This is my fourth article in this team of the year series, and I fancied getting on to the big boys – the grinders, the locks.
4. Maro Itoje
Like we have all appreciated Maro Itoje before, the lock is one scary man. He made 95 per cent of his tackles in the 2020 Six Nations. He won nine turnovers in that tournament, and his performances for England are as solid as ever. He has remained one of the most consistent players in elite sport, and though this year was not like his breakout season of 2019, more of a transitional year, come 2021, I would not be surprised if the big, glorious, scary man gets scarier.
5. Sam Whitelock
2020 was a year in which the big old centurion Sam Whitelock gave a soldier’s showing. Hardworking, bruising, and skilful at the breakdown, the quiet worker laps his teammates and opposition. If you exclude the stinker the All Blacks played against the Argentineans, he was particularly impressive this year. He managed to shore up the scrum in the last game. I am not sure whether people appreciate his efforts for the All Blacks enough, because so much of his work is unseen.
Alun Wyn Jones was solid as always, though he failed to impress in a subpar Wales team. Good in offloading and passing, a powerful carrier, and a big defender.
I cannot get further without mentioning the Springboks locks in Eben Etzebeth and RG Snyman. Both shot out for their clubs this year. Etzebeth brought his pace, power, skills, and sheer brutality to Toulon. RG Snyman brought his sheer ferocity to the Top League and Munster. Unfortunately, both were ruled out with injury.
Guido Petti is a serious threat, having a 23 positive from 54 discrete (non-scrum) involvements against the All Blacks in that one win. A true potential star of the future.
Matt Phillips was also very impressive as well for the Wallabies, having 68 discrete involvements against the All Blacks in the 24-22 win. A powerful ball carrier and solid defender and breakdown operator.
James Ryan was notable in his efforts for Leinster, he has been one hard worker with a lot of youthful energy.
Bernard Le Roux was barnstorming in attack and defence, simply spending his time ripping up trees. A big hard worker with an all-rounded game.
Meanwhile, Brodie Rettalick impressed in the Japanese Top League, and he will return to New Zealand next year with his brutality and skills.
The big boys made a big impact this year.