Ultimate Rugby’s Team of the Year - 2016
1. Mako Vunipola (Saracens & England) -
A highly successful year for the older of the Vunipola brothers, Mako's all round game has improved considerably under the guidance of Eddie Jones.
The Saracens loose head performed admirably at his core duties but caught the eye with his ball carrying ability.
A certainty for the Lions next summer, Mako just edged out Ireland's Jack McGrath, who deserves an honourable mention for his efforts with Ireland over the year.
2. Dane Coles (Hurricanes & New Zealand) -
A stand out in his position over the calendar year with some breathtaking performances for both club & country.
As captain, Coles led the Hurricanes to the Super Rugby title. Gifted with the speed of a back and soft hands, he played a starring role in guiding the All Blacks, as they broke the record for most successive wins by a tier one Test nation.
Ireland hooker Rory Best narrowly missed out in the vote, the Ulsterman provided Ireland with a Southern Hemisphere triple crown, winning his 100th cap for his country in the win over Australia at the Aviva Stadium.
3. Tadhg Furlong (Leinster & Ireland) -
A break through year for the young Leinster tighthead and a deserved selection in #URTOTY.
The 24 year old has been excellent throughout and has nailed down a starting role for his country for the foreseeable future.
Furlong stood out with his bullish carries and strong scrummaging, while also working hard in the loose, putting in some big carries and tackles - constantly covering a huge amount of ground for a prop forward.
With only 11 Test caps to his name, it is hard to see Furlong not travelling to NZ with the Lions next summer.
4. Maro Itoje (Saracens & England) -
The Saracens lock has had a breakthrough year - both internationally and with Saracens. He has been the most exciting of a new breed of athletic second rows.
Itoje shows a calmness and maturity beyond his years with nothing seeming to faze the second-row.
Itoje has been a vital component in Saracens winning the Premiership and Champions Cup - making an immediate impact with his strong and intelligent play.
His performances for Saracens saw him named European Player of the Year for 2016, he was awarded the World Rugby Award for Breakthrough Player of the Year and also included in a six-man shortlist for World Player of the Year.
5. Jonny Gray (Glasgow & Scotland) -
The Scotland second-row consistent excellence for club & country has him widely tipped to be part of the Lions Tour to NZ next summer.
Gray was a constant force in the engine room and has led the way with his incredible tackling statistics for the year.
The 22 year old has an exciting future ahead of him. Gray's dominance at the lineout has been key function for both club and country.
6. CJ Stander (Munster & Ireland) -
A remarkable year for the South African born loose forward.
Stander has established himself as one of the best flankers in world rugby with consistent performances for club and country.
Stander’s exploits were rewarded when he received the Rugby Writers of Ireland Player of the Year and is a strong candidate to start in the Lions back-row.
7. Michael Hooper (Waratahs & Australia) -
The 24-year-old openside flanker started in all 15 Super Rugby matches scoring 4 tries and topped the stats amongst the 'Tahs forwards for most line breaks.
The dynamic back-rower won his 4th consecutive NSW Players' Player of the Year Award for his exploits.
Despite a disapointing year with the Wallabies, Hooper's performances were consistently efffective all year, he was a constant threat in attack with his smart running lines.
8. Billy Vunipola (Saracens & England) -
The Australian-born younger brother of Mako, has struck fear in the opposition defence all year.
Man of the Match in three of England’s games in the Six Nations, against Scotland, Ireland and France, he then was an indispensable part of the England side that white-washed Australia.
His involvement for Saracens was also vital after his side won the Premiership and the Champions Cup.
9. Conor Murray (Munster & Ireland) -
Widely regarded as one of the top scrum-halves in the game. Murray was outstanding for club & country scoring important tries at crucial moments, most notably his solo effort against the All Blacks in Soldier Field.
Murray's distribution and kicking prowess was a key component of his game, while also providing crisp delivery to his team mates. He was also nominated for Six Nations Player of the Tournament.
The Munster scrum-half was outstanding in Ireland's three-test Tour to South Africa and instrumental in Ireland's historic 40-29 victory over the All Blacks.
All Black scrum-half TJ Perenara deserves a mention for seamlessly replacing Aaron Smith as the starting All Blacks number nine.
10. Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes & New Zealand) -
A wide margin winner of this category, the World Player of the Year had an outstanding 2016.
Barrett's ability from open play has been a pleasure to watch, constantly breaking the gain line through clever passes and kicks or using his searing pace to burn opposition defences.
Barrett has become a master of his trade, leading Hurricanes to a Super Rugby title, and the Rugby Championship with the All Blacks. Without doubt, the most exciting player of 2016.
11. Julian Savea (Hurricanes & New Zealand) -
'The Bus' had a below par Super Rugby campaign, where he struggled for fitness and form and was later dropped to the bench for his side's successful tilt at the Super Rugby crown.
He showed improved form for the All Blacks throughout the Rugby Championship and Autumn Internationals, using his pace and strength that gives him the ability to create and score tries at will.
With 45 AB tries to his name, Savea is only 4 short of hauling in Doug Howlett record of 49.
12. Robbie Henshaw (Leinster & Ireland) -
The Ireland centre began the year in the green of Connacht and led the province to victory by winning the Pro12 title following a fairytale campaign.
He was exceptional in Ireland's victory over South Africa during the summer Tour and capped off a impressive year with the game clinching score in Chicago as Ireland beat the All Blacks.
13. Jonathan Joseph (Bath & England) -
The Bath centre helped his country achieve a flawless 2016 with his line-breaking ability proving vital throughout the unbeaten period.
14. Anthony Watson (Bath & England) -
Watson was among the first names on Jones' team sheet before an injury set back in early October, he scored four tries in the Jones' first nine Tests in charge.
The wing suffered a broken jaw, which caused him to miss the victories over South Africa, Fiji, Argentina and Australia.
Three tries in the last three 6 Nations games showed Watson's clinical edge.
15. Stuart Hogg (Glasgow & Scotland) -
The Scotland full-back was named 6 Nations Player of the Tournament, scoring tries against Ireland and France.
Widely praised for his creativity, Hogg was a constant threat in attack all year and scored some incredible solo efforts, most notably against Georgia in the November Internationals.