The 2023 Planet Rugby Readers’ Team of the Year has been unveiled, showcasing the rugby talents that captivated the sport’s passionate fanbase. With over 32,200 readers casting their votes, the team is a true testament to the global appeal and excitement surrounding the game.
Unsurprisingly, the Rugby World Cup-winning Springboks were heavily represented in the team, with a total of eight players making the cut. However, it was not a complete domination, as three players from other countries managed to secure their places as well.
In the backline, Damian Willemse of South Africa emerged victorious in the tight race for the fullback position. He narrowly beat out the likes of Beauden Barrett, Hugo Keenan, and Thomas Ramos, proving his exceptional skills and versatility on the field.
On the wings, France’s Damian Penaud clinched the right wing spot, edging out strong contenders such as Will Jordan, Kurt-Lee Arendse, and Emiliano Boffelli. Penaud’s electrifying pace and attacking prowess were significant factors in his selection.
Jesse Kriel of South Africa was selected as the outside center, outshining formidable rivals like Garry Ringrose, Gael Fickou, and Waisea Nayacalevu. Kriel’s contributions in both attack and defense were acknowledged by the readers.
Moving onto the inside center position, Ireland’s Bundee Aki emerged as the clear favorite, surpassing the likes of Damian de Allende, Jordie Barrett, and Sinoe Tuipulotu. Aki’s physicality and ability to break through tough defenses made him a standout player.
In the back three, South Africa’s Cheslin Kolbe was chosen as the left wing. Despite facing strong competition from Louis Bielle-Biarrey, James Lowe, and Mark Telea, Kolbe’s incredible speed and agility set him apart.
Taking charge of the playmaking duties at fly-half is Handre Pollard of South Africa. He outperformed renowned fly-halves Richie Mo’unga, Johnny Sexton, and Owen Farrell to claim his place in the team. Pollard’s composure and precision in executing plays were crucial factors in his selection.
At scrum-half, France’s Antoine Dupont proved to be the popular choice, receiving the most votes among candidates such as Faf de Klerk, Aaron Smith, and Jamison Gibson-Park. Dupont’s exceptional vision and game management skills made him an invaluable asset in the eyes of the readers.
In the forward pack, New Zealand’s Ardie Savea was named the number eight, effortlessly winning the poll. Gregory Alldritt of France was his closest rival, but Savea’s dynamic playing style and immense contribution to the team’s success set him apart.
South Africa’s Siya Kolisi, the captain of the Springboks, was chosen as the openside flanker, leaving players like Josh van der Flier, Levani Botia, and Jac Morgan to miss out. Kolisi’s leadership skills and relentless work rate made him an obvious choice.
Pieter-Steph du Toit of South Africa secured the blindside flanker position in a landslide victory, earning an astonishing 85.4% of the votes. Du Toit’s dominance in breakdowns and incredible defensive skills were clearly appreciated by the readers.
The tight five consists of Franco Mostert from South Africa at lock, alongside Scott Barrett, Thibaud Flament, and James Ryan. These formidable players showcased their physicality and set-piece prowess throughout the year, solidifying their places in the team.
Notably, Eben Etzebeth of South Africa was voted as the number four lock, with Tadhg Beirne, Brodie Retallick, and Jean Kleyn falling short. Etzebeth’s aggression and towering presence in the lineout made him an undeniable pick.
In the front row, Frans Malherbe of South Africa claimed the tighthead prop spot, edging out Uini Atonio and Ben Tameifuna as the runners-up. Malherbe’s scrummaging abilities and stability were highly regarded by the readers.
Bongi Mbonambi of South Africa was selected as the hooker, narrowly beating Dan Sheehan, Peato Mauvaka, and Julian Montoya. Mbonambi’s accuracy in lineouts and powerful scrummaging played a crucial role in his selection.
Completing the team is Ox Nche of South Africa as the loosehead prop, leaving Steven Kitshoff, Andre Porter, and Ethan de Groot as the other candidates. Nche’s strength and technique in the scrum made him a deserving choice.
The 2023 Planet Rugby Readers’ Team of the Year truly encompasses the remarkable talents and contributions of these esteemed players. Their skills and dedication have undeniably left an indelible mark on the sport, captivating fans worldwide.
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