After a titanic year of rugby, the November internationals are almost upon us.
Whilst growing silly facial hair and bonfire night are synonymous with the month, so is the crowing of World Rugby Player of the Year.
Will we see another All Black win the award, maybe a rare triumph for a northern hemisphere player, or can someone south of the equator topple the Kiwi dominance of the last five seasons?
Here we take a look at who is in contention to pick up the prestigious accolade come the end of the season.
5. Israel Folau
The rugby league convert this season has been sensational, dominating defences both domestically and internationally. Since bursting onto the international scene for Australia in 2013 during the Lions’ tour the 6ft 4in flyer has been a dangerous and exciting presence in broken field for the men in gold.
However, this season Folau has been frightening, asserting himself as the best full-back in world rugby. Scoring a sensational 13 Test tries this year his game has gone up a level, unfortunately taking a sabbatical for four months to allow his body to heal, robbing him of the opportunity to beat the record tries in a calendar year record of 17. Nevertheless, he stands as the frontrunner to be named the first non-Kiwi winner since 2012.
4. Beauden Barrett
The reigning World Player of the Year has carried on where he left off in 2016. Whilst he hasn’t had as many champagne moments this year he has been a driving force in an undefeated Rugby Championship for the All Blacks and the drawn Lions series as well as performing admirably for the Hurricanes.
Possessing lethal pace, a pinpoint accurate kicking game and a knack of producing the sublime and the ridiculous when needed most the Taranaki out-half’s importance to the men in black cannot be downplayed. Highlight of his season must be a scintillating performance in the second Bledisloe Test match that resulted in a 78th minute try by Barrett to win the game. Would the All Blacks have lost to Australia if Barrett had started?
3. Kieran Read
A season blighted by injury early on, and then a tough result of a drawn series at home against the British and Irish Lions. Regardless of these inconveniences, the Canterbury number 8 has performed heroically, combining immense work-rate and physicality with deft touches and sumptuous offloads.
Regathering the form that resulted in him winning the 2013 World Player of the Year, he led the All Blacks to an undefeated Rugby Championship campaign. The first Test against the Lions was one of the most commanding performances by a number 8 in recent years. Taking over from Richie McCaw after the 2015 World Cup, Read is now not only a fantastic player but a captain worthy of note. The way he carried himself after the dubious decision at the end of the third Lions Test highlighted his exceptional sportsmanship and humility.
2. Owen Farrell
European Player of the Year, Six Nations and Champions Cup winner, leading points scorer in the Lions Test series and world-class at 10 or 12. That should be enough to underline exactly why he is on the list of nominees, whilst never cutting loose or finding his best form on the tour to New Zealand, his resolute defence, immaculate passing game and exceptional kicking game kept the Lions in the series and allowed his Saracens side to flourish.
He has started the 2017/18 season in dazzling fashion with a spate of breath-taking performances, most notably against Northampton in the Champions Cup. A tough and abrasive character, he has been lorded as an ‘extra coach’ by Liam Williams in recent weeks, underlining his leadership qualities. Probably won’t win it in 2017 but don’t bet against him taking the spoils in 2018 if he continues this rich vein of form.
1. Jonathan Davies
The best player in the world must perform in the biggest games. The biggest occasion in the rugby calendar this year was the 2017 Lions tour, and the finest player on display was the man from Llanelli. Taking the prestigious Man of the Series award the outside centre was sublime.
Hard hitting, dynamic and beautifully composed it typified a breath-taking run of form that included guiding the Scarlets to their first PRO14 win since 2004. The scrum cap-clad centre played every second of the three-Test series, made seven line-breaks and dominated his opposite men in defence, most notably in the decisive third Test.
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