Rugby’s Top 10 influencers of 2017

Rugby Republik Roar Rookie

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    There’s a buzz word in the marketing world for those with the ability to shape the opinions, actions and buying habits of others. They’re called ‘Influencers’.

    Who have been the influencers in the world of rugby in 2017?

    This year has been another dramatic one for rugby, with the Women’s Rugby World Cup, the British and Irish Lions Tour of New Zealand, the Six Nations and the World Sevens Series driving global interest in rugby union to unprecedented levels.

    We’ve taken a look back over the year, and compiled a list of who we think were rugby’s top ten influencers.

    10. Sonny Bill Williams, New Zealand
    Williams was never far from the headlines again this year. His red card in the second Lions Test was the turning point in a highly-charged and controversial series. The shoulder charge on Lions wing Anthony Watson led to a four-week suspension.

    He returned for the Rugby Championship, where his form was, at times, sublime. Off the field, his massive social media following will always ensure that he is among rugby’s top influencers.

    All Blacks player Sonny Bill Williams

    (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    9. Joy Neville, Ireland
    Neville, a former Irish women’s rugby international, made history by becoming the first woman to referee a men’s professional match (Bath v Bristol). She officiated the final of the Women’s Rugby World Cup 2017 in Belfast (New Zealand v England), and has also refereed a full men’s international match (Norway v Denmark) in the European Nations Cup.

    She also became the first woman to officiate a men’s European club fixture – Bordeaux-Begles (France) v Enisei STM (Russia). She was named World Rugby Referee of the Year at the 2017 World Rugby awards in Monaco. Her achievements are pioneering, and will inspire many women, and men, to follow in her footsteps, and take up the whistle.

    8. Perry Baker, USA
    Perry Baker was named 2017 World Sevens Player at the World Rugby awards. The 31-year-old flyer from Florida scored some scintillating tries out wide for the USA 7s team.

    With ball in hand, and in space, he is uncatchable. Rugby’s growth rate in America is impressive, and looks set to continue next year with the inaugural Major League Rugby competition, to be broadcast across America on CBS sports.

    Baker (along with others) are at the forefront of this massive opportunity for rugby, and as a consequence, he is one of our influencers of 2017.

    7. Beauden Barrett, New Zealand
    The man is a points-scoring, award-winning machine. 2017 was another year in which he delivered for the rugby-loving public of New Zealand. Not much more needs to be said about him.

    6. Portia Woodman, New Zealand
    Winner of the Women’s Player of the Year Award, Woodman was unstoppable at the 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup in Ireland, where she scored a bucket-load of tries, including four in the semi-final against 1991 Champions, the USA.

    Her exploits have won her a clutch of awards, both in New Zealand and internationally. She is, for the moment, the face of women’s rugby, and as such has the platform to inspire others into the sport.

    5. Steve Hansen, New Zealand
    Despite a less-than-perfect season, the All Blacks remain comfortably at the top of the World Rugby rankings. Hansen has truly cemented himself in the affections of All Blacks fans, a position which he has had to work hard to get.

    We saw a different, charming, side to him this year, when he took part in the quirky ‘Don’t Lose Your Biscuit’ marketing campaign for food giant Arnotts. The All Blacks are one of world sport’s premier teams, and, ex officio, the coach of them is one of the rugby world’s top influencers.

    4. Bill Pulver, Australia
    Pulver may be leaving Rugby Australia, but he has had to make some monumental decisions this year. These decisions will have a major bearing on the fate of rugby in Australia for many years, and for this reason he makes our influencers list.

    The axing of the Western Force was the toughest call any rugby CEO has had to make in a long time. He deserves credit for remaining dignified under intense pressure.

    His decision to quit will have ramifications beyond the norm. His replacement, Raelene Castle, is not a paid-up member of the private schoolboys brigade. Expect the operation of Rugby Australia to be very different under her leadership.

