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 35-38.
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 35-38
#35 – GEORGE NORTH
Age: 24 | Club: Northampton Saints | Country: Wales
By Robert Rees
The top scorer in the 2016 Six Nations with four tries, North would have certainly continued his hot form downunder in the summer tour of New Zealand until injury struck. It halted his on-field participation until he was able to run freely again for Northampton.
And with 18 stones of solid muscle running an incredibly fast 100 metres, he is hard to stop once he gets going. Helping Wales and Northampton to mount good attacks right through the year, when in space he is a constant threat as North can go around players–or go through them. More often than not, he will finish a sweeping backline move in style.
After his incredible rise from a young star, to today, George North will always be a threat whenever he is on a rugby field. In 2016, leg injury and concussion have hindered his impact and been a concern for fans. A fully fit North in 2017 will certainly be a concern for all opposition again in the new year.
#36 – TJ Perenara
Age: 24 | Clubs: Northern United/Hurricanes | Country: New Zealand
After sliding down the pecking order in the All Black’s halfback hierarchy in the back end of 2015 – missing a World Cup Final spot to Tawera Kerr-Barlow – TJ Perenara made huge amends in 2016. In fact, he was a part of one of the sharpest All Black tries of 2016 (see below).
A former NZ Schools captain, and member of the 2011 winning Under-20 side, Perenara’s greatest asset is his speed and aerobic capacity. He may not possess the bullet-pass his contemporary Aaron Smith has, but his uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time in support means he is a regular on the scoreshee. As a somewhat bigger and more physical halfback, he more than holds his own around the breakdown and in his organisational abilities.
Elevated to the vice-captaincy role of the Hurricanes franchise, he relished the greater leadership responsibilities. Playing with men like Cory Jane (see picture below) and Victor Vito, he assumed the role of playmaker. He also led the side on the park on several occasions in the absence of regular skipper Dane Coles. The Canes made a late surge to gain home advantage in the knockout stages [learning from their 2015 campaign]. It all went to plan, when the team finally secured that elusive first ever Super Rugby title.
In the All Black environment, he put last seasons late-fade behind him, securely at place during the Wales series. More often off the bench, Perenara made the most of a window when Aaron Smith’s own personal problems gave him a start. A good Rugby Championship led to a great end-of-year tour. Perenara arguably goes into the summer as the first-choice halfback.
How he backs up his 2016 season in the next 12 months; with the pressure of the British and Irish Lions incoming tour, Perenara in 2017 will be well worth watching.
#37 – Ken Pisi
Age: 27 | Club: North Harbour/Northampton | Country:Samoa
Ken Pisi is a New Zealand-born winger, who plays for the Northampton Saints. The youngest of three Pisi brothers currently playing in the Aviva Premiership, beside his brother George and Tusi.
Over the 2016 calendar year, Ken Pisi has earned 6 tries for Northampton, where he is become an amazing asset to Saints. Carving out a career in the United Kingdom, he has played over 100 games and over the past season, Pisi has been a constant performer. Now considered Northampton’s first-pick winger.
The former New Zealand Secondary Schools and Under 19 player again represented Samoa in the fall series. Pisi played a huge part for ‘the Manu’ including a start in Samoa’s win against Canada. He now holds 12 caps for Samoa, which included the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
Pisi has been having an amazing year, and although he has been off to a slow season for Northampton–2 tries in 11 matches–but he will certainly make all sides pay attention, and play to his expected high levels again.
#38 – Charles Piutau
Age:24 | Clubs: Blues/Ulster | Country New Zealand
By Joshua Bradham
Charles Piutau is a New Zealand-born winger who is now playing for Ulster in the Guinness Pro 12. A player who is gaining a following in Europe for his expansive and fully committed attitude to defense and attack.
Piutau made the decision to pass on continuing as an 16 test All Black outside back. He decided to move his career to Europe to grow his game. Piutau was on a short-term 2015/2016 contract with Wasps, where he scored 6 tries over 15 starts in the Premiership. He has amazing speed and power, that make him an absolute force in the European Circuit.
Piutau made his way to Ulster during the off season, however his term did not start off well as he was injured in in the opening contest of the Pro 12 season. The outside back has done very well since his return. During Ulster’s momentous home win against Clermont, Piutau was the player responsible for Ulster’s game winning try.
Just as he was in Super Rugby, Piutau is an amazing player who has one of the best offloads in the Championship. If used wisely, and he stays injury free, then fans should be ready for what 2017 has in store for him.
Follow the LWOR MC50 Series–the Fifty Most Influential Rugby Player Series leading up to the New Year: read #25-30 here.
“Main photo credit”