re in for a game. For much of 2020 the multi-skilled Fijian back rower was off limits because of injury, but the sheer scope of his game is extraordinary.

44. Johnny Sexton

A former World Rugby player of the year, he’s still performing for Ireland and Leinster, if not quite at the levels he once hit.

43. Finn Russell

A true rugby maverick. Often sees passes that few would even contemplate. They don’t always come off, but that’s half the fun.

42. Samu Kerevi

If Kerevi collided with a tank, the tank would need the post-incident attention. The Australia centre is a hugely powerful runner who always bosses the gain-line.

41. Kotaro Matsushima

One of the stars of the 2019 World Cup with his electric running, the Japan back-three man hasn’t played Test rugby this year but has maintained his form at club level, starring for Clermont Auvergne. If you’re in need of a cutting edge, he’s your man.

40. Marcell Coetzee

“The best No. 8 in world rugby.” That’s how former Lion Stephen Ferris described Coetzee earlier this year. It’s a debate worth having. The South African’s performances for Ulster in the PRO14 have been sensational.

39. Liam Williams

After a stellar 2019, it’s been a frustrating 2020 for Williams with injury severely affecting him. Still a class act on his day, though.

38. Taulupe Faletau

Another Welsh player who has perhaps struggled this season. Not always been used well, but when he was, Faletau showed he’s World XV quality on his day.

37. James Ryan

Without always being at his best, he’s still shown he’s a class act for Ireland and Leinster with some dominant line-out displays and eye-catching effort around the field.

James Ryan wins a line-out ball against England

36. Mako Vunipola

The England loosehead is a player who can give his team 25 tackles and 15 carries while contributing to a strong scrum. Not many other No. 1s are in his league.

35. Jamie George

So good have his displays been that some see the England and Saracens hooker as an outsider for the Lions captaincy. Consistently strong.

34. Tadhg Furlong

Injury has stopped Furlong this year. But the big Irishman’s status as a scrummaging rock is undiminished.

33. Julian Montoya

He’s just completed a batch of superb performances for Argentina in the Rugby Championship, with his display against New Zealand off the scale of excellence.

32. Frans Malherbe

The man who anchored South Africa’s all-powerful scrum at the last World Cup. His country may not have played Test rugby in 2020, but his opponents will vouch for Malherbe’s quality.

31. Josua Tuisova

Fiji haven’t played much rugby in 2020, but the freakishly powerful and talented Tuisova crossed for a try in a strong performance against Georgia and has frequently stood out for Lyon in the Top 14. A immense, exciting player.

30. Billy Vunipola

It’s clear to see how much England miss their No. 8 powerhouse when he’s not there. Just a massive, massive carrier.

29. Johnny May

Still something of an eccentric, but he’s developed somewhat from often just running sideways like a headless chicken to becoming an accomplished Test finisher.

28. Owen Farrell

Tough as teak, he continues to be key to Eddie Jones’ relentless England juggernaut. Leads by example, surely the Lions 10 next year?

Owen Farrell is pivotal to England

27. Alun Wyn Jones

Okay, probably not quite the force he once was. But the Wales talisman is still pretty handy and fully merits his place in the top 30 of our list.

26. Marika Koroibete

Came up with one of the individual performances of the year for Australia in their win over New Zealand in November. There was plenty more from the wing in other games too. “The man’s a beast,” someone said on social media. Sounds about right.

25. Brodie Retallick

Been a little inactive recently with his break, but the New Zealand lock still up there. Combines old-school hardness with modern day skills and athleticism.

24. Charles Ollivon

Inspired France during a year when they finally got their act together after years of under-achieving. The captain was at the centre of everything.

23. Sam Underhill

One half of England’s dynamic flanker partnership with Tom Curry, the Bath man has proved consistently excellent across 2020, a rock in defence and a force at the breakdown.

22. Gregory Alldritt

Performed remarkably during the Six Nations. Been tipped by Ronan O’Gara as the next French captain. What a back-row France have got.

21. Romain Ntamack

France’s revival in 2020 has been something of a joy to watch. The man pulling the strings at 10 is another of the reasons for that.

20. Damian de Allende

No Test rugby for him in 2020, but his classy shows from the World Cup in Japan are still fresh in the mind. Physical, skilful and a supreme defender. Now plying his trade with Munster.

19. Eben Etzebeth

Boasts the physical edge and abrasiveness you expect from a South African second row, while he’s a real lineout technician at 6ft 8ins tall. However, he also possesses startling pace and is comfortable with ball in hand. His performance for Toulon against the Scarlets in January was on a different level.

18. Faf de Klerk

The Springbok scrum-half has largely redefined how scrum-halves can defend, being given free rein in the Boks’ structure. Few 9s have mastered the art of the box-kick like de Klerk, either.

