Last Word On Rugby MC50 Most Influential Rugby Player Series 31-34

Jonny May
Jonny May during the QBE International match between England and Ireland at Twickenham Stadium on September 5, 2015 in London, England (Image courtesy of Getty Images)

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 31-34.

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 31-34

#31 – Jonny May

Age: 26 | Club: Gloucester | Country: England

By James Barker

Jonny May announced himself to the world with a wonder try against New Zealand back in 2014. And while he has missed a lot of 2016 through injury, he is proving one try won’t be his only international achievement.

Before long, May rejoined his unbeaten English squad. Appearing in the final two tests, he scored the crucial try against Argentina (see above) to seal the victory for England in November. His finishing ability is still top-class, and May has 22 caps and eight tries for his country.

It is surely no coincidence that Gloucester’s results have picked up since he returned from injury, despite only making three appearances so far. He is the number one wing at Kingsholm and his unpredictability frightens Premiership defences.  He has worked his way up from the Gloucester academy, and was named LV Cup Breakthrough player in 2012.  His strike rate for Gloucester is close to one try every two games (52 tries in 106 starts).

If May can play through the Winter, he should hold a place with England and be a part of the squad to enter the RBS 2017 Six Nations tournament.

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#32 – Ross Moriarty

Age: 22 | Club: Gloucester | Country: Wales

By Robert Rees

Arguably Wales best player of the autumn series in Cardiff, where he took up the role of the number eight in the absence of Talaupe Faletau. This new flexibility will be a feather in his bow, as he can cover multiple positions and work in tandem with his loose forward trio.

Moriarty was impressive when touring New Zealand. Eager to face the ‘best in the world’ he was a stand-up man–no backward step taken. And even as his side were undone 3-0, he returned to Wales with his head held high. And during the November series, he again was confident and added to his test caps for Wales [even as he represented England Under 20].

Ross Moriarty under pressure from Australia’s Bernard Foley during the Autumn International match between Wales and Australia at Principality Stadium. (Photo by Simon King – CameraSport via Getty Images)

Every statistic Moriarty produced was high quality; his tackle rate, turnover percentage and ball carrying were all great, considering Wales weren’t near their best. Under their ‘Interim head coach’ Rob Howley, the side at times was left wading instead of swimming powerfully. A loss to Australia took some confidence away, but close fought wins over Japan and South Africa restored their zeal to perform.

Such a presence in the back-row for Gloucester too, with his speed off the mark a key part in what makes him a great asset. One that mentally can think of what he is going to do a few steps ahead of what most players can do.

Wales Eager To Bring Talent Back Home

A talent Welsh Rugby will be keen to bring to Wales’ pro sides as soon as possible–so Moriarty can do his dominating in the Pro12, rather than the Premiership.

Along with Tuperic and Warburton, Moriarty is a long term leader from the back of the pack. A full fit Faletau will bring the options, and internal competition will bring out the best in the Wales team. That can only be good news for a crucial 2017 campaign.

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#33 – Conor Murray

Age: 27 | Club: Munster | Country: Ireland

By Steve Kendall

Like Mike Phillips for Wales and the great Joost van der Westhuizen of South Africa, Conor Murray is not of the small sniping scrum-half mold.  At 6’2” and 95kg, he is not quite the ‘ninth forward’ the other two were, but the Munster and Ireland half-back from Limerick has become the lynch pin for both club and country.

Since his debut for Ireland in 2011, Murray offered something different from the more ‘traditional’ nines that had come before him.  His strength and athleticism marked him out from the more passing-oriented scrum-halves that Ireland previously possessed. In 2016, he showed that ability to be a pivot that Ireland can rely on.

Conor Murray of Ireland during the 1st test of the Castle Lager Incoming series between South Africa and Ireland at the DHL Newlands Stadium in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo By Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images

Historic achievements over this period have Irish Rugby fans in high expectation. The list of victories included:

  1. First ever win over South Africa in Cape Town (see above).
  2. Murray was the standout figure in their monumental first-ever victory over the All Blacks.
  3. After beating Australia to deny the Wallabies an Grand Slam, was the first time Ireland had defeated the three Southern Hemisphere powers.

Murray’s international partnership with club opponent Jamie Heaslip at eight has allowed Ireland to become one of the strongest teams from the base of the scrum.  The hands of Heaslip and the vision of Murray give Ireland the ability to be one of the most formidable set-piece attacks in world rugby.

Local Talent Stays Loyal To Munster

For Munster, Murray is their master tactician, and the local talent is at home when running onto Thomond Park. After re-signing with the Guinness Pro 12 side, Murray has high hopes that his side can again capture a title.

After the retirement of Paul O’Connell and the sad passing of coach Anthony Foley, the club is delicately balanced. A man of Murray’s stature is needed to return the side to the top of the table–and the Limerick man is more than capable of that task, from his example of 2016.

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#34 – Willem Petrus (WP) Nel 

Age: 30 | Club: Free State Cheetahs/Edinburgh | Country: Scotland

By Steve Kendall

Like most props and fine most fine wines, WP Nel is maturing nicely.  The South African-born ‘Scotsman’ won his first cap in August 2015, when he came off the bench against Italy in Turin.

A product of provincial rugby in the country of his birth he went on to compete in Currie Cup for the Boland Kavaliers, and in Super Rugby for the Free State Cheetahs. When deciding to switch allegiance to his adopted nation of Scotland [2012], he brought with him a strong base of rugby knowledge, forged in the African republic.

WP Nel of Scotland is tackled by Yacouba Camara and Guilhem Guirado of France during the RBS Six Nations match between Scotland and France at Murrayfield Stadium on March 13, 2016 in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Nel’s rise to recognition has been a steep one and his stock has risen steeply in the last 12 months. Solid and at times, incredible games for Scotland and for Edinburgh in the Pro 12 Championship, have shown his versatility. Nel is now considered by many to be one of the favourites for a British & Irish Lions squad place for the tour of New Zealand in 2017.

Nel is one of a raft of Glasgow and Edinburgh players who are helping to put Scottish Club, and Scottish national rugby back on the map and will be a key player in their upcoming Six Nations campaign.

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Follow the LWOR MC50 Series–the Fifty Most Influential Rugby Player Series leading up to the New Year: read #25-30 here.

Image courtesy of Getty Images

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