Celebrating our game, Last Word On Rugby have combined the wealth of knowledge from all our staff and writers, to come up with the MC50 Most Influential Player Series. A list that profiles the many and growing number of players in World Rugby who maybe the MVP of their country, competition or code: we start with the Most Influential Rugby Player Series 1-4.
From XV’s to Sevens, this group of men and women is a detailed series that any sports fan will enjoy. Six Nations, Pro 12, Sevens Series or a Super Rugby player, join LWOR as we celebrate ‘the best of the best’. Detailed in alphabetical order, enjoy and share this series with your friends and family over the holidays, as we look back on the highest performing athletes in rugby union (for 2016).
MC50 Most Influential Rugby Player Series #1-4
#1 – Perry Baker
Age: 30 | Club: USA Sevens team |Country: USA
By Joshua Bradham.
Perry Baker is the flying winger for the USA Eagles sevens team. Currently second on the all-time try scoring list for the Team USA; currently tied for 4th after two rounds of the HSBC Sevens Series. A member of last year’s USA team that finished the circuit in a credible 5th place.
At the end of the 2016-2017 HSBC tour Perry Baker was one of seven players chosen for the ‘dream team’ of the year. During the final tournament of the 2015-2016 season, Perry Baker was responsible for five tries during matches against Fiji and New Zealand, both of which the US Eagles won, and his speed and vision is a key to many results for the Mike Friday coached side. He also played for team USA in the 2016 Olympics.
Perry Baker is a truly gifted athlete. He should be rated as one of the great USA sevens players; if not in all of Sevens rugby.
#2 – Beauden Barrett
Age: 25 | Club: Coastal/Hurricanes | Country: New Zealand
Some have always seen Beauden Barrett (main picture) as the ‘man of the moment’. An impactful player, his duties for New Zealand rugby have included Sevens rugby, Under 20 age grade and now, as an All Black.
A member of a large family of talented rugby players, Beauden (Beaudy to his team mates) has the speed and vision that sets him apart. Known for elusive running, in the last 24 months, the Taranaki born outside back has worked hard on his game. He had a goal to cement a place at first-five, and has done that in spectacular fashion.
From Impact Player to First Five Elite
He played very well for Taranaki in provincial rugby–that was a stepping stone. He was sensational in Super Rugby for the Hurricanes, and those were important stages, growing his confidence at number ten. No one moment should define one player, and Beaudy has been a wonderful contributor to the Silver Fern since 2012. And undoubtedly, since that golden moment in October 2015, his worth has risen considerably. Especially in 2016 when he was called on in the second test against Wales in Wellington.
2016 Breakout Year for Beauden Barrett
Another stellar year in Super Rugby saw Barrett direct his title winning Hurricanes side to victory over the Lions. A Grand Final ‘man of the match’ effort, that was just an example of his ability. Performances in the black jersey over 2016 have been sublime.
Initially when facing Wales in the series, he was the perfect impact (as usual) in Auckland. Called on to replace an injured Aaron Cruden, he was an absolute class act. And by the third test, he had taken his opportunity with both hands in a final test thrashing.
This led on to The Rugby Championship. Across six matches, his game management was phenomenal. Many aspects of his game rose to new heights; first-receiver, distribution and general play kicks. The only concern was his place kicking but when the team averages over 30 points, and manages to win all games played, he could be forgiven. It was rugby of the highest quantity, and Barrett maintained his position right through to the final match of the Autumn Series.
Barrett could not do it alone, of course but he plays such a well rounded game that one can only assume that he can only improve from here. A breakout year, capped by the International Rugby Player of the Year Award.
#3 – Rory Best
Age: 34 | Club: Banbridge/Ulster | Country: Ireland
By Scott Hornell
Over the course of Rory Best’s career, he has been on the improve. Brother of 23-cap forward Simon Best, his rise to currently being skipper of the Ireland team has been well documented.
Establishing himself as the test hooker, Best is a product of County Armagh who resisted the urge to stay in Newcastle, when at college. Best joined Belfast Harlequins, but when he was snapped up by Ulster, it was the perfect fit. Becoming one of the all-time club favourites, Best took over from brother Simon as captain in 2007/08.
His time in the emerald green jersey started in 2005, as a fresh 21 year old. A part of a hard-nosed outfit, he then became Mr Consistency–now with over 100 caps. The 2007 ‘Triple Crown’ was a fine year, although Best will admit that failure in the Rugby World Cup on several occasions has hindered the sides success. Named in 2009 as a member of the British and Irish Lions, that would be the first of two times he has appeared in the red jersey [2017 could be his third].
Best Leads Ireland To Biggest Prize
In the absence of legendary players Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connor, Best was the man to lead Ireland. And during his tenure, they completed the single task that is high on every International teams wishlist: victory over New Zealand. That achievement in Chicago will always be a highlight–and Best will hope to lead Ireland towards more of those.
#4 – Dane Coles
Age: 30 | Club: Poneke/Hurricanes | Country: New Zealand
By Scott Hornell
People have described Dane Coles as a hooker with the heart of a flanker, and the ball skills of a back. And they would all be telling the truth. For years, fans have enjoyed the odd hooker appearing on the wing–Sean Fitzpatrick, Phil Kearns or Keith Wood–but all now pale to the abilities of Coles.
While performing his core duties for his club Poneke, the Wellington Lions or the Hurricanes, he does that and more. From that gold standard, Coles is adding more finesse and excitement to his portfolio. From his days at Wellington College, as his confidence grows so too does his range. As described by Scott MacLean in the MCXM series, Coles has the ability to ‘turn up’ in so many places.
Ready to make a drilling tackle during the Canes title winning season, even with cracked rib-cartilage. His leadership and endurance helped the side accomplish a 20 year dream. And then, he carried on the high performance levels for the All Blacks. Helping the 2016 side re-establish the World Champions status as number one ranked side. He was great versus Wales. Superb against Australia. And devastating against South Africa.
While Best has the hard edge, in 2016 he faced up to Coles on two occasions. The rubber is 1-1 and rugby watchers know that Coles would love to gain the edge. Same applies to International rivals Agustin Creevy and Stephen Moore. From the evidence of the last 12 months, Coles strives to get what he wants. And with the Lions tour ahead of them, NZ rugby benefits from his; and his team mates desire to perform.
LWOR MC50 Series–follow the 2016 Fifty Most Influential Rugby Player Series leading up to the New Year.
“Main photo credit”