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 are either the MVP of their country, competition or code: we continue with the MC50 Most Influential Rugby Player Series 10-14.
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’. 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).
Most Influential Rugby Player Series 10-14
#10 – Owen Farrell
Age: 25 | Club: Saracens | Country: England
No longer is Owen Farrell thought of as the son of famous father Andy and who began as reliable, tough and abrasive but restricted in his vision as a ten. He may have epitomized the game plan under Stuart Lancaster and may have been the symbol of that safe, steady and ultimately idea-starved team that were kicked out of their own tournament towards the end of 2015.
Forward to the autumn of 2016 and what we see is still a young man but one that is maturing at a rate of knots and who has not only reinvented himself at twelve to play alongside George Ford, but is now playing with a calm surety and dominance of a player with 100 caps.
The fragility of Ford’s goal-kicking means Farrell’s reliability is still called upon but in addition, he is playing with his head up and taking on what he sees in front of him.
All of this means he may be the most influential player in the current England team.
[note: Farrell has only played for Saracens, no other club/franchise]
#11 – Israel Folau
Age: 27 | Clubs: NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes/Waratahs | Country: Australia
By Ryan Jordan
Folau made an impressive return to rugby union from Australian Rules football in 2013. A cross-over athlete across several codes, his skill under the high ball is stupendous. An uncanny ability to sniff out a gap, Folau is about one of the best under the high ball–almost re-engineering what it takes (as the All Blacks defined the role) and has always seen opposition defenses make him a marked man.
The Waratahs were a close unit; post their 2014 victory, and while they could not usurp the ACT Brumbies, Folau is the ‘lethal weapon’ of Australian Rugby. He will be marked out by the All Blacks, Argentina and South Africa–and caused every side trouble across The Rugby Championship.
While he is lethal often, the Wallabies inconsistency over 2016 cost Folau his accuracy–in the final matches on the Autumn International tour, he was not as effective. Still able to do something ‘out of the bag’ Michael Cheika needs to decide if he is a fullback or center–before the Waratahs make that decision for him.
#12 – Bernard Foley
Age: 27 | Clubs: Ricoh Black Rams/Waratahs | Country: Australia
Under the constant challenge from Quade Cooper for his starting first-five place, in 2016 Foley saw off the inconsistent Cooper. It is the solidity that Bernard Foley brings, which is his strength.
Having played his first off season in Japan, Foley returned to Super Rugby, to lead the Waratahs. Beside the Brumbies, the Waratahs would lead the Australian conference. Foley does he very best to improve that element, but ultimately they miss out on a semi final spot.
England Run Riot in June
The Australian side could not imagine the menace that England would bring. Even as Foley showed glimpses of brilliance, along with his team mates, Foley is unable to contain the English threat. The Wallabies are defeated 0-3. Even in some thrilling fightbacks, where the quick number ten did his very best to overcome the visitors.
All through the International schedule, Foley is one of the consistent commodities of Australian rugby. After injury rules out Matt Giteau and Quade Cooper is lost to French club rugby, Foley melds a backline to include new second-five Reece Hodge. Along with Tevita Kurandrani, they build a formidable attack. This see’s the Wallabies go 3/5 on the end of year tour, that will restore a modicum of pride for the Aussie team.
# 13 – Will Genia
Age: 28 | Clubs: Queensland Reds/Stade Francais | Country: Australia
By Ryan Jordan
Genia made a slow start to 2016 due to a knee injury which required surgery. The 75 Test veteran always adds an extra menace around the scrum and rucks, but his real value is the speed with which he is able to clear the ball and get his flyhalf in the game. His highlight of 2016 would probably be the two tries he scored against Argentina (see image below).
The Wallabies did not have a much success during their Incoming Tour against England, with Genia unavailable due to his club commitments/injury. In The Rugby Championship, Genia’s influence was seen on many occasions but again, they were below par.
Wallabies Drive Toward End of Year Success
Later in the year, when released by his club Stade Francais, Genia took them very close to a Grand Slam in Europe. They began with three confidence boosting wins, where the halfback was instrumental. It was up to a resurgent Ireland to scupper those dreams, but Genia performed very well in those matches, to prove his value to the Wallabies.
By the time of the final test against England, Stade Francais recalled the halfback; which is a negative result of his status as an ‘overseas-based’ player. Genia, along with Adam Ashley-Cooper and Matt Giteau may be seen as encumbrance to the continuity that playing in Super Rugby would bring. A question that Michael Cheika must decide on in 2017.
#14 – Jimmy Gopperth
Age: 33 | Club: Wasps/Hurricanes | Country: New Zealand
By James Barker
The return of Danny Cipriani to Wasps could have heralded the end of Jimmy Gopperth’s time in Coventry. On the contrary, the Kiwi has thrived at inside center and was rewarded with a new contract in October. His performances in away wins at Northampton and Leicester stood out and has consolidated his position as a first choice back.
He has had quite the revival from being relegated with Newcastle Falcons and struggling to secure the 10 shirt at Leinster. In the Premiership, his prolific scoring shows the exact skillset that the former Hurricanes/Wellington Lions player holds.
Whilst at Newcastle he finished as top points scorer for two years in a row but eventually his boot was not enough to save them from relegation in 2012. To Gopperth’s credit, he remained at Kingston Park in the Championship and helped to get the Falcons immediately re-promoted.
Many Premiership rugby fans will agree, that having an adventurous Kiwi in your side, gives you a key. The key to Gopperth’s success over 2016 was his adaptability, the way he showed leadership and worked with the group he was driving. Back in New Zealand, some would say he was a ‘big loss’ but for Wasp’s fans today–he is a real asset.
Follow the LWOR MC50 Series–the Fifty Most Influential Rugby Player Series leading up to the New Year: read #5-9 here.
“Main photo credit”