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Rugby World Cup 2023, kicking off in just two weeks time, will be littered with global and generational operators of the highest calibre. The tournament will celebrate a congregation of the most skilful and gifted rugby player’s walking the planet today, culminating in numerous live demonstrations of their talent.
However, the question on everyone’s lips is who is the best? For those new to the sport or simply blinded by one-bias this can be hard to determine and subject to a number of factors including positions, achievements and skillsets.
Ten names do stand out though, as the very best players in the world today, join us as we take you through those ten names and push you into the direction of the odds-on favourite to win tournament MVP.
10. Finn Russell
Nation: Scotland Position: Fly Half
If Scotland are to proceed through the ominously labelled – ‘group of death’, containing both South Africa and Ireland, then it will likely be due to the magic of this man. Equally capable of controlling the entire pace and flow of a game as he is pulling a rabbit out of the hat for one spectacular moment, Russell is probably the best number 10 on the entire planet right now. Following a Six Nations campaign where he was his exuberant and flashy best, he took Scotland to three wins from five and an impressive third place finish in the table.
The former Racing 92 man, set to join Bath after the tournament, has never advanced further than the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals and was apart of the Scotland side that crashed out in the group stage in 2019. In what might be his last Rugby World Cup, Russell will be keen to light up the show and take Scotland further than ever before.
9. Frans Malherbe
Nation: South Africa Position: Prop
Don’t let his appearance deceive you, the old adage about rugby, ‘for all shapes and sizes’, is especially true for Frans Malherbe, one of the very best players in his sport. Probably the best tighthead prop on the planet, Malherbe is a scrummaging machine who rarely, if ever, is bested by a at scrum time and regularly leaves his mark on well renowned rival props.
The 33-year-old has played a significant role in Rassie Erasmus’ and Jacques Nienaber’s revival of Springbok rugby and will be entering his third Rugby World Cup after starting in and winning the 2019 RWC Final with a devastating performance. If the Boks are to make history and win back-to-back World Cups, you can bet Malherbe will have a large hand in it.
8. Jonathan Danty
Nation: France Position: Centre
The La Rochelle man has struggled with injuries recently but whenever he steps out onto the park, he leaves the opposition and fans alike left in stunned and astonished silence. A destructive crash-ball runner who combines his size with soft handling and remarkable vision, Danty is equally comfortable putting in a bone-tickling tackle and is one of the very best defenders in the world. He is a seasoned metre-eater and a dark horse to win the ‘Top Try Scorer’ category.
If France can get a fully fit and fully firing Danty on the pitch then it is hard to fathom how any other team can stop them.
7. Damian Penaud
Nation: France Position: Wing
Damian Penaud needs no introduction, his graceful movement and stunning try scoring ability speak for themselves, leaving everyone who has ever watched him in quiet and unanimous agreement that he is the best winger on the planet. With 15/2 odds he is the second-favourite to win top try scorer at Rugby World Cup 2023 and after scoring five tries in five games in this year’s Six Nations, you could argue he should be one place higher.
In his first World Cup in 2019 Penaud came up with a ‘duck’ with zero tries in three games, however, he is a far more well-rounded and electric player four years on and you can guarantee he will be eager to put this record to bed, emphatically.
6. Tadgh Beirne
Nation: Ireland Position: Lock/Back Row
A relatively late-bloomer on the international circuit, Beirne didn’t debut until 2018 and didn’t break into the starting side for another two years. The Munster hybrid-forward encapsulates everything good about a modern lock, he is dynamic, flexible, explosive, mobile and has the handling of a fly-half. Beirne is exceptional at the little things and frequently contributes subtle but game-changing moments.
A key part of Andy Farrell’s machine, Beirne will be vital to Ireland’s hopes of winning their first ever World Cup.
5. Eben Etzebeth
Nation: South Africa Position: Lock
No surprises here, Etzebeth has been consistently the best lock in the world since the last World Cup four years ago and maybe long before that as well. A Springboks veteran, Etzebeth will be entering his third World Cup and no doubt will be asked to lead his team throughout the tournament, putting his experience and know-how to good use. He is also somehow still in his prime years, despite being the wrong side of 31-years-old and still one of the best players in a strong Springboks team.
Etzebeth’s talent can often fly under the radar of the more casual fans, however, recently, he seems to be getting the recognition he deserves and so a Player of the Tournament award may be a real possibility, especially if the Boks go far in the tournament once again.
4. Caelan Doris
Nation: Ireland Position: Back Row
Some players make the transition from a young player with potential to one of the best players in the world look seamless and Doris is one of those players. After making his Ireland debut in 2020 as a promising Leinster academy graduate, it was only another year or so before Doris was dominating seasoned international veterans on the biggest stage. The flanker-cum-number eight brings incredible athleticism to his position with freakish skills and pace to add to his size, as well as a nous for try-scoring.
Along with the likes of Peter O’Mahony, Tadgh Beirne, Josh Van Der Flier and Jack Conan, Doris is part of a formidable Ireland back row and one that can conquer any other nation at the flick of a switch. After two seriously strong Six Nations campaigns along with incredible club form, Doris is a strong favourite to be the best player at Rugby World Cup 2023.
3. Ardie Savea
Nation: New Zealand Position: Back Row
A trend-setter of sorts for Doris, Savea has been ripping up trees for New Zealand since his debut back in 2016 and has little intention of stopping now. The talismanic All Black captain is a master of all trades, capable of changing a game with a massive tackle, a momentum-shifting turnover or a stunning linebreak. With remarkable speed and skill for his position, Savea is a frequent try-scorer and a strong contender for both the ‘Top Try Scorer’ and ‘Player of the Tournament’ awards at Rugby World Cup 2023.
Savea just missed out on the glory of New Zealand’s World Cup triumphs in both 2011 and 2015, only experiencing the underwhelming semi-final exit to England in 2019, despite scoring a try, no doubt he will be keen to etch his name into the World Cup history books.
2. Gregory Aldritt
Nation: France Position: Back Row
The third hybrid back row in the top five and, in our opinion, (very narrowly) the best of the bunch. A Six Nations Player of the Tournament nominee in 2020 and 2022 and the European Player of the Year in 2023, Aldritt is not stranger to awards and will be hungry for more at Rugby World Cup 2023.
The La Rochelle flanker-cum-number eight combines his size and strength with an elegant skill-set and an exceptional rugby brain for an extraordinary result. After a Six Nations Grand Slam in 2022 and back-to-back European Champions Cup titles, there is just one trophy left for Gregory Aldritt to tick off.
1. Antoine Dupont
Nation: France Position: Scrum Half
It has been many years since there was such a unanimous consensus on who the best player on the planet is. In the echelons of Richie McCaw, Dan Carter and Jonny Wilkinson, Dupont has already carved a remarkable legacy at the age of just 26. The 2021 World Player the year and the 2021 Six Nations Player of the Tournament is no longer just a wily number nine with an eye for a try, he controls games with his imperious leadership, exceptional kicking game and freakish vision.
Throughout any edition of the Rugby World Cup, since the first in 1987, there may not have been a safer bet on Player of the Tournament than France’s ‘le petit generale’, Antoine Dupont. If France do go all the way, it is almost guaranteed that Dupont will be the catalyst and the undisputed ‘Player of the Tournament’.
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