Johnny Sexton is the sole player from the Northern Hemisphere named in World Rugby’s five-man shortlist for the 2018 Player of the Year award.
The Leinster and Ireland fly-half stands in line to be the first Irishman since Keith Wood in 2001 to scoop the accolade, having claimed a Six Nations Grand Slam and victorious tour to Australia this year.
In that time Ireland have emerged as clear second favourites for the World Cup in Japan, but it is New Zealand who have boasted the last seven recipients of the award and are the team to beat next winter.
Beauden Barrett could see his named engraved on the trophy once more after winning the award the last two years. The All Blacks fly-half pivoted a team which won a seventh-consecutive Rugby Championship, embarrassing Australia in the Bledisloe Cup with a solo tally of four tries at Eden Park.
Barrett will be rivalled by 21-year-old New Zealand wing Reiko Ioane who has progressed his career from the World Rugby Sevens circuit to becoming a consistent performer in the All Blacks’ famous 11 jersey.
Since making his international debut against the British & Irish Lions last summer, Ioane has scored 22 tries in 21 caps.
Completing the shortlist is Sale Sharks scrum-half Faf de Klerk and his South Africa teammate Malcolm Marx.
Springboks head coach Rassie Erasmus admitted earlier this week the absence of de Klerk had been the biggest headache for him to deal with in the lead up to his team’s Test against England this Saturday, due to the fixture taking place outside of the international window.
De Klerk filled a widening void at scrum-half following the retirement of Fourie du Preez, with the likes of Rudy Paige and Cobus Reinach unable to hold down the starting job.
The Sale back, however, has established himself as one of the world’s best operators at the ruck and at the rear of the scrum.
It has often been de Klerk’s teammate Marx winning the ball back for his team. The imposing Lions hooker has won a turnover every 49 minutes for the Boks in their Tests this year, leading the 24-year-old to be tipped for a big-money move to France.
Beauden Barrett (New Zealand)
Faf de Klerk (South Africa)
Reiko Ioane (New Zealand)
Malcolm Marx (South Africa)
Johnny Sexton (Ireland)
Pauline Bourdon (France)
Fiao’o Faamausili (New Zealand)
Gaelle Hermet (France)
Safi N’Diaye (France)
Jessy Tremouliere (France)
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