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 complete the list with the MC50 Most Influential Rugby Player Series 47-50.
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 47-50
#47 – Liam Williams
Age: 23 | Clubs: Scarlets | Country: Wales
By Robert Rees
Wales’ best player over 2016 has really shown his very real attacking threat over the course of the year. Williams name has been matched to Wales success,
Enjoying a purple patch of form, Williams was happily creating havoc amongst the northern and southern hemisphere sides defenses whenever he plays. Specializing at full back, but covering wing really boosts his unpredictability in attack as you don’t know whether he will run at you, run around you or play a kicking game for territory.
When regular Leigh Halfpenny was injured/unavailable for the New Zealand tour, Williams was the most impressive back. At Eden Park, he started the tour on a high until an injury removed his impact. That occurred at times of 2016, but a fully fit Williams will take full attention of any defence.
Williams is a valuable asset and that’s why Europe’s best, Saracens have snapped him up from the Scarlets. His winding runs going forward are then complimented by his strong defensive nature, which has nurtured nicely during his time from wing to full back. The news of his change is competition has caused a stir, but the cream always rises to the top–where the richest can always ‘scoop up’ the best players.
Liam Williams deserves to be in the MC50 Most Influential Rugby Player Series 47-50. A fantastic 12 months is proof of this, and if a fully fit Williams can display that same talent, then he will star for Wales and likely join the Lions in New Zealand.
#48 – Portia Woodman
Age: 25 | Club: Counties-Manukau Heat | Country: New Zealand
The cross-over athlete was a trending topic of 2016. Many top rugby players had dreams of gold, and this included women’s rugby players. With the Olympic Games returning rugby to the event, both men and women would star. This would showcase the ‘best players in the world’ and at the top of the list was Portia Woodman.
Voted 2015 World Rugby Women’s Sevens Player of the Year, Woodman continued that fine form over the 2015/16 sevens series. Claiming the all time record for tries scored, she and her Sevens Sisters did their best but the Australian side dominated the five round season.
At the completion of the sevens series, teams readied for the Rio Olympic Games. An experience of a lifetime, Woodman was a tryscoring machine, but even though New Zealand reached the gold medal final, Australia once again held firm. It was a great campaign and a Silver medal is certainly worth celebrating.
Woodman Returns to XV’s With Ease
After enjoying a holiday (and returning with pink, braided hair) she was a part of Women’s Provincial rugby history. Her Counties-Manukau side–constantly the bridesmaids to the seminal champions Auckland–were a determined challenger in 2016, where Woodman became a part of history.
The final round win, and then a commanding victory in the final 41-22, was a wonderful way to complete the first ever Farah Palmer Cup competition. Woodman, beside other sevens players had easily transitioned between the codes and many went on to play Australia in the two test series–dispatching them 2-0 in style.
Payback in a way for the Sevens campaign, but with stars like Woodman, Tyla Nathan-Wong and Hazel Tubic, the New Zealand team will again be a force over the 2016/17 women’s sevens season.
#49 – Alun Wynn Jones
Age: 31 | Clubs: Swansea/Ospreys | Country: Wales
By Robert Rees
The lock, capped 105 times by Wales, is one of the real legends of the game. Such a passionate character on the field, but also such a great player. That aura has only increased in 2016, with multiple performances in the Wales jersey, that has seen Wynn Jones take over the mantle of Celtic Legend.
An inspirational leader for the Ospreys and Wales continues to put in ‘a shift’ when asked to run out in the Guinness Pro 12, or for his nation. Even as he has hit his thirties, Wynn Jones remains a constant threat at lineouts. He adds real power at over 120kg to the Welsh forwards and puts in a high tackle rate most games that he plays in every season.
He does however have an extra ability that some locks lack–of carrying the ball and in making territory. AWJ likes to carry across the gain line often during a game, gaining precious yards for his team. He accomplished this on tour in New Zealand. Often seen as the ‘player on the day’ it is why Wynn Jones assumes a high standing in the game–some would say a candidate for the leadership of the 2017 British and Irish ions tour.
Coming back from injury, and personal tragedy, over the last season he seems to be indestructible. Fans will hope that is true, in the Six Nations and leading to the Lions tour.
#50 – Ben Youngs
Age: 27 | Club: Leicester Tigers | Country: England
The younger of the two Tigers’ brothers, Ben Youngs has seemingly won the battle for England supremacy at scrum-half under Eddie Jones. Youngs has moved his game on from being simply a sniping runner around the base of the ruck and scrum, to being one of the most rounded nines in World Rugby.
His ability to control his forwards at club and country level have meant that he has taken the England starting shirt from Danny Care in 2016. This has been when a host of other aspiring half-backs have been displaying their wares across the Aviva Premiership. That internal competition has been a terrific motivating factor for Youngs–as it has been for the entire squad.
When he appeared first for Leicester back in 2007, he was the youngest player ever to turn out in the English top flight. Still a mainstay for the Tigers under head coach Aaron Mauger, and while his side were unable to claim the main prize, this season they lay in fifth place and Youngs will be a key man in the clubs future plans.
Follow the LWOR MC50 Series–the Fifty Most Influential Rugby Player Series leading up to the New Year: read #39-43 here.
“Main photo credit”