As the year draws to a close, Planet Rugby’s team of writers sat down to select their best XV of players from the past 12 months of action.
Five individuals keep their places from the 2021 campaign, with Ireland coming out on top with four representatives, while three nations have three players.
Our line-up has some changes from the Planet Rugby Readers’ Team of the Year too, with three backs and a completely different front-row making the cut.
Planet Rugby’s Team of the Year
15 Jordie Barrett (New Zealand): The All Black starred in the number 15 jersey before impressing at 12 after a positional shift from Ian Foster paid off. While others such as Ange Capuozzo, Freddie Steward, Willie le Roux and Hugo Keenan had excellent years, we felt Barrett was the most consistent of a great bunch, as his worth to the All Blacks was clear for all to see. He might be our full-back of 2022 but don’t be surprised if he’s our inside center next December.
14 Damian Penaud (France): Our second difference to your side came on the right wing, where France’s Penaud got the node over Kurt-Lee Arendse. We settled on the brilliant Les Bleus back after he helped his country to a Six Nations Grand Slam, which went on to become an unbeaten year. Penaud has been such a joy to watch in 2022 and showed his finishing ability on several occasions. Such a balanced runner as he also saw off Will Jordan and Darcy Graham.
13 Rieko Ioane (New Zealand): The final tweak to the backline you settled on comes at center where we felt Blues and New Zealand flyer Ioane deserved the nod after his best year since he broke onto the Test scene as a wing. Persistence has paid off for New Zealand as Ioane has improved game by game on the international circuit and gets ahead of Lukhanyo Am, Gael Fickou and Len Ikitau. New Zealand will hope Ioane builds on this form in a World Cup year.
Rieko Ioane is RAPID!
— Jared Wright (@jaredwright17) November 19, 2022
12 Damian de Allende (South Africa): Finally, we agree on something! De Allende was also our pick at 12 as the Springbok was a rock. While Bundee Aki, Barrett and Jonathan Danty also stood out for Ireland, the All Blacks and France respectively, De Allende proved just how key he is to South Africa’s hopes next year as his physicality with and without the ball gave the Boks an edge in midfield. Even without the injured Am outside him, De Allende stood tall.
11 Emiliano Boffelli (Argentina): What a fantastic year it has been for the Argentine goal-kicker. His effortless style off the tee has seen him knock over crucial points, not least against New Zealand and England, as Argentina’s memorable campaign was due in no small part to Boffelli. A threat too with ball in hand, the Edinburgh back has been superb as he is picked over Marika Koroibete (Australia), Monty Ioane (Italy), James Lowe and Mack Hansen (both Ireland).
10 Johnny Sexton (Ireland): Sexton rolled back the years for Ireland in 2022 as his experience and drive helped his side to an impressive campaign. While they just missed out on Six Nations glory, a mid-year series victory in New Zealand was then followed by a win over South Africa in Dublin before injury curtailed his Autumn Nations Series. Sexton made it over Richie Mo’unga (NZ), Damian Willemse (South Africa) and Santiago Carreras (Argentina).
9Antoine Dupont (France): Pretty clear cut, although Jamison Gibson Park was excellent for Ireland and Leinster this year, while Aaron Smith and Nick White played well for New Zealand and Australia respectively. But Dupont was a level above and continues to show his class week after week for club and country. He helped France to an unbeaten year that included that Six Nations Grand Slam as his leadership in the absence of Charles Ollivon was outstanding.
It had to be him! 🙌
— Guinness Six Nations (@SixNationsRugby) March 19, 2022
8 Ardie Savea (New Zealand): What an incredible season it has been from the All Blacks number eight. While others around him were struggling, Savea produced the goods every time he pulled on the jersey during difficult times earlier in 2022. His ability to make meters in contact was evident all year while his famous dummy came to the fore again, this time in Cardiff . Caelan Doris (Ireland), Gregory Alldritt (France) and Paul Matera (Argentina) get mentions.
7 Josh van der Flier (Ireland): The World Rugby Player of the Year takes our seven shirt ahead of Dalton Papali’i (NZ), Siya Kolisi (South Africa) and Juan Martin Gonzalez (Argentina) in what was a pretty simple decision. Van der Flier has been immense over the past 12 months and produced the goods every week for Leinster and Ireland. One part of an outstanding back-row for Ireland and will, of course, hope to have even more in the tank for 2023.
6 Peter O’Mahony (Ireland): Completing the same back-row as the Planet Rugby Readers’ Team of the Year is O’Mahony. The flanker’s work at the lineout, both on their own throw and defensively, has been brilliant all year as he causes opposition hookers and jumpers many issues. The 33-year-old gets over Jamie Ritchie (Scotland), and Marcos Kremer (Argentina) and like so many of this team, his importance going into a Rugby World Cup cannot be downplayed.
5 Tadhg Beirne (Ireland): The same can be said of Beirne, who joins his Munster and Ireland team-mate in our side. He has everything a head coach could wish for from a modern day lock; powerful, mobile, skilful and a nuisance at the breakdown. While Paul Willemse (France), Lood de Jager and Frank Mostert (both South Africa) were strong in 2022, there was little debate here as we simply had to find Beirne a spot in our second-row combination.
4 Eben Etzebeth (South Africa): He had the largest win margin in the readers’ polls, and it was a similar story at Planet Rugby HQ as we all plumped for Etzebeth at lock. The Springbok enforcer has bounced back from injury outstandingly well and dominated all that came up against him this year. He looks fit, hungry and raring to go ahead of 2023, which is not good news for rival packs in European club rugby and on the international circuit ahead of the World Cup.
13% – In 2022, the @Springboks won 13% of opposition scrums with Frans Malherbe in the front row, no Tier 1 prop won a higher percentage of opposition scrums in this calendar year (min. 8 scrum involvements). Force.
— OptaJonny (@OptaJonny) December 14, 2022
3 Frans Malherbe (South Africa): Our first difference of opinion from your pack came at tighthead, where Malherbe took the shirt over Tadhg Furlong (Ireland). The Springbok has been rock solid at scrum time, and despite South Africa’s coaching team being fans of rotation up front, Malherbe has made it nigh on impossible to bench him, such is his quality. Elsewhere, Tyrel Lomax (New Zealand) and Uini Atonio (France) were solid, but it had to be Malherbe for us.
2Julian Montoya (Argentina): You went for Malcolm Marx (South Africa), but we opted for Montoya after his superb campaign for club and country. He helped Leicester Tigers to the Premiership title and was also key in Argentina’s notable wins over the All Blacks in New Zealand and England at Twickenham, with his physicality something to behold. He saw off Marx, Julien Marchand (France), Dan Sheehan (Ireland) and Samisoni Taukei’aho (New Zealand) as our two.
1 Cyril Baille (France): Completing the team is one of the players of the year in our eyes, as Baille gets the call-up as our loosehead prop. France owe a great deal of their success in 2022 to Baille, as he was excellent and a player who has few weaknesses, if any, in his game. While Steven Kitshoff (South Africa), Thomas Gallo (Argentina), Ellis Genge (England) and Andrew Porter (Ireland) performed admirably, Baille was not a difficult call to round out our epic XV.