World Rugby for the second year in a row have released a nomination list for World Rugby Player of the Year that screams oversight and apathy, and Springboks lock Eben Etzebeth and dynamic All Black Ardi Savea are again victims of this shocking selection process, writes Mark Keohane.
In 2021 World Rugby’s Player of the Year nominations were Antoine Dupont, Maro Itoje, Samu Kerevi and Michael Hooper. In a year where Etzebeth played his 100th Test cap and outplayed opposite number Maro Itoje in the British & Irish Lions three-Test series, he was not even a consideration. Neither was Springbok captain Siya Kolisi who led the Boks to the series victory, nor was Lukhanyo Am who by the end of 2021 was considered the best outside centre in the world. Am, instrumental in the Springboks’ success against the British & Irish Lions, played 11 out of 12 possible Tests in 2021, while Australian outside centre and nominee Samu Kerevi played five.
French captain Dupont, who won the award was a deserved recipient after a superb year, and there can be no qualms about his claim to the award. However, the fact that not one of the South African trio mentioned even made the list of nominees was a farce, given the context of their individual seasons and the Springboks year as a whole.
Not much seems to have changed in 2022, and the absence of Etzebeth and Savea reaffirms the feeling that World Rugby have either an agenda or complete lack of insight. The nomination list for 2022 reads: Am, Dupont and Ireland’s Johnny Sexton and Josh van der Flier.
Also read: Nominate Eben for World Rugby award
The Springboks have not had the season expected of a squad that boasts so much talent, but they still end the year with a home series win against Wales as well as a victory over the All Blacks and Australia. Etzebeth was at the forefront of this effort, as he has been for the entire season, and in matches where the Boks have come short, Etzebeth has continued to stand tallest. The most experienced Springbok in the current squad, Etzebeth has played in nine of the ten Tests so far this year, and a statistic telling of his consistent impact is a tackle completion rate of 90% over the year.
Equally, Ardie Savea was continuously the best player in an All Black squad that began the year struggling under Ian Foster, with some of the worst results in New Zealand rugby’s history. Fast forward to the end of the year and Savea has led an All Black resurgence that saw them come away Rugby Championship winners, despite their terrible start to the year.
Savea was the one All Black who turned up in their defeat against the Boks, and a week later he was magnificent in leading the charge as the All Blacks got one back over South Africa. He was huge again in Wales, as New Zealand battered the Welsh 55-23. There is far more to rugby than just tackling, but where Etzebeth’s tackle success rate of 90% is impressive, Savea’s statistic for 2022 is a 99% tackle completion rate. Tackling may not be the only indicator of performance, but it is certainly a key indicator of consistency and work rate.
Savea, in an All Blacks team experiencing its most inconsistent in terms of results in 2022, has been the stand out. He has been a superman playing among mortals.
In a list that allows for only four players to be nominated, the public should be unable to predict who the winner is going to be. The competition should be so tight that the winner is separated by a coin flip from the other nominees. It was not the case last year, and in 2022 the story remains the same. But how could it ever be the case when the best players do not even make it onto the list of nominees?
Am, among the nominees for 2022, was the backbone of the Springbok squad for much of the year, until he got injured. He will end the year having played five games. I am not disputing Am’s impact in those games, but in the same vein that I am critical of Kerevi’s nomination in 2021, I am questioning how Am is in the running ahead of Eztebeth and Savea, who have played nine and eight Tests respectively, and still have matches remaining on their end of year tours.
If last year belonged to AM, in terms of a nomination, then 2022 belongs to Etzebeth and Savea. Both would make every international and World XV starting pack.
What a farce World Rugby!