Rugby World XV 2021 – The Best Players This Year
29 November 2021
World Rugby will be shocked to find out five Springboks feature in our World XV of 2021, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
That’s after the sport’s governing body bafflingly omitted the outstanding performers of the two top teams in the world from their World Rugby Player of the Year shortlist.
Based on performances in Test matches, just over half of our World XV consists of Springboks (5) and All Blacks (3). The rest of the team features three Frenchmen, two Wallabies, an Englishman and an Irishman.
15: Jordie Barrett (New Zealand)
A special breed of fullback. Tall, big, strong and athletic, he made the All Blacks No.15 jersey his own this season. He has all the attacking ability in the world, is rock solid on defence and with Richie Mo’unga missing a number of games, his accurate and booming boot proved invaluable, with his sound technique and big match temperament making him the last-gasp hero of the historic 100th Test against the Springboks.
14: Will Jordan (New Zealand)
Andrew Kellaway had a remarkable rookie year, which included an unrivalled seven tries in the Rugby Championship. Jordan is every bit the finisher the Wallabies wing is, plus he boasts x-factor in spades that sets him apart. His ability to create something out of nothing saw him score some fantastic tries and become the second-fastest All Black to 15 Test tries. He’s our favourite to win the World Rugby Breakout Player of the Year award.
13: Lukhanyo Am (South Africa)
A chess master of a midfielder, he put the Am in amazing. His dependability on defence and calm demeanour instilled confidence in the backline and his high rugby IQ is what gave the Springboks shape. He was equally influential on attack, where he sparked an all-time classic try with a unique bit of magic against the All Blacks and rounded off a few five-pointers including a World Rugby Try of the Year contender against the British & Irish Lions.
12: Damian de Allende (South Africa)
Had World Rugby Player of the Year nominee Samu Kerevi played in the Autumn Nations Series, he would’ve likely cracked the nod as he was the MVP of the Rugby Championship. That the hard-running Wallabies centre chose club over country sees De Allende link up with Am, which is fitting in a year in which they became the second-most experienced Springbok centre pairing in history. Dominant and dazzling, De Allende was a consistent duel threat and an absolute workhorse.
11: Marika Koroibete (Australia)
Koroibete is a combination of his closest competitors, all of whom made history in seasons to remember. He has the size and strength of Duhan van der Merwe, the speed of Louis-Rees Zammit and the predatory finishing of Makazole Mapimpi.
Even though he missed the year-end Tests due to the birth of his third child, the World Rugby Player of the Year nominee clung onto the No.11 jersey after his potent performances in the Rugby Championship.
10: Matthieu Jalibert (France)
A polished pivot with composure beyond his years, Jalibert piloted France in all but one match in a Six Nations campaign that nearly ended in glory. He continued to showcase his complete skillset throughout the year and celebrated his 23rd birthday by sparking two tries in the 29-20 win over Argentina in the Autumn Nations series. Ireland centurion Johnny Sexton was the next-best flyhalf, while Wallabies savour Quade Cooper was considered but played too few Tests.
9: Antoine Dupont (France)
The undisputed best scrumhalf in the world’s stature in the France side grew even more in 2021, which culminated with him captaining his country to a record 40-25 win over the All Blacks and an Autumn Nations Series clean sweep. The Les Bleus general is blessed with every skill in the book and is a strong contender for the World Rugby Player of the Year award.
8: Ardie Savea (New Zealand)
This season saw Savea rise from star to legend as he ascended to the captaincy. He served as the glue of an injury-hit All Blacks side, handling the responsibility well without it affecting his performances to lead them to Rugby Championship glory, all while producing some of the year’s most memorable moments. He faced stiff competition in Ireland and British & Irish Lions ace Jack Conan.
7: Michael Hooper (Australia)
Arguably the hardest working player in the world. No one is as important to a team as Hooper is to the Wallabies. The men from Down Under have an overreliance on their captain fantastic, who happily carries that burden. This season was no exception with the 30-year-old playing himself into the ground, becoming Australia’s most-capped skipper and earning a World Rugby Player of the Year nomination in the process.
6: Siya Kolisi (South Africa)
The Springbok skipper dispelled any fears fans might’ve had that the superstardom he gained after leading South Africa to World Cup glory in 2019 would quench his hunger. It turned out that that success only motivated him more. The result? Kolisi having arguably the best season of his career, highlighted by talismanic performances when it mattered most against the British & Irish Lions and the All Blacks.
5: Maro Itoje (England)
“The Pearl” plays with a four on his back but he and Eben Etzebeth are both beyond deserving of places in our team. The England superstar elevates every team he plays for with his aura and supreme skill. He was the British & Irish Lions MVP, playing a leading role in the series-opening 22-17 win over the Springboks, and is in the running for the World Rugby Player of the Year award.
4: Eben Etzebeth (South Africa) – Player of the Year
A beast incarnate. As if the Springbok behemoth wasn’t scary enough, his ninth season of Test rugby proved to be his best. Instead of slowing down, Etzebeth showed that at 30 years of age, he’s only now entering his prime. The powerhouse was phenomenal in every aspect and stood tall from the British & Irish Lions series to the season-ending encounter against England, leaving no doubt in our eyes that he’s the real Player of the Year.
3: Tadgh Furlong (Ireland)
It’s not often that a front-rower finds himself on the shortlist for the Six Nations Player of the Championship award. The tormenting Irish tighthead was that impressive, both in set-piece and open play, anchored the British & Irish Lions scrum and bossed visitors during the Autumn Nations Series. South Africa’s Trevor Nyakane deserves a special mention for his heroics on both sides of the scrum.
2: Julien Marchand (France)
After a strong Six Nations campaign for champions Wales, injuries limited Ken Owens’ impact in the British & Irish Lions series and ruled him out of the year-end Tests. Springbok Bomb Squad member Malcolm Marx, All Blacks hooker Codie Taylor and Ireland’s Ronan Kelleher made strong cases, but Les Bleus’ Marchand was the best of the bunch. He had a particularly proficient Six Nations but was a force throughout 2021.
1: Steven Kitshoff (South Africa)
Similar to combat sports having pound-for-pound rankings, the Springboks’ unique rotating front-row policy requires a minute-by-minute grading system considering they boast the best scrum in the business. Ox Nche started in seven of the 13 Tests and over delivered in his first full season of international rugby. That said, Kitshoff was just as commanding in the set pieces and also made a number of massive plays such as winning the match-sealing penalty against Wales.