Celebrating our game, Last Word on Rugby have combined the wealth of knowledge from all our staff of 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 the MVP of their country, competition or code: we start with the MC50 Most Influential Rugby Player Series 15-19.
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 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).
MC50 Most Influential Rugby Player Series 15-19
#15 – Dylan Hartley
Age: 30 | Club: Northampton Saints | Country: England
Does anyone divide opinion more on the rugby field than the current England captain Dylan Hartley? His previous disciplinary record has been one of the worst in the history of the game. His form has been inconsistent and he has not always been England’s first-pick hooker.
Yet, this is the player Eddie Jones saw as leading England back to a way of playing the game that he thought to be uniquely English. Brash, confrontational and never backing down, Hartley is Jones’ personality on the rugby field. It was a Masterstroke.
Instant Success in Six Nations
After such a difficult 2015 Rugby World Cup, England rugby fans were delighted with the incredible turnaround. From utter devastation, to a Grand Slam in less than four months. That was soon usurped in it’s triumph when Hartley led his side to a three match whitewash of Australia, in Australia.
It brought acclaim for Hartley, in his leadership and behavior. That continued in the final Autumn International matches, where England carried through an unbeaten 2016:
14 matches, 14 victories.
He may currently be struggling to justify his starting spot on form alone with Jamie George snapping at his heels but coaches do not always select on pure form at international level and Hartley is Jones’ man. How long he will remain a Northampton player is unknown after his latest indiscretion but one thing is for sure–if you take away that side to his game, you may be taking away Dylan Hartley himself.
#16 – Robbie Henshaw
Age: 23 | Club: Leinster | Country: Ireland
Robbie Henshaw may have had the greatest 12 months of his career–so far. The young Irish International had success on multiple fronts, and was involved in some memorable moments of 2016.
In May, in his final appearance for Connacht, was a part of the Guinness Pro 12 championship winning side. In a strange twist, Connacht beat Leinster; the side Henshaw is now playing for. The Irish game was on a high, and on June 12 Ireland upset South Africa in Cape Town, 20-26. While Henshaw received a yellow card, on his return, he was outstanding.
Even though the Springboks won the series 2-1, it was a great motivator for Ireland. They then set about targeting a Rugby Weekend in Chicago. In a game against New Zealand, it truly was the biggest result in Irish rugby for over 110 years. They beat the All Blacks 41-29 in a monumental upset–halting the World Champions run of 18 match winning streak. Henshaw scored the match winning try and was part of an occasion not to be forgotten easily.
In the return match in Dublin, things turned 180 degrees, when he was turned in a tackle. The change in direction saw Henshaw clash with Sam Cane, which knocked out the young man from Athlone. It brought controversy, as Ireland lost 9-21 (Cane was suspended for two games, for a dangerous tackle) but Henshaw will still recall 2016 as his best season ever. Domestically and on the International stage, the second-five will surely be a member of Ireland for years to come.
#17 – Stuart Hogg
Age:24 | Club:Hawick/Glasgow | Country Scotland
Stuart Hogg is not only one of the best rugby players in the British Isles, but he could argue his case for best fullback in the world. At the young age of 24, he already has 48 Scottish caps, and 13 international tries. Stuart Hogg was named the 2016 RBS Six Nations Player of the Tournament.
During the Ireland match of the Six Nations championship, Hogg collected a high ball, avoided countless Irish defenders to score a superb individual try. Although Scotland did not carry that day, it was an amazing feat of individual effort. When Scotland beat France 29-18 at Murrayfield, he was elusive as tryscorer (below) and setting up others to score.
Later in the Autumn International window, during the Georgia match, Stuart Hogg was all over the field. His two tries helped spring Scotland to a 43-16 win in a match that many were calling for an upset by Georgia. If Stuart Hogg continues his 2016 performances to date, his consideration for the British and Irish Lions should not be difficult.
#18 – Juan Imhoff
Age: 28 | Club: Duendes Rugby (ARG)/Racing 92 | Country: Argentina
By Joshua Bradham
Juan Imhoff is the left winger for Racing 92 and represents Argentina. Imhoff had an amazing 2016, with exceptional moments throughout.
During the over time Top 14 Semi-final match against Clermont, Juan Imhoff was the ultimate try scorer in the 98th minute, that sent Racing 92 to the Top 14 finals. The first time ever for the star-ridden club, they would face Toulon, in Barcelona.
The next week, Juan Imhoff showed his great versatility by taking over scrum-half duties from Maxime Machenaud [red card] to help Racing 92 to win their first Top 14 final in 26 years. This season Imhoff was responsible for a hat trick in Racing’s home win against Toulon.
As well, Juan Imhoff took some time during the summer to compete for the Argentina national Sevens team, at the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics. Imhoff competed in two matches for Argentina, who reached the quarter-finals and scored one try in those two matches to add an Olympic experience to his full-plate of accomplishments over 2016. A deserved place on the MC50 Most Influential Rugby Player Series 15-19.
#19 – Rieko Ioane
Age: 19 | Clubs: Auckland/Blues | Country: New Zealand
By Scott Hornell
Our youngest member of the MC50 series, Rieko Ioane has achieved much in his first three years of professional rugby. Playing for the All Black Sevens team, he was a key member of the successful 2016 side that won in Wellington, and ‘by a whisker’ in Sydney. Those matches were broken by terms with the Blues Super Rugby team. The young star would be seen as a development player–on the wing, and sometimes at centre.
All this was only a stop on the path to the 2016 Olympic games. Like Imhoff and others including Sonny Bill Williams, they were XV’s players who had ‘Golden Dreams’. For New Zealand, the disorganized plan saw them fail to reach the finals, and Ioane was; while being a fantastic sevens player, only a part-time member.
Mitre 10 Cup Form Leads to Higher Honours
The Auckland team are not yet at the top of the table, but several starring matches showed Ioane as a huge talent. Multiple hatricks saw him score 10 tries and saw the All Black selectors call up the 19 year old.
“My dream since I was a little kid was always to be an All Black and to be able to get that call this morning was huge not only for myself but the family as well.”
This was at first for the ‘experience’ but with impressive work behind the scenes, Ioane was provided his ‘golden opportunity’ in Rome.
Debuting for the All Blacks (eight youngest ever) against Italy, it was capped off brilliantly with a try. An almost perfect start to what is probably going to be a long future in black–as a win, or as some are pushing, as center. Rieko Ioane has the strength and agility to be a threat anywhere, and his defense is solid enough that he will be one to watch [alongside his big brother Akira] for the Blues in 2017. This last 12 months has seen the rise and rise of a future star Now!
Awards: Richard Crawshaw Memorial Sevens Player of the Year
Follow the LWOR MC50 Series–the Fifty Most Influential Rugby Player Series leading up to the New Year: read #10-14 here.