Radio Sport rugby editor Nigel Yalden reviews the All Blacks' season naming his standout performers of the year.



Forward of the Year: Dane Coles

The maturity with which he led the Hurricanes to their first Super Rugby title flowed into a more senior role with the All Blacks. While we will remember fondly some of the moments of skill and the 77 minutes off the bench he was never meant to be part of in Sydney, it's his world class ability in a hooker's core role that shouldn't be ignored. The best in the world in his position.

Runners Up: Sam Whitelock & Brodie Retallick

Just prior to the Chicago test, Sky Sport commentary legend Grant Nisbett told me that today we would see just how important Whitelock and Retallick are to the All Blacks. Nisbo was on point as always, much in the same way this duo are whenever they take to the field.

Role Player of the Year - Forwards: Owen Franks

Week in, week out, this bloke does the business without fuss or fanfare. Franks is rarely bettered at scrum time, superb at the oft-overlooked skill of lineout lifting, shifts carcasses at the breakdown, defends strongly in tough ball running channels around rucks, carries strongly himself and has the most underappreciated set of hands of all the tight forwards.

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Back of the Year: Beauden Barrett

Think back to where he was at the start of the year, then fast forward to the finish. You realise his growth and maturity has been as rapid as the man himself on a chip'n'chase. Super Rugby form led to the Rugby Championship, he earned the starting first five spot on performance and then just cut capers. Not perfect by any means, but his defensive and offensive efforts in Dublin and Paris reaffirmed the growth of Barrett in 2016.

Runners Up: Israel Dagg & Ben Smith

You couldn't have one without the other as both benefited from the change made for the second Bledisloe Cup test. Dagg has revived his international career on the right wing while Smith has been his typically rock solid self in everything he does in his best position.

Role Player of the Year - Backs: Ryan Crotty

Crotty is as reliable a player as there is in the All Blacks. He reads defenses well and is an accurate tackler. On offense he runs great lines, is more than willing to straighten up the attack and is sneaky quick. As he has done all through his All Black career, just went out and did his job with those around him benefiting.

Rookie of the Year: Anton Lienert-Brown

A 21 year old with the rugby sense of the 12 year test veteran, this young man is as good, if not better than when Wayne Smith gave me his take on how talented Lienert-Brown was as an 18 year old. It didn't matter whether he was at second five or centre, he made great decisions with or without the ball and defensively rarely missed his target.

Rookie Runners Up: Liam Squire & Scott Barrett

Two big young men with massive motors and an unrelenting willingness to throw themselves at the opposition from first whistle to last; ready-made test match rugby players.

Individual Performance of the Year: Dane Coles vs South Africa in Christchurch

Seven days after playing his "worst game in the jersey", Coles produced his best. Lineout throwing - his undoing the week prior - was pinpoint; he scrummed well but around the field he was quite superb. Whilst he did work in and around the ruck, it was out wide where he was of most influence, highlighted by a trio of final passes on tries that were simply sublime.