World Rugby's player of the award nominations are out, a list featuring two All Blacks, an Irishman and surprise, surprise, three English players.

Let's cut to the chase in our bid to work out the most deserving of the nominees.

The question is, which of Beauden Barrett, Dane Coles, Jamie Heaslip, Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje and Billy Vunipola should win it?

But it might be better to phrase it this way - who has shown an ability to consistently do something on the international stage that no one else can do? On that basis, in my mind, Barrett, Coles and Itoje are the most deserving. I'll get to my final decision, for what it's worth, shortly.


Heaslip has been good for Ireland and very good for Ireland against the All Blacks at the weekend. There could be an emotional factor in his being nominated. He is a solid loose forward but no better than Kieran Read.

Neither is Billy Vunipola, an excellent ball carrier for the Poms, who generally runs out of puff at the end of tests. His workrate has improved, but is nowhere near that of other top-quality international No8s. Defensively he can struggle late on - again due to his fitness.

Owen Farrell is a very good No10 or No12 for England. He did well against Australia, too. He's an excellent goalkicker, one area that Barrett needs to improve significantly. But he doesn't make my final three as he can't attack in the way Barrett can.

Do not underestimate the impact Itoje, a 22-year-old lock, made for England in their clean sweep of Australia in June. The 1.98m Itoje, a former England Under-20s star and probable future captain of the senior team, was immense in the lineout and around the field and is so dynamic he can play at loose forward.

He is very skilfull and powerful, and, after making his debut for the senior team this year, has yet to experience a loss for the men in white in seven tests. He is a worthy nominee, but can he do what Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock can't? That's a matter of opinion, clearly. I believe he will become one of the best in the world, but Retallick and Whitelock already are.

Which brings us to Barrett and Coles. Barrett has been sensational since taking over from Aaron Cruden mid-way through the year. His pace, agility and knack for making things happen means he is indeed a unique player. And yet. Unfortunately for him, his goalkicking, one of his core roles, simply hasn't been good enough.

Coles, who missed a couple of lineout targets in the defeat to Ireland, has otherwise been almost flawless this year. He is the new breed of hooker, a tough, quick, mobile player who can lead attacks and affect turnovers. He can do what other players cannot. At 29, he is re-defining the No2 role as we watch.

For that reason, Coles is my pick.

The nominees for World Rugby Men's Player of the Year 2016 are: Beauden Barrett (New Zealand), Dane Coles (New Zealand), Owen Farrell (England), Jamie Heaslip (Ireland), Maro Itoje (England) and Billy Vunipola (England).

The men's panel is chaired by Australia's RWC 1999-winning captain John Eales and comprises former players Will Greenwood, Raphael Ibanez, Francois Pienaar, Chris Paterson, Agustin Pichot, Scott Quinnell, Tana Umaga and Paul Wallace as well as journalists Pierre Galy (AFP), Stephen Jones (The Sunday Times), Jim Kayes (TV3) and Sergio Stuart (Ole, Argentina).