There may have been some controversy regarding the selections for the men’s 15s Player of the Year nominees, with the top two teams in the world not seeing any representation, but it’s hard to argue against the four nominees for World Rugby’s Women’s 15s Player of the Year.
It is an Anglo-French affair with two Red Roses players selected alongside a Les Bleues duo. And that makes a lot of sense. England are the number one ranked side in the world and are currently on a 17-game winning run. Meanwhile, France are ranked fourth but have plenty of reason to believe they are the best of the rest.
The Red Roses have won each of their eight games in the last 12 months, but despite beating France three times in that run, the margins of victory were all by fewer than five points. England’s other five games all saw them win by at least 30 points, including two victories over New Zealand and one over Canada – #2 and #3 in the world respectively. Add that to the fact that Les Bleues hammered the Black Ferns last weekend and it’s safe to assume that they are – unofficially at least – the second-best team in the world.
With that cleared up, let’s take a look at why one of Zoe Aldcroft, Poppy Cleall, Caroline Boujard or Laure Sansus will be winning the award in early December.
Zoe Aldcroft is the ultimate all-rounder, putting in a shift in both attack and defence, regardless of whether she has the ball or not. The second row ranked in the top five players in this year’s Six Nations for tackles, dominant tackles, carries, lineouts won, lineout steals and attacking rucks hit, as well as being the only player to make more than 30 carries and 30 tackles.
She has continued that form into the Autumn Internationals too, ranking second for lineouts won (16) and lineout steals (three) as well as fifth for tackles (34).
Caroline Boujard had an incredible Six Nations this year, finishing the tournament as top try scorer, dotting down five times in just three games. She was a huge threat with ball in hand. She made the most line breaks (six) of any player, was one of just four women to gain 200+ metres in the tournament (212) and ranked joint fifth for defenders beaten (11). Even when defences were able to lay a hand on her she still proved to be a threat, making five successful offloads – only Poppy Cleall and Safi N’Diaye made more (six each).
Poppy Cleall will be aiming to make it a Player of the Year double, after being named the Women’s Six Nations PoTY back in April.
Cleall was undoubtedly the standout player of this year’s Six Nations with the Saracens No. 8 making more carries than any other player in the tournament (45) despite playing just 163 of a possible 240 minutes. She was active all over the pitch, but the majority of her carries came inside the opposition half, particularly within the opposition 22 where most ball carrying is into heavy traffic. Despite this, she still made 155 metres over the gainline and beat 13 defenders, both tournament highs for a forward, with only Irish flyer Beibhinn Parsons beating more defenders overall.
Even when Cleall was eventually stopped, her offloading ability still meant she was a threat to the opposition, registering a joint-high six offloads in the Championship (level with Safi N’Diaye). One of those offloads assisted an Abigail Dow try against Italy – just five other players assisted a try with an offload. Her ability to pass the ball after contact is made even more impressive in that she attempted just six offloads in total, with each one finding a teammate.
It wasn’t just in attack that Cleall excelled, however. Defensively, the Saracens No. 8 was a rock, completing each of her 20 tackle attempts – only France’s Annaëlle Deshayes made more without missing (22/22).
French scrum-halves being nominated for World Player of the Year awards has become a bit of a theme recently – it is the third year in a row it’s happened for the women’s award, while Antoine Dupont is one of the favourites for the men’s title this year. Laure Sansus is the latest player to add her name to that list.
Similar to Antoine Dupont, Sansus is at the heart of everything good about France and despite not playing a huge amount of rugby this year, her impact hasn’t gone unnoticed. She recorded two try assists in this year’s Six Nations – a tally only Ireland’s Kathryn Dane (three) could better – and has added two tries of her own so far in the Autumn Internationals.
Opta have recorded each of England and France’s Test matches this year and of players to feature for 80+ minutes in 2021, it is Les Bleues’ number 9 who has recorded the best minutes per try involvement, either touching down herself or providing the assist for a teammate every 47 minutes on average.
ICYMI, we broke down the data behind the men’s Player of the Year nominees here.
Enjoy this? Subscribe to our mailing list to receive exclusive weekly content.
Design by Andrew Skewers