Our next section of the 100 best players goes from 20-11. Take a look at who makes the cut

The 100 Best Rugby Players In The World: 20-11

20 James Ryan

Tale of the Tape: Ryan has a terrific record at club and country level (Getty Images)

Age 22 (24 June 1996) Position Lock

In his brief career as a professional at the top level, he has won a Grand Slam, a Champions Cup and two Pro14 titles. He has gone to Australia and won a series – the first time an Ireland side has achieved that feat since long before he was born. He has played New Zealand once
and has beaten them once. James Ryan is 22 years old. As Devin Toner, his Leinster and Ireland second-row partner, says: “He’s got a minimum ten or 12 top years left in him and that’s so exciting. I’m delighted to say that I played with him and I can’t wait to see what he’s going to achieve.  There are no limits for this lad.”

19 Jonathan Davies

Central Piece: If Wales are to secure Rugby World Cup glory, Davies will need to be on form (getty Images)

Age 31 (5 April 1988) Position Centre

Saturday 16 March 2019 is a significant date for Davies. Not only did he help Wales beat Ireland 25-7 to clinch a Six Nations Grand Slam, but his horse won the Midlands Grand National!

An hour after Potters Corner, the gelding he part owns, crossed the line ahead of the rest at Uttoxeter that Saturday afternoon, Davies was jumping with delight as the final whistle blasted in Cardiff. He was then memorably caught on camera telling Alun Wyn Jones: “Thank you, mate. I love you.”

It’s the latest in a long line of achievements for the 31-year-old – two Grand Slams and three championship titles, six successive Test starts for the Lions in 2013 and 2017, Lions’ Man of the Series in New Zealand, a Guinness Pro12 title with the Scarlets in 2017…

He captained Wales for the first time in Italy this year and of his 73 Wales caps, only three are as a replacement, with the last of those in 2011. If he’s fit, he starts.

He’s always defended the 13 channel expertly and has formed even more of a midfield brick wall for the Scarlets and Wales with Hadleigh Parkes. He offers an additional kicking option and his running game shouldn’t be underestimated.

Davies is a vital piece in the jigsaw that has taken Wales to second in the world rankings – now for the home stretch as they target 2019 Rugby World Cup glory.

18 Jamie George

Starting Hooker: George has made the 2 jersey his own for club and country (Getty Images)

Age 28 (20.10.90) Position Hooker

His first 19 caps came off the bench, but he’s blossomed technically and as a leader since winning the hooker’s berth for the 2017 Lions. Solid in the set-piece, his work around the field is sensational – he gave a 20m scoring miss-pass off his left hand v Italy!

17 Alex Goode

Injustice: For someone as good as Goode, it seems criminal he only has 2 England caps (Getty Images)

Age 31 (5.5.88) Position Full-back

Nicknamed ‘Spider’ due to his elusive running style, he’s been spectacularly proficient for the past four years and it’s scandalous he’s won just two caps in that time. Ruthless at exploiting fractured defences, his distribution and kicking are good enough to play Test rugby as a ten.

16 Stuart Hogg

Must Watch: You never know what incredible moment Hogg is going to create on the ball (Getty Images)

Age 26 (24.6.92) Position Full-back

Hogg’s matured hugely as a player, his game as much about creating as scoring these days. An electrifying runner, his skill-set includes booming spiral punts and pinpoint grubber kicks. “He can do everything, he’s an incredible talent,” says Chris Paterson.

15 Ardie Savea 

Physical Freak: Savea is in the form of his life (Getty Images)

Age 25 (14 October 1993) Position Back-row

Not a game passes where Savea’s contributions are not front and centre, often overshadowing illustrious Hurricanes and All Blacks. Several aspects of Savea’s game have improved dramatically over the past 12 months. Top of that list is his breakdown work; it’s not just the turnovers he pilfers but their influence and timing. At 25, Savea is in the prime of his career. This season his form has gone to another level, to the point he could be New Zealand’s premier openside flanker and the second-best No 8 behind All Blacks captain Kieran Read.

