Our next section of the 100 best players goes from 20-11. Compiled at the end of 2017, take a look at who makes the cut
15 Kieran Read
Country New Zealand Date of Birth 26.10.85 Position No 8
Picture the All Blacks without Read as captain. Hard, isn’t it? Ever since he first cantered onto the international scene, the sight of the No 8 marauding down the touchline or linking play with a silken little offload has been a mainstay. More so than this, though, is the way he has taken to replacing Richie McCaw as the figurehead for New Zealand.
Sure, he was already a standout, something that was proven with his Player of the Year award in 2013. Some have been murmuring that Read has not been as explosive as in seasons gone by, that he is not tearing off regular runs of 20m-plus or forcing turnovers. To cling to this is to ignore his presence and certainly to ignore the work-rate, as he tracks kicks back or offers himself as a sacrificial carrier time and again. He has adapted, too, as typified when the All Blacks carried tight into the Lions.
Read could be the joint-first player to bag three World Cups in a row if New Zealand win in Japan – Sam Whitelock, Owen Franks and Sonny Bill Williams are also still involved from 2011 and 2015.
If that comes to pass in 2019, the most impressive aspect would be how Read’s bridged several All Blacks generations and looked wholly secure in his spot.
14 Kurtley Beale
Country Australia Date of Birth 6.1.89 Position Utility back
There’s nothing robotic about Beale. Wondrously talented, he has played in every back-line position for the Wallabies bar scrum-half – and you’d back him to make a decent fist of No 9 if given the chance!
Beale, you see, plays on natural instinct, with a deceptive step, cute footballing skills and a sumptuous distribution game that enables him to whip crisp 15m passes off both hands.
His light shone brightly for Wasps last year, where he treated Premiership crowds to his illustrious gifts before returning to Australia. He immediately stiffened the Wallabies’ resolve, scoring against New Zealand on consecutive weekends and showing his defensive teeth by driving Sonny Bill Williams back. Steff Evans will be glad to see the back of Beale after his ruthless rip and run led to a decisive try against Wales – one of five in 11 Tests last year.
A huge character off the pitch, Beale had a smile the size of a Cheshire cat when chatting to Prince William clothed in only his Budgy Smugglers. At 28, Beale will be anointed Crown Prince of the Wallabies for a few years yet.
13 Sam Cane
Country New Zealand Date of Birth 13.1.92 Position Back-row
Being the openside who replaces Richie McCaw is a thankless job. And no one gets less thanks than Cane. Not that the All Blacks care; they see him knocking desire out of carriers with frame-defying hits and rate his captaincy credentials. He isn’t flashy but he is teeth-breakingly hard.
12 Johnny Sexton
Country Ireland Date of Birth 11.7.85 Position Fly-half
During the third Lions-NZ Test, Sexton resembled the Black Knight in Monty Python – no matter how much he was chopped down and roughed up, he came back for more. His contemporaries hold him in high regard, too, with Dan Biggar rating him as the finest ten he’s faced. A playmaker of the highest order, he is Joe Schmidt’s chief orchestrator.
11 Rieko Ioane
Country New Zealand Date of Birth 18.3.1997 Position Wing
The kid is a prodigy. In fact, The Prodigy would call him a firestarter! He has flamed his way past established wingers so often that in a very short space of time he’s become one of the most feared attackers on the planet.
This is not to say he has found things easy – he would likely see that as an insult to those he has played against. It is just that his particular set of abilities and his mentality mean that by the time he has settled into a competition, he has already done one or two spectacular things. Described by Steve Hansen as “phenomenal”, he was a popular pick as World Rugby’s Breakthrough Player of the Year.
Already an established gun on the sevens stage, after the Rio Olympics he was named the NZ Sevens Player of the Year. Last summer he scored bonkers tries against the Lions, first for the Blues, then two in the opening Test – his first All Blacks start. Most recently he scared the pudding out of Wales.
Suffice to say, the young man with 11 tries in 13 Tests is going places. Fast.
Our bronze medallist in the list of the…