Faf De Klerk

17. Michael Hooper

Australia’s player of the year, the third time he’s won the award, joining Israel Folau as the only man to achieve such a feat. A devastating breakdown operator, he also reached the landmark of 100 Tests.

16. Tom Curry

In an England team that is defined by its defence, the physicality of Curry is hugely important.

15. Richie Mo’unga

The Super Rugby Aotearoa player of the tournament, Mo’unga also had his moments at Test level, most notably with a devastating two-try display in the 43-5 hammering of Australia on Halloween.

14. Dane Coles

Arguably redefined the role of a modern hooker when he burst onto the scene. The All Black is still going strong.

13. Virimi Vakatawa

The French centre is in a real purple patch at the minute. Would be pushing to be in many people’s World XV.

12. Ardie Savea

Eddie Jones loves to talk about hybrid players. Savea might just be the closest we’ve got to that in the world game. Consistently makes copious metres after contact whether he’s playing six, seven or eight.

11. Sam Cane

A challenging debut season for the new All Blacks captain, but he ended it being crowned New Zealand’s player of the year as his team rallied to win the Rugby Championship.

The top 10

10. Justin Tipuric

Is there anything the Wales flanker can’t do? Has the handling skills of an outside back combined with the lineout, breakdown and tackling fluency of the finest loose forwards in the world.

Justin Tipuric shows his class

9. Beauden Barrett

No player has been involved in more Test tries since 2016 than Barrett. Quite simply a joy to watch – often seeing opportunity where others see risk.

8. Pablo Matera

To begin with, his past tweets were nothing less than racist and vile. There’s no getting away from that and it’s on Matera to now show he has grown as a person. On the pitch however, back-rower Matera was as influential as you could possibly be in Argentina’s win over the All Blacks.

7. Pieter-Steph Du Toit

Last year’s World Player of the Year, we obviously haven’t seen him at Test level this year due to South Africa’s lack of matches. However, his destructive counter-rucking is key to the Springboks’ game plan and his ability isn’t in question.

6. Siya Kolisi

Look up the meaning of the word ‘inspiration’ in a dictionary and there’s a reasonable chance you’ll encounter a picture of this guy.

5. Aaron Smith

The All Black scrum-half will consider himself unfortunate to have missed out on World Rugby’s team of the decade recently. Regardless, his form in 2020 has been stellar.

4. Maro Itoje

The biggest compliment you can pay Itoje is there are few bigger thorns to deal with. He has the intelligence and athleticism to spoil any form of ball your team might have – be it in the lineout, the breakdown or open phase play.

3. Cheslin Kolbe

Probably hindered by the fact that the Springboks haven’t played any Tests this year. If they had, Kolbe would perhaps have been even higher, given his remarkable ability to step anyone on a sixpence.

2. Antoine Dupont

France’s Antoine Dupont has been brilliant

The French scrum-half is just sheer quality, perhaps the finest proponent of a pre-emptive supporting line in Test rugby at the moment. If you switch off in defence for even a second, you can expect to see Dupont running off a shoulder to score.

1. Semi Radradra

A game-changer.

Whether it’s for Bristol Bears or Fiji, he has the ability to create havoc for defences.

He can go the direct route, bashing his way through in the centre, or he can take the scenic outside route, putting on the afterburners to arc around the opposition before delivering the decisive pass or offload.

The best player in the world right at this moment in time.



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Six Nations Rugby

Sale of 14% stake in Six Nations to be reviewed by competition watchdog

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The Irish competition watchdog will investigate the proposal by the Six Nations – which is owned by the British, Irish, French, and Italian rugby unions – to sell a 14% stake in the tournament series to investment fund giant CVC Partners. 

The proposed transaction, which was first announced in March, was reportedly worth £365m (€423m) to the Six Nations over five years, with the Irish Rugby Football Union set to secure about €56m, after the tournaments’ finances were hugely hit by the Covid-19 sporting disruption. The Six Nations company generates income for the men’s, women’s and U-20 tournaments. 

CVC is already a major player in the European rugby world. 

It has invested in the Pro14 and the Premiership of England’s 12 top teams, which is broadcast on BT Sport and Channel 5 in the UK and NBC in the US. 

Early last year, the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission cleared CVC to take a minority stake in Celtic Rugby, which owns and generates media income for the Pro14 league. 

On its investigation of the latest CVC plan, the commission said Six Nations Rugby “acts as agent of the unions for the commercialisation of media rights and sponsorship packages in relation to all of the annual Six Nations Rugby Championship, the Autumn Internationals series and certain other related commercial rights”.

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The unlikely Wales player who’s made himself a nailed on starter this summer after years on the fringes

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In 2018, Warren Gatland sprung a huge shock by calling up a largely unheralded Jonah Holmes to his Wales squad for the autumn campaign.

Few Welsh rugby onlookers knew anything about the player in question and fewer knew he was eligible to play for Wales.

