England’s Owen Farrell and Mary Itoje will do battle with All Blacks Beauden Barrett and Rieko Ioane as well as Wallaby Israel Folau for the World Rugby Player of the Year crown.
Farrell and Itoje join have made the shortlist after excelling in the British & Irish Lions jersey during the summer drawn Test series with New Zealand down under, with a star-studded panel – including the likes of John Smit, George Gregan, Clive Woodward, Brian O’Driscoll and Richie McCaw among others – set to decide the fate of the coveted prize.
Supporters, international captains and coaches as well as the media will all be able to weigh in on the debate before the panel makes the ultimate decision and the award is presented at the annual World Rugby awards dinner in Monaco on November 26.
So who are the contenders and why have these five been listed as the creme de la creme of World Rugby?
Beauden Barrett – New Zealand
The All Black fly-half could become only the second player to win the prestigious accolade two years in a row after another stellar year in the No 10 jersey, his fellow countryman and panellist McCaw the only man to retain the crown.
The 26-year-old playmaker marked his 50th Test appearance in the infamous jersey with a 24-point haul against Samoa, including a brace of tries, as well as finishing the Test series against the Lions as top points scorer with 41 to his name.
Attack is at the heart of Barrett’s arsenal and his forward-thinking approach fits ideally in the centre of the New Zealand line-up and his versatility means he is equally at home at full-back.
Barrett has spent the duration of 2017 tormenting defences around the world with instinctive and innovative play, and was rewarded by being able to captain the All Blacks for the first time in a non-cap victory over the Barbarians in November.
Owen Farrell – England / British & Irish Lions
Nominated for a second successive season and a third time in total, Farrell has continued to pull the string at the heart of Eddie Jones’s England reformation and starred at inside centre for the British & Irish Lions in New Zealand during the summer.
Farrell started all five Tests in England’s victorious Six Nations campaign at the start of the year, before adding a hat-trick of starts in the Lions jersey as he continue to develop into one of the best back English rugby has ever produced.
The Saracens pivot chalked up his 50th England cap against Italy in February, before breaking through the 600 Test points barrier in the final round against Ireland before going on to represent the Lions.
In the drawn Test series Farrell contributed 31 points to the Lions cause and was influential in all his appearances. A stoic, talismanic commander at the heart of every team he plays in, Farrell is often a understated force slowing eating away at oppositions.
Israel Folau – Australia
At the grand old age of 28, Australia’s Israel Folau is the oldest name on the shortlist for the Player of the Year gong, but has yet again been in scintillating form through 2017.
After a barren 2016, Folau came into the New Year without a try in his previous 11 Test appearances, but soon rediscovered his scoring form as he set a new Wallabies record for tries in a calendar year with 12 in 10 Tests, failing to cross the whitewash in just two matches.
Folau was also the first Wallaby to score a brace of tries in three consecutive Tests in June and went on to become the top try-scorer in the Rugby Championship.
The Waratahs flyer is being sorely missed in the Autumn Internationals after opting to take a break after a long season, but there is no doubt Folau is one of the most threatening and potent attacker in world rugby.
Rieko Ioane – New Zealand
From the eldest to the youngest with All Black winger Rieko Ioane donning the shortlist after a remarkable breakthrough season for the 20-year-old.
Ioane is also nominated for the World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year, a crown he is almost nailed on to claim, after a spellbinding start to his international career.
Despite his age, Ioane has seized his opportunity with great rigour, making the left-wing berth in the All Blacks setup his own following a two-try haul in his first Test start against the British & Irish Lions in June.
The flyer carried his form into the Rugby Championship and shared the top try-scoring honour with Folau, as well as topping the charts for defenders beaten, clean breaks and metres made.
As New Zealand travel to the Northern Hemisphere for end-of-year internationals Ioane is on the plane boasting a fantastic record of eight tries in nine Test starts – an exciting talent made the mould of the late, great Jonah Lomu.
Maro Itoje – England / British & Irish Lions
Crowned the Breakthrough Player of the Year in 2016, Saracens lock Maro Itoje is named as a contender for this prestigious award for the second year running after his impressive form continued through 2017.
After being deployed at blindside flanker by Eddie Jones, rather than his favoured second-row, for the successful Six Nations campaign, Itoje proved his versatility with excellent displays, earning a much-deserved call up to the British & Irish Lions set up.
Named among the replacements for the first Test against New Zealand, Itoje came from the bench to make a significant statement and duly earned himself a starting berth in the subsequent two Tests, making important contributions as the tourists took home a ground-breaking series draw.
Itoje, who has completed a degree in politics as well as penning poetry in his spare time – wherever he finds that, is force to be reckoned with around the breakdown and is an outstanding forward who rises above the pack in every way – a statement clearly underlined by his inclusion in the World Player of the Year shortlist as the lone forward candidate.
Where will the award go? It remains to be seen, but for me, Owen Farrell has enjoyed an outstanding season and should be the frontrunner for the prize.