We kick off our list of the 100 best players going from 100 to 91. Compiled at the end of 2017, take a look at who makes the cut.
95 Sarah Bern
Country England Date of Birth 10.7.97 Position Prop
She switched from back-row to prop only two years ago but her progress meant she was the youngest player in England’s 2017 WRWC squad and wore No 3 in the final. “I’ve always been big and strong and aggressive,” says Bern, who’s a terrific ball-carrier.
94 James Davies
Country Wales Date of Birth 25.10.90 Position Back-row
An Olympic silver medallist in sevens, he’s evolved into one of the best players in the Pro14. Championed by many for a Wales spot, his rugby intelligence, soft hands and remarkable stats – he made a record 100 turnovers in 51 Pro14 games – mark him out as a rare talent.
93 Levani Botia
Country Fiji Date of Birth 14.3.89 Position Centre
Joined La Rochelle as a medical joker in 2014 and now the joke’s on Top 14 opponents. He dips into contact with explosive power to skittle defenders. And his remarkable engine means this ferocious tackler often plays flanker for his club and centre for Fiji.
92 Cian Healy
Country Ireland Date of Birth 7.10.87 Position Prop
When he was kicked off a South African flight last September for doing video analysis on his laptop, you wondered, ‘Can Cian Healy catch a break?’ Injury and poor form had seen Jack McGrath oust him as No 1 for Leinster and Ireland. But he’s had a renaissance, rediscovering his menace and wrestling his shirt back.
91 Schalk Brits
Country South Africa Date of Birth 16 May 1981 Position Hooker
Brits has decided that this will be his final season of professional rugby, but when you see the performances the 36-year-old puts in you have to ask, ‘Why?’ As his boss at Saracens, Mark McCall, says: “He’s Peter Pan. He’s an explosive athlete and his athleticism hasn’t gone away at all.”
It’s easy to be drawn to Brits’s grin and happy nature, but there is far more to him. For a start, no one plays more than 200 games for Saracens without having a competitive edge and supreme talent.
That talent may not have been so widely appreciated in South Africa, but he’s a firm favourite in the UK. The antithesis of the traditional, brutish South African hooker, Brits has skills that few No 2s share. As well as eyeing a gap, he can create one with footwork and has the pace to burst through it and offload to a team-mate. In fact, only Louis Picamoles and Sale’s Sam James made more offloads than him in last season’s Premiership and he has scored more tries in England’s top flight than any other hooker (27).
So while there may only be a few months left to see him in action, there are sure to be plenty of glimpses of that stardust he so often sprinkles. And Saracens fans will hope he can also add to his haul of three Premiership titles and two Champions Cups come May.
Our next section of the 100 best players…