    CEO of Australian Rugby Union Bill Pulver

    (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)

    3. Eddie Jones, England
    The former Wallaby coach continues to work wonders with England, losing only one match of 23 in charge so far. He guided England to a consecutive Six Nations Championship this year, followed by an impressive 2-0 series win in Argentina with most of his front-line players out of contention on Lions duty.

    Rugby is booming in England, and much of this is tied to the success of the national team, for which Jones can take a lot of the credit.

    2. Bill Beaumont, England
    Beaumont, Chairman of World Rugby, comes in at second on our influencer’s list. Rugby’s global growth is continuing at a remarkable rate. The sums of money being invested in the development of the sport in all corners of the globe are substantial.

    There was some controversy when World Rugby awarded France hosting rights to the Rugby World Cup 2023 over South Africa, but the decision was in fact a good one for rugby – it showed the World Rugby Council will not simply rubber-stamp the recommendations of a stale, bureaucratic report. As chairman of the governing body of rugby, he is, ex officio, a major influencer.

    1. Warren Gatland, Wales
    Gatland has been a walking headline all year. In a Lions series which captivated the imagination of millions, at the centre of it all was this bloke from Hamilton.

    His comments evoked every emotion possible: from disgust (by threatening to reveal dirt on some All Blacks), to joy (for Lions fans), to scorn (revealing how he ‘hated’ the Lions tour). His book, released earlier this month, In the Line of Fire has been widely praised for its candid, honest look behind the scenes of the series. Love him or hate him, there’s no denying Warren Gatland has made a significant contribution to what has been a remarkable year for world rugby.

    Honourable mentions: Maro Itoje (England), Reiko Ioane (New Zealand), Kieran Read (Captain, New Zealand), Augustine Pichot (World Rugby Vice-Chairman, Argentina), Michael Cheika (Coach, Australia), Gregor Townsend (Coach, Scotland).

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    The Crowd Says (71)

    • Roar Guru

      December 29th 2017 @ 4:47am
      Harry Jones said | December 29th 2017 @ 4:47am | ! Report

      Thanks, RR.

      I nominate Philip Browne, the Chief Executive of IRFU since 1998, for the professionalism and effectiveness of his efforts. Other CEOs should copy him.

      Joe Schmidt for teaching and creating a template for rugby success in Ireland, despite smallish player ranks. Other coaches are trying to copy him.

      And CJ Stander, as an emblem of a larger trend: an undersized Saffa who became a Lion and a mainstay of Munster and Ireland. A lot of young players will copy him.

      • December 29th 2017 @ 9:56am
        hello said | December 29th 2017 @ 9:56am | ! Report

        Agree Harry
        Ireland have really been putting together a good all round program for rugby – Aus should take notice especially

        • December 29th 2017 @ 10:37am
          Rebellion said | December 29th 2017 @ 10:37am | ! Report

          Vern Cotter, then the current team of Gregor Townsend & Matt Taylor supported by John Barclay’s breakdown prowess for turning the Scottish team into a force to be reckoned with

          Next year’s 6 nations is going to be an absolute cracker

          • December 29th 2017 @ 11:48am
            Bakkies said | December 29th 2017 @ 11:48am | ! Report

            Cotter had players to work with due to the skills development and playing style implemented by Townsend and Sean Lineen at Glasgow. This improved their try scoring tally out of sight which has been a problem for a long while in Scottish Rugby. Both coaches also increased the profile of the game in Glasgow and attracted a new fan base.

            The current improvement with the national team wouldn’t have happened if that didn’t occur at Glasgow due to the fact of Edinburgh one of the few playing hotbeds in Scottish Rugby is a shambles.

            • Roar Guru

              December 29th 2017 @ 12:27pm
              Poth Ale said | December 29th 2017 @ 12:27pm | ! Report

              Agreed. The Scottish turnaround has been highly instructive in what domestic talents and skills can achieve at management and coaching level. And their player development programme is starting to show some green shoots.

