The World Rugby player of the year award will return this year, having taken a break in 2020 due to the significantly diminished international schedule.
There are more test matches to come this year in the autumn internationals, but the shortlist for the player of the year award is starting to take shape, with the Six Nations, British and Irish Lions tour and Rugby Championship all behind us.
A number of players still have time to put their hands up for selection with impressive performances for their countries next month, but they will need to be at their very best to displace those on our list.
Below are the five players who we believe are front-runners in the race to be named World Rugby player of the year for 2021.
Australia captain Michael Hooper has been arguably one of the top 10 players in the world for the best part of a decade now, but he has reached new heights in 2021.
Hooper has played almost every minute of the Wallabies’ 10 test matches so far this year, and was outstanding even in his country’s three disheartening losses to the All Blacks.
The Wallabies have returned to form since then however, and Hooper and co. are now on track to take the northern hemisphere by storm after four consecutive wins in the Rugby Championship.
The 29-year-old is on the small side for a flanker, but his work rate is simply unparalleled, and if anything he gets better when his team is under pressure.
Hooper was nominated for the player of the year award in 2015, finishing as a runner-up to Dan Carter, but the Australian is currently odds-on to pick up the biggest individual award in the sport this year.
This pretty much sums up Michael Hooper as a player.
— Jared Wright (@jaredwright17) August 14, 2021
France scrum-half Antoine Dupont likely would have picked up the award last year if they had handed it out, and is again putting in exceptional performances in 2021.
Although France ultimately underachieved in the Six Nations this year with three wins out of five, Dupont orchestrated their attack brilliantly throughout the championship while also coming up with some moments of individual brilliance.
Only performances in international matches are officially considered by World Rugby when they are choosing their player of the year, but Dupont’s role in Toulouse’s Top 14 and Heineken Champions Cup triumphs should be noted.
Dupont’s chances won’t be helped by his absence from France’s three-match test series against Australia in July, but should he steer Les Bleus to a victory over the All Blacks this November he will certainly be in with a shout.
A defensive rock for South Africa this year, Am has backed up his performances in the 2019 Rugby World Cup with brilliant displays in the British and Irish Lions series and the Rugby Championship.
While the centre may not have had many opportunities to attack against the Lions, he was flawless in defence and set the tone for the series early on in the first test with a massive tackle on Elliot Daly.
Am had more opportunities to show off what he can do in attack in the Rugby Championship this year, in a tournament where his team mates around him often performed below their best.
His outrageous around the back pass against New Zealand at the weekend will be remembered for years to come and he will be expected to play a big role for South Africa in their tests against Wales, Scotland and England next month.
AROUND THE BACK LUKHANYO AM 🤯
— Stan Sport (@StanSportAU) October 2, 2021
Alun Wyn Jones.
The significance of Alun Wyn Jones’ achievements this year can only be fully appreciated when put into context, in what is the Wales stalwart’s 16th year in international rugby.
Jones captained Wales to another Six Nations title this year and were agonisingly close to a Grand Slam, after a woeful 2020 in which they finished fifth in both the Six Nations and Autumn Nations Cup.
The 36-year-old was then one of the Lions’ best performers in all three tests against the Springboks, despite dislocating his shoulder just four weeks before the first test.
Despite his age, Jones still gets through extraordinary amounts of work, and is arguably the best captain in the sport when it comes to dealing with referees.
Wales have arguably the toughest autumn schedule of any country, as they take on New Zealand, Fiji, South Africa and Australia, where even three wins from four could help propel Jones to the player of the year award.
All Blacks flyer Rieko Ioane won World Rugby’s breakthrough player of the year award back in 2017, and he is in with a good chance of winning the most senior individual award this year.
Ioane actually fell out of favour with New Zealand in 2019 after bursting onto the scene two years’ previously, but the 24-year-old has been back to his best this year playing as both a centre and a winger.
While his try-scoring tally this year might not be as high as in his first year of international rugby (although with four tries it certainly isn’t bad) he has used his pace to create plenty of opportunities.
A more mature player than the one who scored 10 tries in his first international season, Ioane has shown he is well able to play as an outside-centre, and is well on his way to fulfilling his dizzying potential.
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