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27th Dec 2023

Three Ireland stars included as Top 20 players in world rugby

Patrick McCarry

Bundee Aki makes the Top 5.

Three Ireland stars have made it into the Top 20 list for the best players in world rugby for 2023. Bundee Aki ranks highest, and there are two Leinster stars included.

Wrapping up their coverage for the year, Planet Rugby compiled their five-part series of ‘The 50 best rugby players of the year’.

Aki is the highest ranked Ireland player in a list topped by Ardie Savea of New Zealand. Rounding out that top five are Springboks Pieter-Steph du Toit and Eben Etzebeth, along with France captain Antoine Dupont.

The other Irish inclusions are Leinster’s Hugo Keenan (12th) and Dan Sheehan (13th). Other Irish players to make the Top 50 were Tadhg Beirne (25th), Garry Ringrose (39th), Peter O’Mahony (41st), Caelan Doris (42nd) and Johnny Sexton (44th).

Top 20

20. Frans Malherbe (South Africa)
19. Damian de Allende (South Africa)
18. Finn Russell (Scotland)
17. Cheslin Kolbe (South Africa)
16. Gregory Alldritt (France)
15. Richie Mo’unga (New Zealand)
14. Marcos Kremer (Argentina)
13. Dan Sheehan (Ireland)
12. Hugo Keenan (Ireland)
11. Scott Barrett (New Zealand)
10. Levani Botia (Fiji)
9. Aaron Smith (New Zealand)
8. Charles Ollivon (France)
7. Damian Penaud (France)
6. Will Jordan (New Zealand)
5. Bundee Aki (Ireland)
4. Pieter-Steph du Toit (South Africa)
3. Antoine Dupont (France)
2. Eben Etzebeth (South Africa)
1. Ardie Savea (New Zealand)

While stressing that these Top 10, 20 and 50 lists are purely subjective, the biggest surprise to us is that Caelan Doris ranks so low in the Planet Rugby compilation. The Leinster and Ireland No.8 was our highest ranked Ireland player in the SportsJOE Top 20 for 2023, while Garry Ringrose also made the cut.

Four of our top five players were the same as the PR selection, but we had Damian Penaud up higher. Gregor Alldritt and Will Skelton also ranked higher for us [more on that below].

world rugby

SportsJOE’s Top 20 players in world rugby

Following the 2023 World Cup, we felt it was a fitting time to assess the best players in rugby. World Rugby handed out their ‘Best’ and ‘Breakthrough’ player accolades during their recent awards ceremony, named Andy Farrell as Coach of the Year and announced their third ever ‘Dream Team of the Year’.

Selecting a Top 20 rugby players list is not as simple as looking at each position and arguing the toss over who gets what jersey. Our 2023 list is rammed with back row forwards, for example, while there is just one scrumhalf and one outhalf.

Other names may have made the list – we’re thinking Aaron Smith, Courtney Lawes or Johnny Sexton – but they have retired from Test rugby. The 20-man selection is based off top-level rugby in 2023. The World Cup holds a lot of weight, but is not the be-all-and-end-all, hence the high placing of a couple of La Rochelle players.

A strong base for the Top 20 is that World Rugby Dream Team of the Year, which was announced the night after the World Cup. That, tallied with the various World Cup XV selections, including our own, and some debates closer to home, helped provide more clarity.

One can follow all the statistics, metrics, big performances in huge games and tally up the scores and medals, as well as the expert pundit takes, but a certain subjectivity comes into play when assembling these lists. It is why Antoine Dupont features so highly despite not always being blindingly fantastic in Toulouse red and being injury-hampered, and well targeted by South Africa, at the World Cup.

Levani Botia and Will Skelton both feature highly but anyone that was been fortunate to watch many of their games, this year, will know the score. Same goes for Jonathan Danty, who had a couple of injury niggles, with France missing out on his full whack.

Before we get to the Top 20, some players that were considered but who just missed out – Dan Sheehan, Handrè Pollard, Siya Kolisi, Waisea Nayacalevu, Jordie Barrett and Charles Ollivon. Others sitting between 20 and 30 are Romain Ntamack, Tadhg Furlong, Lukhanyo Am and Ox Nchè.

Our Top 20 players in World Rugby

  1. Pieter Steph du Toit (South Africa & Toyota Verblitz)
  2. Antoine Dupont (France & Toulouse)
  3. Ardie Savea (New Zealand & Kobelco Kobe Steelers)
  4. Damian Penaud (France & Bordeaux)
  5. Eben Etzebeth (South Africa & Sharks)
  6. Gregory Alldritt (France & La Rochelle)
  7. Levani Botia (Fiji & La Rochelle)
  8. Caelan Doris (Ireland & Leinster)
  9. Bundee Aki (Ireland & Connacht)
  10. Will Skelton (Australia & La Rochelle)
  11. Will Jordan (New Zealand & Crusaders)
  12. Hugo Keenan (Ireland & Leinster)
  13. Jonathan Danty (France & La Rochelle)
  14. Thomas Ramos (France & Toulouse)
  15. Peato Mauvaka (France & Toulouse)
  16. Faf de Klerk (South Africa & Yokohama Canon Eagles)
  17. Cheslin Kolbe (South Africa & Tokyo Sungoliath)
  18. Scott Barrett (New Zealand & Crusaders)
  19. Garry Ringrose (Ireland & Leinster)
  20. Richie Mo’unga (New Zealand & Crusaders)

We expect each and every one of you will have your opinions on that Top 20, so please do engage with us on social media and let us know your picks.


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