              • Roar Guru

                December 29th 2017 @ 12:57pm
                The Neutral View From Sweden said | December 29th 2017 @ 12:57pm | ! Report

                As amazing as Scotlands turnaround is, I can still forsee dips in the future. They are very dependent on imported players and to operate the core of the national team from only two pro teams is tricky.

                Irelands foundation, that looks more and more like a carbon copy of NZR’s structure, promises a lot more sustained performances I believe.

              • Roar Guru

                December 29th 2017 @ 1:16pm
                Poth Ale said | December 29th 2017 @ 1:16pm | ! Report

                Hi Neutral – In what way do you think Ireland’s foundation looks like a carbon copy of NZ’s structure?

                And why do you think it promises a lot more sustained performances?

              • Roar Guru

                December 29th 2017 @ 1:38pm
                The Neutral View From Sweden said | December 29th 2017 @ 1:38pm | ! Report

                Both countries provinces/franchises are owned by their respective Unions with NZ franchises receiving some private investment while Ireland’s provinces don’t receive any
                Because their Unions are in complete control this allows them to centrally contract all of their players, therefore, managing thing’s like Player Welfare and restricting the number of foreigners allowed to play for the provinces they can also influence the player development pathway which gives young players a high standard of coaching in each of the provinces academies.I could go on….but I think you know all about this already

                And why do you think it promises a lot more sustained performances?

                It guarantees a certain standard over time. NZ current dominance and SH recent dominance confirms it. Rightly managed and funded it is the most effective way/system.

              • December 29th 2017 @ 4:16pm
                Bakkies said | December 29th 2017 @ 4:16pm | ! Report

                ‘And why do you think it promises a lot more sustained performances?’

                There is a system there to help with succession planning. Particularly in Leinster they had to recruit Mike Ross from outside the province and brought in Michael Bent an Exile from Taranaki. Ross aged and Bent is a better loosehead, along came Tadhg Furlong and another local product Marty Moore had to move to England to get more regular game time.

                At loosehead there is Bent, McGrath, Healy, Dooley and Porter. Porter is now training up as a tighthead. Their propping depth is the envy of a lot of teams. Can’t think of any French team with their large squads and salary caps that has that much quality at loosehead and tighthead.

                Backrow Dominic Ryan and now Jordi Murphy have had to move on to get more regular starts. You have players like Conor Gisenenan, Conor Oliver and the Masterton brothers who have had to build their careers elsewhere.

                At flyhalf they have Ross Byrne and Joey Carbery who came out of the under 20s at around the same time building their experience to get ready to eventually replace the 31 year old Sexton.

                They didn’t really need to sign Henshaw with Ringrose and Rory O’Loughlin in the set up.

                Back three with the Kearney brothers, McFadden and Nacewa ageing they have Barry Daly, Adam Byrne, Larmour, Hugo Keenan coming through. Andrew Conway and Cian Kelliher moved elsewhere.

          • Roar Rookie

            December 29th 2017 @ 12:20pm
            Rugby Republik said | December 29th 2017 @ 12:20pm | ! Report

            The Calcutta Cup can’t come soon enough!

        • December 30th 2017 @ 6:39am
          richard said | December 30th 2017 @ 6:39am | ! Report

          re Harry Jones,Ireland has merely copied the NZ system -i.e crntralised contracts etc.And Ireland doesn’t have a smallish player base,it is slightly smaller than NZ;s.Ireland is NZ lite.

          • Roar Guru

            December 30th 2017 @ 10:55am
            Poth Ale said | December 30th 2017 @ 10:55am | ! Report

            Not quite accurate, Richard. The IRFU started central contracts in 2001 i.e. where they pay the salary directly to player and manage their time accordingly – when they decided to enter the four provincial teams into a professional league. The number of central contracts has varied over the years – as high as 22, dropping to 11 and currently the number is 15 players unlike in NZ.