14 Peceli Yato

Class Act: Yato has it all in abundance (Getty Images)

Age 26 (17.1.93) Position Back-row

Last November, ahead of a Test with Fiji, Scotland boss Gregor Townsend said: “Peceli Yato must be one of the best back-row forwards in the world.” As a Fijian forward in Europe, his name may have been lost amongst praise for compatriots Viliame Mata and Leone Nakarawa. Yet in a season where Clermont played exceptional rugby, Yato was a standout.

Whether from openside or No 8, he thunders into tackles and opens up his legs in space. In the Challenge Cup, he haunted the Northampton attack, giving no quarter in defence.

Domestically in the Top 14, he has shrugged off enforcers like Toulouse’s Jerome Kaino. On occasion he has racked up more metres with ball in hand than the back-three stars.

Against Perpignan in May, Yato was hailed not for the hat-trick he scored or the fact Clermont secured a play-off spot, but because he charged down a kick and insisted the opposition have the throw-in when the officials gave the lineout to his team. Class all round.

13 Faf de Klerk

Full Ticket: De Klerk has been a revelation playing in England (Getty Images)

Age 27 (19 October 1991) Position Scrum-half

There was a chorus of protests when the Gallagher Premiership Dream Team was announced without Sale’s de Klerk at scrum-half. And rightly so because he has been sensational since coming to England and acquiring the astute game management that some felt he lacked in South Africa.

The greater emphasis on kicking in the Premiership, where exit plays off the nine are de rigueur, has helped demonstrate that de Klerk is now the full ticket.

His hallmark is the blistering acceleration he brings from the base and globally there’s no one better at creating chances against backpedalling opponents from a penalty. His small stature – 5ft 8in – helps in this regard, yet he is no patsy for big forwards, being as tough as a two-dollar steak.

He’s also a master at engineering line breaks around rucks, while his harassing of rival nines at scrums is another strong feature of his play. He says: “I enjoy putting teams under pressure, forcing turnovers and just being a pain really!”

Sale boss Steve Diamond says the Springbok “has paid us back ten times over already” and when the Sharks were faltering against Gloucester on the final day, de Klerk donned his Superman cape once more to ensure they stayed in the Champions Cup frame. “It’s unfair when he’s on form like that,” said pundit Dave Flatman. “He’s smaller than everyone else but better than everyone else.”

12 Billy Vunipola

Vengeance: After only playing one RWC match in 2015, Billy will be targeting glory in Japan (Getty Images)

Age 26 (3.11.92) Position No 8

The younger half of rugby’s ‘bruise brothers’, Vunipola is the sport’s most powerful ball-carrier. It often takes three defenders to stop him but in the Heineken Cup final a Leinster quartet proved insufficient as he bulldozed over from a scrum for the decisive try. “He’s the best No 8 in the world,” said Jamie George after that Saracens win.

In the Six Nations he was the only player to account for more than 10% of a team’s carries (71) and made more metres than any other forward (231), but there’s far more to Vunipola than the ‘wrecking ball’ label he gave to his 2017 award-winning book.

Indeed, he’s more of a Swiss Army knife than a machete, able to fizz a long pass or pop a subtle offload. He’s even developed a knack of intercepting and his form this year has come as a welcome relief after a string of injury setbacks, including shoulder and knee surgery and three broken arms.

The coming Rugby World Cup will leave him wide-eyed because, strange to think, he started only one Rugby World Cup 2015 match.

11 Pauline Bourdon

French Heart; Bourdon is at the centre of everything the French do well (Getty Images)

Age 23 (4 Nov 1995) Position Scrum-half

Whether playing at nine or ten – like many French half-backs, she covers both positions – Bourdon is France’s metronome. Fast or slow, tight or loose, she makes them tick and marshals them to great effect.

She has the triple threat of a running, passing and kicking game that all the best half-backs possess, but it’s her ability to influence a match that sets her apart. Her reading of the game means more often than not she makes the right decision at the right time, and her knowledge of the laws allows her to alert referees to any infractions.

Her calmness under pressure belies a deep competitive instinct; even with her 5ft 5in frame she’s comfortable mixing with heavyweights – and did just that in guiding France to a famous 30-27 victory over New Zealand last November. She was also a star of their 2018 Six Nations Grand Slam – being named in the Scrumqueens XV of the Year – and scored a brace against England in this year’s championship.

The 23-year-old will continue to play a fundamental role for France as they build towards the 2021 World Cup.

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