The conclusion of the 2015 World Cup marked a watershed moment for rugby. Within a few short weeks of the tournament coming to a close, legends such as Richie McCaw, Ma’a Nonu, Conrad Smith, Paul O’Connell, Jean de Villiers and Victor Matfield all left the international stage.
In their place, a number of players are leading the charge to become rugby’s new crop of superstars. It was therefore interesting to read an article published on Kiwi news site, Stuff, in which Paul Cully ranks the top 10 most influential players in the game.
Cully’s list is all the more fascinating as it includes players such as Maro Itoje, who has so quickly become one of the game’s top talents. While others have appeared on similar rankings in the past, this short list takes into consideration current form.
The Australian fullback is extremely dangerous with ball in hand, and would have been ranked higher if it were not for his lapses in defence.
The man simply does not know what it feels like to lose. His athleticism makes him brilliant in the line out and dangerous around the field.
Like Itoje, Retallick is part of a new breed of second rows. Not only is he a traditional line out target, but his skill set allows him roam the field like a flanker.
Although his form had dipped a little since the World Cup, Cully was struck by Faletau’s performances against the All Blacks this month, and has included the welsh number eight on his list as a result.
Although he was switched onto the wing against Wales, Ben Smith remains the best fullback in the game right now. Cully rates him so highly, that he reckons Smith ‘could probably play at No 10 make a decent fist of it’.
Having been left out of England’s World Squad for disciplinary reasons, Hartley has returned a reformed man. His inclusion has also brought steel to England’s set piece.
One of the stars of the World Cup and the best openside in the game, Australia sorely missed David Pocock against England. Not only does he dominate the breakdown, but is now a leader for the Wallabies.
Aaron Smith has become one of New Zealand’s most important player in the post McCaw era. Smith plays the game at a high tempo, ensuring the All Blacks remain on the front foot.
It is hard to believe that some considered George Ford to be England’s leading fly half this time last year. Critics labeled Farrell as being too conservative, but he has since excelled as a second playmaker at inside centre.
Earmarked as Richie McCaw’s successor for some time, Kieran Read appears to have overcome the series of injuries that affected his form last season.
Such has been his impact, Cully believes the All Black number eight to be the early front runner for the 2016 world player of the year award.