            There are 258 players in total with the senior squads and academies across the four provinces. Leinster, Munster, Ulster and Connacht are all branches of the union and wholly owned by them, unlike New Zealand. They have been in place since the 1880s.

            The remaining 243 players are paid by the provincial teams directly using a combination of commercial, competition and gate income as well as annual contributions from the IRFU to each.

            Three of the provinces are subject to foreign player quotas – 4 NIE plus 1 special project player who could become Irish qualified after five years as of next week. Only one player per the 15 playing positions allowed.

      • Roar Guru

        December 29th 2017 @ 12:08pm
        Poth Ale said | December 29th 2017 @ 12:08pm | ! Report

        I’d actually nominate David Nucifora ahead of Joe Schmidt in his role as Performance Director in Irish Rugby. He is driving the age-grade/sub academy/academy programme pathway that is feeding the four Irish provinces. Jordan Larmour the 20-year old Leinster 15 who scored the stunning 60m try in the Munster-Leinster inter pro derby at the weekend just wouldn’t have been involved 4-5 years ago under the old system.

        And on a more personal note, my huge sympathies go to him and his family for their tragic loss just before Xmas – a terrible pain to bear.

        • December 29th 2017 @ 8:13pm
          riddler said | December 29th 2017 @ 8:13pm | ! Report

          agree poth..

          he is doing a very good without much fanfare..

          very sad about his daughter.. thoughts and sympathies with him and his family..

          • December 30th 2017 @ 10:19am
            Bakkies said | December 30th 2017 @ 10:19am | ! Report

            Yeah it is sad. Only the Kiwi press have really picked up on it and not written a lot which is good as they have respected his privacy.

            I was sceptical of his appointment as he cut the pathways and took the under 20s to their worst ever finish in the JWC in Australia. Looking at it now he was really doing a hatchet job for O’Neill’s reckless cost cutting measures to keep the Sydney and Brisbane clubs happy. This was was when the Force really started to struggle as players if they weren’t selected were sent to Sydney to play club Rugby and they didn’t have an academy in Perth to develop their local pool of talent.

        • Roar Guru

          December 30th 2017 @ 8:38pm
          Harry Jones said | December 30th 2017 @ 8:38pm | ! Report

          Add him!

          Sorry for his loss.

        • December 31st 2017 @ 1:11am
          BackinBlack said | December 31st 2017 @ 1:11am | ! Report

          Terribly sad news

          Does anyone know how she died? As a father I could not think of a more detestating situation for the parents

    • December 29th 2017 @ 7:04am
      Not so super said | December 29th 2017 @ 7:04am | ! Report

      A Usa sevens player? Keep dreaming

      • Roar Rookie

        December 29th 2017 @ 8:25am
        Rugby Republik said | December 29th 2017 @ 8:25am | ! Report

        Not just a USA sevens player, but actually the top sevens player in the world this year. There’s a reason he won the award you know

        • December 29th 2017 @ 9:28am
          Taylorman said | December 29th 2017 @ 9:28am | ! Report

          Agree, plus the sport needs ‘influence’ by those not from the mainstream 15’s to generate wider interest. Its great seeing a wider range of players in action.

          On that, itll be interesting if Sevens were to take off professionally at levels that match 15’s and the priority it gets given by NZ, Oz etc. If Sevens becomes a better option financially thats changes the landscape completely.

          • Roar Guru

            December 29th 2017 @ 10:18am
            PeterK said | December 29th 2017 @ 10:18am | ! Report

            with sevens being an olympic sport far more women get paid playing sevens than xv’s , and even in countries that pay womens xv they get paid less than the sevens players (aust and nz).

            England may be the exception and pay the womens xv’s more than their sevens.

