Our next section of the 100 best players goes from 70 to 61. Take a look at who makes the cut

The 100 Best Rugby Players In The World: 70-61

70 Handre Pollard

France bound: Pollard is heading to Montpellier after the Rugby World Cup (Getty Images)

Age 25 (11.3.94) Position Fly-half

Until an ankle injury intervened, he was top point-scorer in this year’s Super Rugby with 161. His marshalling of the Bulls back-line, strong defence and improved tactical kicking over the past 18 months makes him a vital cog in the Springbok’s World Cup wheel. After which Pollard joins Montpellier.

69 Joe Launchbury

Enduring Class: Launchbury is one of the finest locks in the northern hemisphere (Getty Images)

Age 28 (12.4.91) Position Lock

The quiet man of the England squad endured a disjointed season, his Wasps side struggling when he missed three months through injury. But he’s shown his enduring class since, consolidating his position as one of the finest locks in the northern hemisphere. He regularly posts tackle counts in the mid- to high teens and provides set-piece solidity.

68 Michael Leitch

Japanese Leader: Leitch will be pivotal for Japan at the Rugby World Cup (Getty Images)

Age 30 (7.10.88) Position Back-row

As England learnt last year, the Japan captain is insatiable. Boks legend Fourie du Preez says: “He gets stuck in. It’s the Japanese way – you get stuck in in training, you get stuck in during the game and you never step back for anyone.” Leitch merits his position as the face of the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

67 TJ Perenara

Back-up: Behind Aaron Smith, Perenara would probably start for any other international side (Getty Images)

Age 27 (23.1.92) Position Scrum-half

With Aaron Smith for company, the All Blacks No 9 has started only 13 of his 55 Tests. But he does lead the haka – magnificently so. Come game time, the Hurricanes captain dovetails seamlessly with half-back partner Beauden Barrett. Perenara’s quick-fire service, game management and razor-sharp snipes mean Smith cannot rest on his laurels.

66 Kieran Read

Last Hurrah: Read will retire from Test rugby after the Rugby World Cup (Getty Images)

Age 33 (26.10.85) Position No 8

Following back surgery in December, Read took an extended break. So he could be firing on all cylinders in Japan, when the New Zealand captain bids for his third world crown before retiring from Test rugby. The marauding loosie epitomises the hard edge and rugby nous of Kiwi footballers.

65 Conor Murray

Irish Pressure: Murray will have to be firing on all cylinders if Ireland want to win the World Cup (getty Images)

Age 30 (20.4.89) Position Scrum-half

For nigh on a year, from the 2017 Lions tour to Ireland’s series win in Australia, Murray was the best nine on the planet. French publication Midi Olympique even named him their World Player of the Year.

His relationship with Johnny Sexton was critical to Ireland’s success. Murray with his sniping runs and pinpoint box-kicks; Sexton with his intuitive game management and trademark loop. Last summer, however, Murray picked up a neck injury that was to linger.

He returned just before the Six Nations and, with little rugby under his belt, cut a disconsolate figure in losses to England and Wales. Munster’s sobering defeat by Saracens in the Champions Cup semi also told of a player struggling to influence games as he once had.

The flicks, feints and chips weren’t quite coming off and that’s why Murray has slipped down RW’s pecking order. Class is permanent, though, and his Munster coach Johann van Graan for one has never lost the faith: “He’s just incredible. His biggest asset is maybe his decision-making. He seems to make them in slow motion and make the right one time after time.” Murray will be aiming to work through his dip in form to hit his peak at the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

64 Katy Daley-McLean

Iconic Katy: Daley-McLean is one of the greatest women’s players ever (getty Images)

Age 33 (19.12.85) Position Fly-half

“Katy is one of the greatest women’s players ever. She has everything: an accomplished skill-set and a thorough understanding of the game. She’s a natural leader and an inspiration.”

So said England Women’s coach Simon Middleton before the fly-half became a Test centurion last autumn, and it was no surprise that a couple of months later he handed her one of 28 professional contracts available.

Daley-Mclean may be in the latter stages of her career but she’s got better with age and was integral to England’s Six Nations Grand Slam. She’s brought more consistency to her game, is a great distributor, an astute kicker – arguably the best in the women’s game – and has become more of a threat with ball in hand.

There’s no doubt the 2021 World Cup is her next goal, having lifted the trophy in 2014 but lost out to the Black Ferns three years later. That tournament in New Zealand is set to be her swansong – and she will leave an indelible mark on the England No 10 shirt.

63 Ken Owens

Welsh Deputy: Owens is a big leader for the Wales international side (Getty Images)

Age 32 (3 January 1987) Position Hooker

Owens had to bide his time with Wales. He started only eight of his first 39 Tests while Huw Bennett and Matthew Rees tussled over the No 2 shirt. But in the past three years only one of his Wales caps has come off the bench and he is now his country’s most-capped hooker.

Along with Justin Tipuric, he acts as a deputy to Alun Wyn Jones in navigating Wales through choppy waters. With Wales 16-0 down after a woeful first-half performance in Paris a few months back, the sight of Owens rallying the forwards was instructive, as is his now iconic double-fist pump celebration.

Tipping the scales at over 18st at age-grade level, the Carmarthen-born Owens had to work hard to trim down and talked openly about replicating Keith Wood’s blood-and-thunder style of play. Indeed, no game is complete without Owens peeling away from a ruck, ball tucked under the arm and hammering into would-be defenders.

He has also added a subtle offloading game and coped admirably when twice played at No 8 during a Scarlets injury crisis. His team-first ethic motivates those around him and it is unsurprising he is chairman of the Welsh Rugby Players’ Association, giving an impassioned plea for common sense as the Ospreys-Scarlets merger caused great upset among his colleagues. A leader and an inspiration.

62 Steven Kitshoff

Commands Respect: Kitshoff has become a leader for club and country (Getty Images)

Age 27 (10.2.92) Position Prop

The problem facing Kitshoff for so long was: how to get past Tendai Mtawarira? Yet after being wooed back to South Africa from Bordeaux, the powerful, unfussy redhead has risen beyond the cult hero. At the Stormers, he has been captain when Siya Kolisi is out and boss Robbie Fleck says: “When he speaks, the players and management listen.”

61 Aaron Smith

Difference Maker: Smith has been the All Blacks starting nine for years now (Getty Images)

Age 30 (21.10.88) Position Scrum-half

“The best thing about ‘Nuggy’ is that he walks the talk,” says Highlanders’ Aaron Mauger of the most-capped No 9 in New Zealand history. “The speed of his delivery from the base of the scrum and ruck is a key point of difference,” adds Steve Hansen. His service remains critical for club and country.

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