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 25-30.
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).
MC50 Most Influential Rugby Player Series 25-30
#25 – Tevita Kuridrani
Age: 25 | Clubs: University of Queensland/Brumbies | Country: Australia
By Ryan Jordan
Kuridrani’s form has fluctuated through 2016 and was dropped from Wallaby starting fifteen during The Rugby Championship. He was presented with another chance after the ankle injury suffered by incumbent Samu Kerevi. One for opportunity, Kurandrani crossed over the whitewash for three tries during the Wallabies End of Year Tour.
None were more important, or sensational as the superhuman effort to score the try in the clip shown below, to help Australia defeat France.
Watch above video – his entire body was already over the touch line, but Kurandrani produced a moment of magic by dotting the ball down in the corner before his body touched a blade of grass.
Kuridrani has the ability to pull something special out of the bag to break a defensive line. Even if not breaking the defensive line, his power, pace and presence attracts defenders. In his role with the Brumbies and Australia, Tevita Kurandrani creates opportunities for those around him.
#26 – Greig Laidlaw
Age:31 | Club: Gloucester | Country: Scotland
By Josh Bradham
Greig Laidlaw is the Scrum half and Captain of the Scottish national rugby team. In 2016, Laidlaw was the main goal kicker for Scotland and converted 124 points for the team over the last 12 months.
Laidlaw led Scotland to their best finish in the Six Nations competition for three years. and was nominated for World Rugby’s player of the year [won by Beauden Barrett]. Many highlights exist over that period, as in the Scotland match against Argentina–Laidlaw was responsible for 14 of Scotland’s 19 points. This included the vital final kick in the 84th minute, to win the match for Scotland.
Along with his match winning ability, Laidlaw is the natural leader who can inspire and build loyalty from his group of players. Greig Laidlaw is the heart and soul of the Scottish team and a true champion.
Note: Clermont announced on October 12th that Greig Laidlaw would be joining their squad for the 2017/18 season. A long term Gloucester player, his shift will bolster one side, and diminish another, such is the strength of the man.
#27 – Anton Lienert-Brown
Age: 21 | Clubs: Waikato/Chiefs | Country: New Zealand
In a breakout International season, Anton Lienert-Brown emerged from a group of NZ rugby players who attempted to ‘fill the shoes’ of the retired Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith. Big boots to fill, but the re-establishment of the All Blacks for 2016 has required many combinations and Lienert-Brown appears to be the goods.
This form had begun with his provincial team performances for Waikato, that reaffirmed the signing by Dave Rennie of a young Lienert-Brown. The Chiefs needed to replace Sonny Bill Williams, and in unison with Charlie Ngatai and Seti Tamanivalu, he showed a very good ability to share the ball. An upright distributor, he was often provider as well in finishing many tries for the Chiefs side.
In being selected for the All Blacks, his debut match in Wellington was an unparalleled success. From the moment he assisted Israel Dagg to score a try, it was an easy transition. And it was made in a difficult encounter with Wales too, who had a huge motivation to win [never beating the All Blacks on home soil]. But once the home team settled, along with Beauden Barrett, Lienert-Brown was sublime and a suitable addition to the MC50 Most Influential Rugby Player Series 25-30.
It heralded a run of nine matches with the World Champions, where Lienert-Brown had excellent outings, as well as the occasional hurdle. He appears to have the temperament, attitude and self-less nature of a good second-five. Indeed, his absence from the match in Chicago showed that he holds an unbeaten run with the All Blacks that will be tested to the highest degree by the Lions in 2017.
#28 – José Lima
Age: 24 | Club: Oyannax | Country: Portugal
José Lima, one of the most brilliant Portuguese players of the moment, who plays for French relegated Top 14 team, US Oyonnax. Selected for Portugal’s national team at the early age of 18 years, Lima has been playing in France since 2012 (Narbonne), going from the Fed1 (3rd tier) to PROD2 (2 tier).
Why watch out for José Lima? He can change the course of any game, with his well worked handling skills, quick and unpredictable pace and a physical stature that can pretty much take any tackle. Every team he has played for, have stated that Lima likes to ‘work hard on his game, during practice and after hours too’ so he can bring his best game to the pitch.
Many Great Exhibitions Over 2016
In 2016, the open-side center made some great exhibitions for club and Nation. Nonetheless, there were two that caught the eye of Francisco Isaac: (1) Portugal v Brazil – José Lima scored and assisted one try, converting three penalty kicks and one conversion (see image below).
(2) Oyonnax v Vannes – two tries and one assist, in a powerful game. Lima was superb with the ball in his hands, slicing the oppositions defense with ease and marching frely to the try line. Lima can also be one of the strongest tacklers on the pitch, as he has an average of nine tackles per game in PROD2.
With Oyonnax more than likely to be promoted, European rugby fans will have the pleasure to watch José Lima in the Top14 next year. For those who enjoy watching a strong outside center, don’t lose the chance to see him at his best form, for club or especially, his beloved Portugal.
#29 – Maxime Machenaud
Age:27 | Club:Racing | Country:France
By Joshua Bradham
Maxime Machenaud is scrum half for Racing 92, and among the elite of all French scrum-halves. During France’s calendar year, Machenaud played in eight of their 10 matches.
He is quick on the ball and can restart play from the ruck at lightning-fast speeds. Machenaud is the default goal kicker when on the pitch for France, and was solely responsible for France’s 21 points in their match against England in the Six Nations Cup.
France had few highlights over their season, with only two victories to begin the year. Machenaud has been victim to a rough test year, with France winning only Four of their 10 matches, but that stat is no reflection of Maxime Machenaud’s ability. He always put his best foot forward when asked to represent Les Bleus, and in their 52-8 victory over Samoa, Machenaud was a class act.
For his club, Machenaud also doubles as the backup kicker when Dan Carter is not available. During Racing 92’s match against Clermont in March, Machenaud was responsible for 21 of Racing’s 26 points in that contest. A member of the Championship winning side; even though he was red-carded during the match in Barcelona, he was a key member across their 2015/16 winning season.
#30 – Malcolm Marx
Age: 22 | Clubs: Emirates Lions | Country: South Africa
By Ryan Jordan
The Lions hooker had a phenomenal Super Rugby competition in 2016 and raised his profile within South African Rugby. That began immediately, in the Round One clash with the Sunwolves, scoring the opening try of the 2016 season.
His throwing was steady, a solid stay in the scrum and a bulldozer over the field. Marx was used as a set-piece runner and was always a presence in the ruck and maul. The side led the South African conference, meeting the Hurricanes in a wet and cold final in Wellington.
This form was rewarded with a South African team call-up. The down side for Marx was that he was always going to play behind Springbok captain Strauss; a fate he shared with Bongi Mbonambi. The few minutes he played at Test level were shaky, but were not reflective of his whole talents, given he was playing in a very unsettled and poor Springbok team.
With Strauss retiring from International rugby, Marx should raise a serious challenge for the Springbok number two jersey if he can replicate his fine form of 2016.
Follow the LWOR MC50 Series–the Fifty Most Influential Rugby Player Series leading up to the New Year: read #20-24 here.
“Main photo credit”