        • December 30th 2017 @ 10:47am
          Muzzo said | December 30th 2017 @ 10:47am | ! Report

          Interesting read Rugby Republic, but on Perry Baker’s award, IMO, he would not have won it, had Seabelo Senatla been available for all of the games in the series. Senatla only played four tournaments in last years series scoring, from memory, 29 tries.This being due, to him, going to play Super Rugby, for the Stormers. His overall skill set, is vastly superior, to what Baker has, & as what we have seen, so far this season, he has been the standout player

          • January 2nd 2018 @ 4:30pm
            cuw said | January 2nd 2018 @ 4:30pm | ! Report

            true but the performances of PB are far more laudable as he is a late convert from NFL.

            it was said he came into rugger only in 2013 and is still learning the game.

            in the past 2 7s seasons he has scored 48 and 57 trys , respectively.

            also for a few years he was in the shadow of Carlin Isles.

            Senatla , i guess has been playing rugger all his life.

    • Roar Guru

      December 29th 2017 @ 7:16am
      Kia Kaha said | December 29th 2017 @ 7:16am | ! Report

      Good work on your first post and nice topic.

      My favourite attempt at influencing was Michael Cheika after responding to the Israel Folau collar / hair pull.

      ‘You’ve got to watch the vision.’

      Actually, i think you need to watch your own vision, Michael. It seems to be failing you.

      • December 29th 2017 @ 8:06am
        bluffboy said | December 29th 2017 @ 8:06am | ! Report

        Happy News to all.
        I think your right KK , it is a good topic, plenty to agree/disagree.
        What maybe needed is a pole.
        My nomination – Phil Kearns
        He has shown the world disabilities are no obstruction in rugby.
        It can be played and commentated with just eye………..

        • December 30th 2017 @ 10:57am
          Muzzo said | December 30th 2017 @ 10:57am | ! Report

          Hahaha bluffboy, as in Kearns! I think, he must be related to a Pirate, in regards to his eye patch!! Maybe, just maybe, he should try some of those famous Bluff oysters, it just might solve the problem!! Lol. Cheers.

      • Roar Rookie

        December 29th 2017 @ 7:53pm
        Rugby Republik said | December 29th 2017 @ 7:53pm | ! Report

        Thanks KK!

    • December 29th 2017 @ 7:27am
      English twizz said | December 29th 2017 @ 7:27am | ! Report

      Super mario itoje the biggest name in rugby the most marketable in the world

      • December 29th 2017 @ 8:08am
        Rhys Bosley said | December 29th 2017 @ 8:08am | ! Report

        He is a menace and a World Cup winner with a bit of luck going England’s way.

        • December 29th 2017 @ 7:19pm
          Jacko said | December 29th 2017 @ 7:19pm | ! Report

          World cup winner???I never saw his name on the 2003 England players team sheet.

          • Roar Rookie

            January 2nd 2018 @ 11:48am
            piru said | January 2nd 2018 @ 11:48am | ! Report

            He does seem to have a strong marketing team working to increase his profile, everyone north of the equator seems to think he’s amazing, most of us south of it are a bit meh

            • January 2nd 2018 @ 8:30pm
              scottd said | January 2nd 2018 @ 8:30pm | ! Report

              I think he’s pretty good 🙂

              • Roar Rookie

                January 3rd 2018 @ 11:32am
                piru said | January 3rd 2018 @ 11:32am | ! Report

                ‘Pretty good’ is probably the right phrase Scott, I’d agree

      • December 29th 2017 @ 9:30am
        Taylorman said | December 29th 2017 @ 9:30am | ! Report

        Most marketable? Really?

        • December 29th 2017 @ 10:40am
          Rebellion said | December 29th 2017 @ 10:40am | ! Report

          Itoje has been the best player in the world this year, like Beauden Barrett was last year, David Pocock was in 2015 and Brodie Retallick before him in 2014

          • December 29th 2017 @ 7:24pm
            Jacko said | December 29th 2017 @ 7:24pm | ! Report

            No that went to BB…..

