Alternative Rugby Player of the Year shortlist after South Africa and NZ snubs

The end-of-year award represents little more than an exercise in flattery, but that didn't stop many invested fans from spotting something odd about 2021's World Rugby Player of the Year shortlist.

England talisman Maro Itoje was named among four finalists for the individual crown alongside France scrum-half Antoine Dupont, as well as the Australia duo of Michael Hooper and Samu Kerevi.

Selected by a voting panel for their accomplishments in the international arena, supporters were surprised to see neither New Zealand nor South Africa —the top two teams in the world—had a contender in the mix.

Those absences were all the more surprising given the southern-hemisphere nations have endured some of the busiest schedules in 2021 and yet remained largely dominant.

With that in mind, Mirror Sport has compiled an alternative batch one could argue are more deserving in the Player of the Year stakes. . .

Ardie Savea (New Zealand)

No Test team has played more rugby than New Zealand in 2021, which is a big factor in why it was so surprising not a single All Black made the cut for Player of the Year honours.

But, if we were to break down whom among Ian Foster's squad has made the biggest impact, Ardie Savea would fit the criteria both in a figurative and literal sense.

The younger of the Savea brothers has made New Zealand's No. 8 jersey his own over the past 12 months or so, assuming the mantle left by Kieran Read to ensure the nation hasn't missed the icon—and that's saying something.

Granted, New Zealand signed off their Rugby Championship triumph in defeat to South Africa and were more recently beaten by Ireland, but those results can be forgiven amid a relentless tour away from home.

Savea, 28, previously made the shortlist in 2019 when South Africa's Pieter-Steph du Toit won, and he deserved to follow in the footsteps of elder brother Julian with back-to-back nominations.

Who do you think deserves to be crowned World Rugby Player of the Year for 2021? Let us know in the comments section.

Siya Kolisi (South Africa)

Not even in the Rugby World Cup -winning year of 2019 did South Africa's first black captain receive a nomination for Player of the Year, so it seems only right Siya Kolisi gets some long-deserved recognition.

A third-place finish at the Rugby Championship was hardly the result the Springboks were after, though it's worth noting they were at a disadvantage following a gruelling series against the British and Irish Lions.

Kolisi, 30, was an inspiration for his side as they came from behind to beat the tourists 2-1, a feat many in the southern hemisphere would put on par with a World Cup title considering it comes only once every 12 years.

South Africa's style of play has been criticised in some circles as lacking in 'wow' factor, but Kolisi epitomises what they do well, not to mention he's played every minute as they've amassed an 8-4 record (so far) in 2021.

Jordie Barrett (New Zealand)

It just doesn't feel like a Player of the Year vote unless there's a Barrett on the ballot, and 2021 should have been the year that the youngest of the brood, Jordie, finally received his maiden vote.

The multi-talented Rieko Ioane is the only other member of New Zealand's back line who can account for the same mileage this year as the All Blacks have racked up 12 wins from their 14 outings.

Full-back-cum-winger Barrett, 24, has played in 12 of those games and contributed a phenomenal 87 points, showcasing that howitzer of a right boot when brother Beauden or Richie Mo'unga aren't on hand.

Beauden—a two-time World Rugby Player of the Year himself—has featured in 13 of New Zealand's 14 games so far this year but suffers in the POTY stakes given he was a substitute in six of those.

Lukhanyo Am (South Africa)

The end-of-year honour roll does mention Springboks centre Lukhanyo Am, but a Try of the Year nod for his score for the Lions playing for South Africa 'A' isn't the level of recognition he deserves.

That's because the Sharks midfielder has quietly developed into one of the best midfielders on the planet, and a chaotic 2021 was the stage on which he underscored that status.

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Am hasn't quite been omnipresent on the same scale as Kolisi, though he's missed only two of their 12 games en route to building the second-best record of any nation in 2021.

The 27-year-old scored an important try to help the Springboks level their series against the Lions, but it's Am's well-rounded contributions in every department that's made him almost peerless in his position.

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