In the final instalment of a six-part series, SA Rugby magazine’s writers pick their world team of the year, based on performances throughout 2021.
Makazole Mapimpi has been a lethal finisher for the Springboks since his debut in 2018, scoring 20 tries in 25 appearances. In 2021 he was relentless – crossing the whitewash with such regularity one would be forgiven for thinking he had an in-built homing beacon. In a year with some impressive performances by wings, none were as consistently deadly as the Springbok flyer.
Duhan van der Merwe made a mockery of Six Nations records at the start of this year as the tournament’s leading try-scorer (5) and broke the all-time record for most defenders beaten (31). The big Scotland wing was then included in Warren Gatland’s Lions team where he started all three Tests against the Boks, putting in impressive displays each time.
Scientists have yet to definitively conclude that Will Jordan is even human following the performances the All Black wing delivered this year. The Breakthrough Player of the Year was a pre-eminent threat in the All Blacks back three, scoring more tries than any other player in the international game this year (15). Although deadly on the wing, Jordan has the ability to seamlessly slip into the fullback position.
Makazole Mapimpi is a try-scoring machine, and in a year in which the Springboks were missing Cheslin Kolbe on the right wing, he was Mr Consistent on the left. Mapimpi scored six tries in 2021 and has now dotted down against every international side he has faced. Mapimpi ended the year with a career haul of 20 tries in 25 Tests, and has also become a kick-chase menace and symbol of solidity under the high ball.
World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year Will Jordan was superb for the All Blacks on the right wing, scoring a phenomenal 15 tries in just his second season of international rugby. Jordan’s reading of the game and positional awareness were outstanding, and the reward for his consistent delivery was finishing the season as the first-choice right wing for the All Blacks – not an easy task among the quality of outside backs that New Zealand boast.
Though Jordie Barrett has been an All Black since 2017, he is only 24 years old and it has never quite felt like he had cemented his role within the squad, bouncing between positions, starting roles and the bench. In 2021, he laid claim to the All Blacks No 15 jersey in what really felt like a coming-of-age season. Barrett was impactful with ball in hand, prominent on defence and consistent from the tee. His match-winning kick in the final minute against the Springboks encapsulated a season in which he remained composed in the most critical of moments, and finally made the fullback jersey his own.
The world’s best outside backs in 2021 did what matters most – making a direct contribution to the scoreboard.
Finishing is a skill and Damian Penaud and Makazole Mapimpi proved to be exceptionally proficient converting opportunities into points.
In Bok history, no player has scored 25 tries in fewer appearances than Mapimpi and he added six this season, while Penaud is blessed with the same ability to pop up in just the right place at just the right time, scoring seven tries for France in 2021 including one in a record victory over the All Blacks.
By no means a slouch in this combination, Jordie Barrett made a compelling argument to support his claim to the All Blacks’ fabled No 15 jersey.
The Kiwi fullback scored 97 points for New Zealand with his right boot, not least among them were the three that sank the Boks in Townsville.
After years of playing as a utility back, Jordie Barrett has finally emerged from the pack and established himself as the All Blacks’ first-choice fullback. Apart from being outstanding under the high ball and a constant attacking threat in open play, the versatile Barrett was also given the goal-kicking responsibilities and it handled it with aplomb, as evidenced by his two clutch last-ditch match-winning penalties against the Springboks and Wallabies, which ultimately led to New Zealand clinching the Rugby Championship title. Barrett was the most consistent and influential Test fullback throughout the season.
With 15 tries in 11 Tests, one can’t really look further than Will Jordan as the best right wing. The 23-year-old was deservedly rewarded for his efforts with an inclusion in World Rugby’s Men’s Dream Team of the Year, while also scooping the World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year award.
Makazole Mapimpi takes the left-wing spot, after another stunning Test campaign during which he extended his try tally to a record-breaking 20 in 25 Tests. He reached that milestone quicker than any other Springbok before him, trumping Bryan Habana’s record of 20 tries in 27 Tests.
It’s difficult to look past the All Blacks when selecting this year’s best outside backs, such has been their record-breaking season in 2021. Jordie Barrett has stamped his authority on the No 15 jersey and has been incredibly consistent, both in open play and kicking at goal.
Will Jordan, meanwhile, seems to score every time he plays, dotting down an incredible 14 times this year. On the left wing, Makazole Mapimpi was a constant threat and took his overall career tally to 20 tries in 25 Tests.