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 20-24.
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 20-24
#20 – Facundo Isa
Age: 23 | Clubs: Pampas/Jaguares | Country: Argentina
Question for any International Rugby coach: Do you need a total powerhouse and bone crushing player to model your own players on? Yes, well the Argentinian number eight Facundo Isa should be the standard you try to replicate. The Jaguares third row forward had an incredible 2016, while playing for both franchise and nation.
Although the Jaguares didn’t make a competition changing impression in the Super Rugby–one of the lower teams in their debut season–Facundo Isa was seen as one of the best players from the Argentinian side. His statistics are fine reading: 641 meters, 4 tries and ‘a lot of defenders push aside’. Isa made quite an exhibition when they played against the Southern Kings, Crusaders and in Buenos Aires against the Highlanders.
For Argentina, Isa was by far one of the most influential players. Leading the forward pack, working in tandem with Martin Landajo. With a solid platform, Facundo was a constant threat with set ball, holding the New Zealand captain Kieran Read on occasion.
Strong, with ball in hand and his harsh, offensive- tackling upset many attacking plays over the year. Isa was quick in stealing the ball (France felt it in their first game in the summer tour), and constantly showed why he is one of the best at his position.
At 23, his growth in the role and team looks good for the future. With leaders like Agustin Creevy in their mid 30’s, can Facundo Isa lead Argentina to a new Era by 2019? The 2017 Super Rugby season will be a great test of where this huge talent is heading.
#21 – Carlin Isles
Age: 27 | Club: Gentlemen of Aspen RFC | Country:USA
Carlin Isles is Rugby’s resident speedster. With his impressive 40m dash time of 4.22 seconds, he stood above the rest when breaking onto the scene.
A highlight for Carlin Isles was being selected to represent the United States at the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics. In the Olympic tournament, Isles scored six tries over Team USA’s five matches–starting every one of them. Like his team mates Perry Baker [series 1-4] and ex-NFL player Nate Ebner, it was a new experience.
During the HSBC tour’s round of Sydney, Carlin Isles delivered 4 tries during the tournament to the USA. Isles spent the later part of the 2016 injured, and is yet to make his debut on the tour this season. US Sevens rugby fans everywhere are ready for the return of the fastest man in rugby.
#22 – Maro Itoje
Age: 22 | Clubs: Old Albanian RFC/Saracens | Country: England
Ignored for the 2015 Rugby World Cup under then coach Stuart Lancaster, the rise of Maro Itoje in 2016 to the top table of World Rugby has mirrored his playing style – quick and devastating. He was rewarded with the World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year award.
The young Saracen plays the game with power, athleticism and confrontational confidence. It seems as though these are all of the qualities that commentators now see in this seasons England team ‘transformed’ under the their new head coach, Eddie Jones.
The modern trend to have locks and back-row forwards that are interchangeable is exactly where Itoje is the perfect example. Having the power and guile to play in the engine room – where he has all of his seven England caps so far – and the athleticism and footballing brain he displayed all season, to play anywhere along the back of the scrum.
Saracens players are raring to go for England despite doing the double says Maro Itoje ahead of tour to Australia https://t.co/qcX6cOyZvg
Having completed a domestic and Euro double with his club earlier this year (above) as well as having been a part of the England whitewash of Australia/unbeaten winning streak, 2017 promises great things for the young Englishman and his team mates.
#23 – Elton Jantjies
Age: 26 | Teams: Emirates Lions/NTT Shining Arcs | Country: South Africa
By Ryan Jordan
LWOR need to make a clear definition between Jantjies’ form at International level and his performances in Super Rugby. He personally struggled in a struggling Springbok team and was unsuited to the cumbersome pace. This was always going to be a possibility as Jantjies also struggled under Allister Coetzee during the 2013 Super Rugby season where he represented the Stormers.
His Super Rugby form in 2016 was a complete contrast to his International form. Under Johan Ackermann at the Lions, playing a higher tempo game that he enjoyed, Jantjies shone. Over the season, he was the form flyhalf in the South African conference system. His ability get the Lions backline away; as well as being able read the lines of his option runners, made him a sure pick for the Springbok team. With Jantjies, the Lions managed fantastic winning results (see image below) before meeting the Hurricanes in the Grand Final.
Injury Places Jantjies In the Command Seat (too early)
When the Irish team toured in June, an injury to Patrick Lambie called on Elton Jantjies. Fans were looking for his Lions form, and even though the Springboks claimed the series 2-1, it was not convincing. The same applied in The Rugby Championship championship–a prime example in Christchurch. After his side had scored a try, an easy restart take was fumbled by Jantjies, leading to an All Black try….momentum lost. But he would always get up after being knocked down, a good trait and his improvement was clear by the time of the end of year tour.
The ‘two sides of Elton Jantjies’ must be resolved, for him to command a position ahead of Lambie, or even Morne Steyn. Lions and Springbok fans must hope that the excitement he brings to Emirates Airlines Park in Johannesberg, can be transferred onto the International stage. Make that happen, and Jantjies can help rebuild the African rugby brand in his own mold.
#24 – Jonathan Joseph
Age: 25 | Club: Bath Rugby | Country: England
By James Barker
Jonathan Joseph has become a regular international for England since his debut against South Africa in 2012. The Derby-born man has been transformed (like the whole squad has) in 2016. From the time he appeared in the Six Nations, beside the other English men, they seemed to be redesigned.
New coach Eddie Jones unwound the team, from the old systems to a fresh, new culture. Joseph responded, and after accomplishing a Grand Slam, they went to Australia with high hopes. Joseph appeared in all three games, formed an invigorated backline. Like his club and international colleague George Ford, Jonathan Joseph has risen through the England age groups and is very much first choice for Eddie Jones. He has scored 13 tries for his country, has a Grand Slam medal and will be very important to England’s chances of victory in Japan 2019.
Now Bath are back to their best under former All Black Todd Blackadder, Joseph should consolidate his reputation as a leading Premiership player and important international in the coming years.
Awards: RPA Players’ Player of the Year/England Player of the Year – 2015
Follow the LWOR MC50 Series–the Fifty Most Influential Rugby Player Series leading up to the New Year: read #15-19 here.
“Main photo credit”