In the third of a six-part series, SA Rugby magazine’s writers pick their world team of the year, based on performances throughout 2021.
Siya Kolisi deserved a nomination for World Rugby Player of the Year, and he is also my pick for South African Player of the Year. Kolisi was exceptional not only as captain but as a force from the side of the scrum. Playing in all 13 Springbok Tests, Kolisi stood tall in every game. His work rate was phenomenal, between tackling and ruck contributions, he was explosive in the carry and linked with the backline like a No 8 while also managing to be a presence over the ball as an opensider. Kolisi was the complete loose forward in 2021, and an outstanding leader, too.
Michael Hooper was consistently brilliant in an Australia team one never really knew what to expect of. While the Wallabies were handed repeated beatings by the All Blacks, Hooper still managed to stand out as one of the best players on the park, and his deserving moment came in leading his side to two victories over the Springboks, where he made an equal impact as captain and player. Hooper has made a claim in recent years to being one of the best flanks of the modern era.
Tom Curry packs down at No 8 in a loose trio whose strength is having two flanks who can play to the ball, to allow Curry a more dynamic style of play. Curry was superb for both England and the British & Irish Lions and, as with both Kolisi and Hooper, he was consistently a standout whether on the winning or losing side. Curry is a great athlete, and his work rate in 2021 – both defensively and with ball in hand – was immense.
This is a much-tougher position to single out three names, given the sheer number of outstanding loose forwards this year. Wallabies captain Michael Hooper, Ireland’s Caelan Doris and Jack Conan, Scotland’s Hamish Watson and Springbok duo Kwagga Smith and Duane Vermeulen are all unlucky to miss out.
That said, Siya Kolisi had arguably his best year of Test rugby, form-wise. Whether he was at lock or flank for France, Cameron Woki showed why he should be considered as one of the up-and-coming talents in the world. New Zealand No 8 Ardie Savea was always in the thick of the action for the All Blacks.
The Springbok captain undoubtedly played the best rugby of his career in 2021. Despite concerns over his form at the start of the year, Siya Kolisi silenced his doubters by tearing into the B&I Lions like a man possessed. Through the highs and lows of the 2021 season, Kolisi remained a shining constant for the Boks. His evolution as a leader has also been encouraging to note.
Courtney Lawes was a talismanic figure for both England and the Lions this year. The Northampton Saints captain has morphed between lock and blindside flank, but this year settled in the back row in a move that paid dividends. An unfaltering work rate and a desire to be physically imposing underscored a potent season for Lawes.
The All Blacks captain has been simply irresistible this season. Ardie Savea remains, pound for pound, one of the most powerful players in the game. His explosive dynamism and deceptive pace make him a gamebreaker in any context. This season he was a shining light in an All Blacks pack that lacked its traditional impetus.
It wasn’t easy to ignore the relentless commitment of Wallabies skipper Mike Hooper, but his Bok counterpart Siya Kolisi was huge on and off the field. The glue that holds the Bok squad together, Kolisi probably owes Nic Berry a thank-you card because the controversy caused by the Aussie ref in the first Test against the touring and B&I Lions pulled the best out of the Bok skipper.
Tom Curry will be a consistent contender for World Rugby awards in the future. The England flank is the real deal, mixing mobility with grit, and skill with a nose for the ball.
The fanfare around the Lions pack focused on mini forwards Sam Simmonds and Hamish Watson, but the touring loose forward most impressive against the Springboks was Ireland No 8 Jack Conan. A surprise choice to start for the Lions, Conan scalped the world champions in the series opener and was unbeaten for Ireland, including a milestone win over the All Blacks.
Loose forwards, individually and as collective units, around the world have flourished this year, but the three whose play was elevated to new heights are the Springbok, Wallabies and All Blacks captains.
Siya Kolisi performed at the peak of his powers in every single one of the 13 Tests South Africa played this year and was unlucky to miss out on a nomination for World Player of the Year.
Putting aside Australia’s inconsistency for one moment, Michael Hooper’s sheer will to win and dogged commitment shone like a beacon throughout this season. Hooper goes about his work tirelessly, shouldering the burden for the benefit of others. He was deservedly nominated for the World Player of the Year award.
In a year when the All Blacks failed to play their best rugby, Ardie Savea was their most consistent player and at the heart of New Zealand’s forwards assault.