Our next section of the 100 best players goes from 40-31. Compiled at the end of 2017, take a look at who makes the cut
35 Malcolm Marx
Country South Africa Date of Birth 13.7.94 Position Hooker
In a woeful spell for the Boks, Marx is lifting spirits. Built like the proverbial brick outhouse, the Lion eviscerates defenders and is immovable over the ball – he won four turnovers v NZ in Cape Town. His potential is limitless, but he must improve his throwing.
34 Nemani Nadolo
Country Fiji Date of Birth 31.1.88 Position Wing
“I like a bottle of red wine after a game,” Nadolo told RW when asked about his superstitions – it’s one way to celebrate running over defenders! At 6ft 5in and 20st, he’s so hard to stop that he’s been likened to Jonah Lomu. His defence may be flawed but he has footwork and dexterity – take the finish against Exeter earlier this season.
33 Finn Russell
Country Scotland Date of Birth 23 September 1992 Position Fly-half
Often it feels like there is a party going on in Russell’s head and none of us are invited. The Glasgow and Scotland sparkplug could be described on home shores as gallus; he’s cheeky enough to constantly chance his arm. This boldness allows him to attempt the chips over the top or the crêpe-flat passes along the face of a defence against the best Test sides in the world.
Maybe he sees things on the park that the rest of us don’t? Last August Russell told RW: “In Tests you’ve got to be sharper but in games things just happen.”
Scattered around his statements, like emptied party poppers, was also the word “fun”. So what does this all tell us about the fly-half? First, he has unique reactions to on-pitch events; he changes when holes open up or other men move. Second, it is truly a game to him. He plays for the sake of playing.
There is hard work too. A mere chancer cannot swindle his way through big games, contributing to winning streaks for Glasgow before frightening the All Blacks and bamboozling the Wallabies.
And you must factor in guts. Russell’s team-mates joke that he often prefers the more daunting kicks for goal from the touchline. He also throws himself at opposition attackers willingly. No wonder Parisian playboys Racing have forked out for him to replace Dan Carter.
32 Sean O’Brien
Country Ireland Date of Birth 14.2.87 Position Back-row
An injury-free run allowed O’Brien to have a tremendous Lions tour – carrying with venom, tackling himself to a standstill and scoring the try of the series. It says everything that he is the northern hemisphere back-row that the All Blacks revere most.
31 Charles Piutau
Country New Zealand Date of Birth 31.10.91 Position Full-back
Omitted from New Zealand’s RWC 2015 squad after revealing plans to move north, Piutau has Ulster fans swooning. He set the bar for defenders beaten (74) and offloads (29) in last season’s Pro12 and duly won the Players’ Player gong. He’ll be the world’s highest-paid player next season – on £1m a year at Bristol.
Our next section of the 100 best players…