Here we go, then: kicking off RUCK’s 100 Best Rugby Players in the World 2017 with an England powerhouse, a serious Irish talent and the Premiership’s Mr Reliable.
100. Sam Underhill – England & Bath
Position: Flanker Age: 21
The youngster made a flying start to his England career. A ferocious tackler who has mastered the art of going low, his technique should be shown up and down the country to all aspiring young rugby players. Still only 21-year-old, he looks like he could cement his place in Eddie Jones side in 2018 and has unlimited potential. It’s disappointing Underhill’s year was prematurely ended by a concussion he suffered against Australia, but he’ll be hopeful of being fit for the Six Nations.
Highlight: A shuddering tackle on Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias early-on in England’s win against Argentina this Autumn at Twickenham
99. James Davies- Scarlets
Position: Flanker Age: 27
James ‘Cubby Boi’ Davies has been one of the most influential players in Welsh rugby in recent years and played a starring role in the side’s Guinness PRO12 title triumph last term. Despite numerous man-of-the-match awards and widespread acclaim for his performances, Davies is still to earn international recognition, controversially missing out on a place on Wales’ Tests against Tonga and Samoa this summer. Nevertheless, he still makes our list.
Highlight: Playing a starring role alongside his brother, Jonathan, as Scarlets won the Guinness Pro 14.
98. Bundee Aki – Ireland & Connacht
Position: Centre Age: 27
Joe Schmidt hailed the impact of Bundee Aki after the Connacht centre put in an impressive shift on his Ireland debut against South Africa in November. Aki was hugely aggressive in defence and set the tone with an early shuddering hit on Coenie Oosthuizen. Playing alongside his former team-mate Robbie Henshaw, the New Zealand-born powerhouse has all the attributes to become a world-class operator.