The 50 best rugby players of the year, part one: 50-41

It’s the end of another rugby year, the end of another Rugby World Cup cycle, indeed, in a couple of cases it’s the end of a career, even the end of an era.

So with all that in mind, the scribes here at Planet Rugby towers put their heads together and nominated their top 50 international players of the past year.

The night was really lengthy. The first-aid package for the office is still missing, and accounting has already sent us multiple emails in which they clarify exactly what they mean when they refer to these things as “expenses.” Even though the window has been mended, one of us no longer has a chair to sit on, and another will now only speak with the others by recorded mail. Still another has been advised not to go near Ireland ever again.

However, the agreement has been reached and is now in place. This is Planet Rugby’s 50 to 1 of the top players in the world, starting now and ending on New Year’s Eve.

50. Angus Bell

Bell is still only 23 years old, so if the injury curse stays away, his finest years as a prop are still ahead of him. For many different reasons, Australia’s performance in France was lacking, but Bell made a big impression in the Bledisloe Cup against New Zealand in June, and coaches everywhere have praised his work ethic outside of scrums and ball carriers. A potential front-row great, perhaps.

49. Duhan van der Merwe

Probably didn’t have quite the impact at the World Cup he wanted, but Scotland’s favourite South African scorched into the year with that try against England. 21 tries in 34 Tests is a fine record, and he remains Scotland’s go-to man for front-foot ball in the wide spaces.

48. Davit Niniashvili

The fast-moving back-three player from Georgia and fly-half Luka Matkava, who narrowly missed the cut, were highlights for the Lelos throughout the World Cup. Even though he is still only 21 years old, he has already earned 24 caps and 48 points for the Georgians, and Lyon is well aware of the quality they have added. In March, Midi-Olympique named him the young talent of the season.

47. Raffaele Storti

Portugal’s try machine, Storti racked up 11 tries in 13 matches in the Pro D2 with Beziers last season, before helping Portugal to their historic World Cup campaign. He’s still at Beziers, although officially only on loan from Stade Francais, who have already tried to get him back early.

46. Maro Itoje

It’s not been his best year, although it says much about Itoje that even on an average year he’s in the top 50. His career is now at a fascinating crossroads, where he may end up a victim of the English salary crunch and end up playing in the Top 14 next season – a fitting place for a lock of his gladiatorial qualities.

45. Owen Farrell

Farrell remains one of international rugby’s most consistent performers. He might polarize opinion day-to-day, but there’ll be few who don’t think he’s been one of England‘s best-ever pivots and we hope to see him back in white when he’s ready.

44. Johnny Sexton

In an underwhelming year, Sexton was suspended for three games for mistreating referees, and his career ended in a devastating World Cup quarterfinal loss to New Zealand. He’s been Ireland’s and Leinster’s fly-half for so long that it’s difficult to envision either team without him. The way they perform this season will demonstrate how significant he was; Leinster’s stumble at the end of the previous season is telling.

43. Damien Willemse

There’s a rumour going around that he’s still in his World Cup final kit somewhere in Paris. Probably not South Africa’s answer at fly-half, but Willemse cemented his place as South Africa’s full-back successor to Willie le Roux in France and can look forward to a long stint in the jersey.


42. Caelan Doris

A shoo-in in Ireland’s back-row and a worthy successor to a long line of great Irish number eights, Doris was another who shone at the World Cup and is likely to be a part of the next squad heading into Australia in 2027.

41. Peter O’Mahony

The former British and Irish Lions captain, Irish centurion, and longtime captain of Munster (who recently resigned), may be the most competitive guy in all of rugby. There may yet be a farewell Six Nations or two because his ten years of international duty are not legally over, but it is unlikely that he would ever voluntarily leave anything.

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