Holmes’ qualification is through his grandparents but it was his 10 tries in 11 matches for Leicester Tiger in the previous season that caught Gatland’s eye.

Injuries to Hallam Amos and Owen Lane opened the door and Holmes went on to make his debut against Tonga.

In the two-and-a-half years since, Holmes has been involved in two Six Nations squads, a Rugby World Cup training camp and another autumn campaign.

Yet he has just two starts – one of which coming against Italy during the 2019 Grand Slam – and a further three caps off the bench to his name.

In short, he has been a constant in Wales squads over the last few years but has always appeared to be a peripheral figure.

Rarely has he seemed a credible contender to break into an extremely strong Welsh back three when all candidates are fit and firing, despite often receiving glowing reviews from coaches.

This summer, though, will be a different story for the Dragons winger.

The 28-year-old now has 10 tries in his last nine appearances for the region, scoring two tries in four matches, the latest of which coming against the Ospreys on Sunday.

In a fairly convincing defeat for Dean Ryan’s side, Holmes shone.

He produced two accomplished finishes. One saw him gather a cross-kick, bump off Ospreys full-back Dan Evans and shrug off Keiran Williams on the way to the line. The other showcased his pace as he raced clear of the covering defence with virtually no room to work with.

Not happy with that, he then produced the initial break and offload that eventually sent Rio Dyer over for another score.

Put simply, Holmes is proving too hot to handle right now and Wales boss Wayne Pivac simply can’t ignore him.

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“Jonah just looks very difficult to bring down at the moment and I think our game is suiting him,” said Dragons boss Ryan.

“We just need to keep pushing him to hit the heights because he’s playing as well as I’ve seen him play in a long time.

“We’ve got an established way of moving and it involves everyone.

“Jonah’s got a lot of license to move around and get on the ball. He’s a good footballer. If people kick badly to him then he’s able to bring it back.

“He just looks incredibly strong at the moment.

“I’m sure the guys at international level will look at that as a great asset that they can rely on.”

Holmes’ upturn in form in the last three months has been startling.

What really makes his recent try-scoring exploits stand out is the fact he began life at Rodney Parade, having signed from Leicester over the summer, relatively quietly.

He bagged one try in his first four months at the region – which included seven appearances.

Jonah Holmes in action against the Ospreys

So what’s changed?

Ryan pointed to the favourable conditions that the players are now operating in as opposed to the heavy, boggy surface that they had to deal with at Rodney Parade over the winter months.

The pitch – which also hosts Newport County – suffered to such a degree that both teams vacated their home for a period to allow it to recover. The Dragons played three of their home games at the Principality Stadium.

Ryan believes this is allowing his side to express themselves more freely and bringing the likes of Holmes into the game more.

“Playing here in January and February was tough for try-scorers,” he pointed out.

“I don’t think he’s played poorly across the year, it’s just the game has been difficult.

“We tried to play here against Connacht and we couldn’t move the ball.

“Moving to the international stadium was the catalyst for us being able to speed our game up and we’ve been able to continue that in the last few weeks.

“That enables him to be more threatening.

“I think he’s played well all year. It’s just sometimes about what gets offered up to you.

“January is different from now.”

In the world of Jonah Holmes, January is very different from now.

He was unavailable for selection in the 2021 Six Nations squad due to injury but whether he would have received the call had he been fit is up for debate.

Now, though, he has surely secured one of the wing slots when Wales face Canada on July 3.

His form is irresistible and right now it seems inconceivable that Pivac will go another way.

Holmes has done his fair share of sitting on the sidelines over the last few years.

With Wales’ Lions away in South Africa, it will be time for him to take centre stage at the Principality Stadium this summer.



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Six Nations Rugby

Eddie Jones has named his best XV with Tom Curry missing out

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Eddie Jones dream team of players he’s coached could compete with any team from any generation of rugby.

Looking back through the archives, the 60-year-old saves his praise for only the players he truly admires.

Jones guided England to the 2019 RWC final, having masterminded the 2016 Grand Slam and a second successive Guinness Six Nations title in the initial two seasons of his six-year contract.

His tenure includes a winning run of 17 games – an unprecedented achievement by a new England coach and an unbeaten year in 2016. Other high spots were the 3-0 clean sweep against Australia in 2016, the emphatic Six Nations victories over Ireland, France and Italy in 2019 and the record 57-15 win over Ireland in August 2019.

He coached the Wallabies from 2001/05, then Saracens and climaxed three years with Japan by creating the biggest shock in RWC history when, in 2015, they beat South Africa 34-32. 

Using several interviews with various sources from down the years, we’ve formed Eddie Jones dream team of the players based on the players he bestowed with the most acclaim.

FRONT-ROW:

  • Loosehead-prop: Mako Vunipola (England)
  • Hooker: John Smit (South Africa)
  • Tighthead-prop: Kyle Sinckler (England)

CONTINUES ON PAGE TWO




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