2020 was arguably the strangest year in rugby history as a number of the sport’s top international teams, including world champions South Africa, didn’t play a single match.
Most sides played a reduced number of test matches, meaning players had limited opportunities to impress in a season of upheaval.
Still, a number of players managed to shine in a particularly difficult year on and off the rugby pitch and they deserve to be recognised.
Only players who took part in international test matches are eligible for the world XV, so unfortunately no Springboks feature on our list.
Elliot Daly, Jonny May and Marika Koroibete
After winning both the Six Nations and Autumn Nations Cup, England deserve to have a fair few names on the list, with Daly and May providing a constant attacking threat for Eddie Jones’ side.
Daly is the perfect all-round fullback – offering speed, a safe pair of hands and a massive boot – who is also more than capable of playing on the wing.
May has the ability to score tries from anywhere, and proved that beyond doubt against France and Ireland this year, and is deceptively hard to tackle due to his unusual running style.
Koroibete meanwhile has become absolutely crucial to the Wallabies, and while he does drop the ball the odd time he is brilliant in both attack and defence.
Virimi Vakatawa and Owen Farrell
Vakatawa has been a crucial component in France’s rebirth in 2020, with his pace, power and sublime offloading ability terrorising opposition defences on a regular basis.
At 28, Vakatawa is one of the older members of a youthful French squad but should still be in his prime when the 2023 Rugby World Cup comes around.
Farrell continued to lead his team to great success in 2020, winning all the silverware available to England, losing just one test match.
While he had an off day with the boot in the Autumn Nations Cup final, he eventually secured the win for England and is a simply irreplaceable member of the squad.
Romain Ntamack and Antoine Dupont
The young French half-back pairing were exceptional for Les Bleus in 2020, coming close to delivering a first Six Nations and Grand Slam title since 2010.
France are without a doubt the most improved team of the year and Ntamack and Dupont deserve much credit for that, despite being only 21 and 24 respectively.
The two play their club rugby together at Toulouse and have fostered a great understanding of one another during their short time together.
The two should prove to be crucial to France’s hopes in 2023 and if they continue their current trajectory they may just deliver a first-ever World Cup triumph for their country.
Ardie Savea, Michael Hooper and Marcos Kremer
It’s an all-southern hemisphere back row, featuring one player from each country that played out a surprisingly competitive Tri Nations tournament.
Savea has locked down the All Blacks No.8 shirt since former captain Kieran Read retired and has done so in style, causing mayhem with his powerful carries all year.
Hooper continued to be exceptional for Australia, and having amassed 105 caps for his country at the age of 29 could one day become the most capped player ever.
Kremer is only 23, but was a massive physical presence in the Argentine pack and put in an all-time great defensive performance in the win against New Zealand, making 28 tackles against the All Blacks that day.
Sam Whitelock and Maro Itoje
Despite making his international debut 10 years ago, Whitelock is still irreplaceable in the All Blacks second and brings great experience and stability to a team struggling to find its way at the moment.
While New Zealand had a disappointing year by their high standards, the two-time World Cup winner rarely puts a foot wrong for his country.
Itoje is one of the most athletic locks to ever play the game and continued infuriating teams at every opportunity with his impressive poaching skills.
If the England second row manages to avoid injury, he’ll be one of the first names on the team sheet for the British and Irish Lions opening test against South Africa in 2021.
Kyle Sinckler, Dane Coles and Mako Vunipola
Sinckler started every game except the win over Georgia for England in 2020 and at the relatively young age of 27 looks set to be the starting English tighthead prop for years to come.
Coles has been a staple of the All Blacks team, when fit, for years now and still has an unbelievable amount of pace for a 34-year old hooker.
Always a privilege 🌹 pic.twitter.com/9ssvFs71ux
— Kyle Sinckler (@KyleSinckler) January 20, 2020
While it wasn’t the greatest year for New Zealand, Coles still offers more in attack than any other front row player in the world.
Vunipola had a number of small injury problems this year but when he’s available he slots right back into the starting England XV and has proven time and time again he is the best in the world at his position.
Full starting XV for the 2020 team of the year
15. Elliot Daly (England)
14. Jonny May (England)
13. Virimi Vakatawa (France)
12. Owen Farrell (England)
11. Marika Koroibete (Australia)
10. Romain Ntamack (France)
9. Antoine Dupont (France)
8. Ardie Savea (New Zealand)
7. Michael Hooper (Australia)
6. Marcos Kremer (Argentina)
5. Sam Whitelock (New Zealand)
4. Maro Itoje (England)
3. Kyle Sinckler (England)
2. Dane Coles (New Zealand)
1. Mako Vunipola (England)