Tackling Rugby
Should the media help decide IRB Player of the Year?
ESPN Staff
January 10, 2013
New Zealand's Dan Carter lines up a kick, New Zealand v Tonga, Rugby World Cup, Eden Park, Auckland, New Zealand, September 9, 2011
Would New Zealand's Dan Carter have won the IRB Player of the Year honour if the rugby media had input into who deserved it? © Getty Images

Football crowned its best player this week with Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi claiming the Fifa Ballon d'Or honour in Zurich for an amazing fourth consecutive season.

His record-breaking success came as a result of a voting process that incorporates the opinions of national coaches and captains and journalists from around the world. In contrast, rugby relies on a panel of ex-internationals to decide on the IRB's Player of the Year - an award won this year by New Zealand's Dan Carter.

The decision was met with surprise in the media and the All Blacks' fly-half is unlikely to make it an awards double when the UK-based Rugby Union Writers' Club announce their own choice as the stand out player this coming week. Tackling Rugby asks whether the opinion of the world's rugby media should form part of the IRB thought process?

What do you think? Let us know your thoughts or join the debate on Twitter or Facebook.

ESPNscrum senior editor Graham Jenkins believes the IRB should give the media more of a say:

The panel that decided the world's best player in 2012 was Dan Carter may boast many familiar names and faces - such is the media's fascination with former internationals and their willingness to employ ex-players as pundits, journalists and commentators - but there can be little doubt that their deliberations would benefit from those paid to watch and analyse the sport.

As much as Dan Carter's return to top form last year following a injury-ravaged 2011 was worthy of note, his endeavour for the All Blacks did not even warrant a place on the shortlist for New Zealand's Player of the Year award with the Kel Tremain Trophy going to Richie McCaw - a fact that should concern the IRB. The latest honour of McCaw's glittering career was handed down by a panel featuring New Zealand Rugby Union officials but also a media representative in the form of veteran commentator Grant Nisbett.

But the Kiwis are not the only ones to value the opinion of the fourth estate. The Player of the Year award offered by England's Aviva Premiership is decided by a panel dominated by media professionals that last season included the likes of ESPN's very own Nick Mullins, The Daily Telegraph's Mick Cleary and BBC Radio's Alastair Eykyn.

"If you look at other high-profile sports you will see that it is not just football that actively seeks the opinion of journalists."

If you look at other high-profile sports you will see that it is not just football that actively seeks the opinion of those running the rule over the world's best players week in, week out. The European Tour's Golfer of the Year prize - won most recently by Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy - is decided by all sectors of the golfing media - newspapers, magazines, radio and television. And some of the leading cricket correspondents are among those who decide the recipient of the ICC Player of the Year honour. The IRB appear to be out of line when it comes to this issue.

As much as I want to believe that the IRB's panel 'deliberated on every major Test' to the tune of 'around 100 hours of action' during the course of their discussions you wonder how the likes of Will Greenwood, a seemingly ever-present figure in the UK rugby media, Agustin Pichot, an increasingly influential figure in the boardrooms of Argentina and beyond, and Tana Umaga, forging a coaching career at Counties Manukau, could have found a convenient time zone or window to discuss the claims of one player or another - if they did at all.

I wouldn't mind betting that many members of the illustrious panel relied on the media for context, analysis and news updates around every major international game and may have even influenced their own thoughts - so why not make their input official?

ESPNscrum assistant editor Tom Hamilton believes the current set-up works just fine:

When the panel met to decide who would win the 2012 IRB Player of the Year, it was a who's who of world rugby. Each of the nine panel members had played rugby at the highest level and there were three World Cup-winners in the room. Most importantly, you could argue - all nine are still involved in the game whether in coaching or media roles.

The nomination of Owen Farrell provoked widespread astonishment while the eventual announcement of Dan Carter as the winner of the prestigious award caused various eyebrows to be raised, it was all down to - you would hope - informed discussions from the panel.

That Farrell's nomination may not have been correct, in the minds of some, or Carter's victory not necessarily the right decision is purely subjective. Whenever an award is picked, there are going to be a disgruntled few who feel hard done by or outraged by the eventual winner.

"There is no substitute for experience and you would like to think that you can put your trust in at least some of the panel."

This week saw the anointing of Lionel Messi as the Ballon D'or winner for the fourth time - an unrivalled achievement. Messi's eventual 41.6% share of the votes came thanks to the 505 people who contributed to the eventual result with another couple of hundred opting not to vote. Those 505 were journalists, national captains and coaches from around the world.

It achieved the global spread necessary for such an award, but it was essentially a popularity contest and not a decision based on discussion, compromise and perception. There were no strict criteria set down - should they be voting on individual talent, their medal haul or their role in the team? It attempted to convey an accurate spread of the world's views but in the process of attempting to tick all the boxes you muddy the system.

This is where the IRB format comes into its own. There is no substitute for experience and you would like to think that you can put your trust in at least some of Will Greenwood, Gavin Hastings, Raphaël Ibañez, Francois Pienaar, Agustín Pichot, Scott Quinnell, Tana Umaga, Paul Wallace and John Eales to recognise the best player from the past year. Is that format without its flaws? No.

But this does not necessarily mean that extra bodies should be drafted in to help facilitate the process. With Quinnell and Wallace's television duties and Greenwood's regular column for a national newspaper, you have the media box effectively ticked. Yes, the decision to put forward Farrell was surprising and, as we have discussed before, Carter's triumph may not have necessarily been the right option, but it does not necessitate that rugby should start chopping and changing the process.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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