            • December 30th 2017 @ 9:10am
              Taylorman said | December 30th 2017 @ 9:10am | ! Report

              I think he missed the memo…

        • December 29th 2017 @ 11:02am
          Rhys Bosley said | December 29th 2017 @ 11:02am | ! Report

          Marketable attributes for a rugby player in 2017.

          Outstanding player – check
          Physically spectacular – check
          Socially and politically informed – check
          Minority background demonstrates rugby’s inclusiveness – check

          I can’t think of another player that has all that other than Itoje, he is like Pocock but better.

          • December 29th 2017 @ 1:17pm
            English twizz said | December 29th 2017 @ 1:17pm | ! Report

            Will put

          • December 29th 2017 @ 2:38pm
            Perthstayer said | December 29th 2017 @ 2:38pm | ! Report

            Rhys, another check:

            he’s a “cool dude”. Dresses young/fashionably, listens to hip music, youthful Instagram posts etc.

            He’s influencing a whole new audience in UK.

            • December 31st 2017 @ 1:07pm
              Rhys Bosley said | December 31st 2017 @ 1:07pm | ! Report

              Very true.

          • December 30th 2017 @ 5:08am
            Jumbo said | December 30th 2017 @ 5:08am | ! Report

            He’s a wee bit overhyped, like many people agree.

            • December 30th 2017 @ 8:02am
              Neil Back said | December 30th 2017 @ 8:02am | ! Report

              All those voices are just the sound of you agreeing with yourself as usual.

          • January 2nd 2018 @ 4:38pm
            cuw said | January 2nd 2018 @ 4:38pm | ! Report

            ” Minority background demonstrates rugby’s inclusiveness – check ”

            YES – the color of skin matters a lot – at least for publicity.

            but old hangovers from a colonial past remain – as shown by Anthony Joshua being snubbed in the annual New Year Honors list as well as the sports personality of 2017 award in England 😛

            this is like rugger using 7S for all its marketing , but when it comes to actual recognition , its always XVs test rugger that matters 😀

            • January 2nd 2018 @ 8:23pm
              English twizz said | January 2nd 2018 @ 8:23pm | ! Report

              The sports award was won by mo farah who’s from Somalia so nothing to do with colour of skin and Anthony Joshua is already a MBE so won’t get knighted for a while yet

      • December 29th 2017 @ 7:15pm
        Jacko said | December 29th 2017 @ 7:15pm | ! Report

        he is certainly the loudest at opposition lineouts

        • January 2nd 2018 @ 4:40pm
          cuw said | January 2nd 2018 @ 4:40pm | ! Report

          and one of the most penalized players in England.

          as if he is the football version of enforcer.

    • Roar Guru

      December 29th 2017 @ 8:54am
      Machooka said | December 29th 2017 @ 8:54am | ! Report

      Nice read RR… and congrats on your first published article here on da ROAR.

      Ummm… for human headlines wouldn’t Cheika crack a mention?

      Nothing parochial on my part but… 😉

      • December 29th 2017 @ 11:31am
        Rhys Bosley said | December 29th 2017 @ 11:31am | ! Report

        Cheika certainly influences me to be embarrassed.

      • Roar Rookie

        December 29th 2017 @ 12:25pm
        Rugby Republik said | December 29th 2017 @ 12:25pm | ! Report

        Thanks for the compliment Machooka! Cheika was certainly up there, and made our ‘honourable mentions’ list, but was maybe just one good result away from making the top 10. We look forward to watching his antics in action next year!

    • December 29th 2017 @ 11:13am
      Philip O'Donovan said | December 29th 2017 @ 11:13am | ! Report

      How can you possible mention Michael Cheika who has only stood out for his penchant to vulgarity.

      • Roar Guru

        December 29th 2017 @ 5:35pm
        Machooka said | December 29th 2017 @ 5:35pm | ! Report

        Possibly can too Philip…

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