Brian O'Driscoll. The Leinster centre found himself a marked man in 2002, following his match-winning performance for Ireland against France in Paris in 2000 and his brilliant try for the Lions in the first Test against Australia in 2001. However, a hat-trick of tries against Scotland proved thatO'Driscoll remains one step ahead of opposing defences. He is also an outstanding presence in defence and has recently added another string to his bow by leading his country against Australia in Keith Wood's absence. Ireland's historic victory suggests that O'Driscoll skills are not limited to the sublime, but stretch to leadership as well.
Fabien Galthii. The French scrum-half enjoyed perhaps his best-ever season as he guided Les Bleus to the Six Nations Grand Slam. The highlight was undoubtedly his starring role in France's victory over England where his vision in setting up a try for Aurilien Rougerie was matched by his defensive leadership in the face of the late English onslaught.
Richard McCaw. The Canterbury Crusader burst into the international limelight in November 2001 with a man-of-the-match display for the All Blacks in their victory over Ireland in Dublin. Since then, he has been a key member of John Mitchell's side, rested only for the Test Matches against Italy and Fiji this season before returning for the Tri-nations campaign. McCaw's pedigree is undoubted. In 1999 he was part of the New Zealand side that won IRB/FIRA-AER U19 World Championship in Wales. He also shone in the 2001 U21 World Championship, now under the auspices of the IRB, before establishing himself as a regular in the Canterbury side later that year.
Joe van Niekerk. Van Niekerk is the epitome of South Africa's metamorphosis into adynamic, expansive side. Yes, he is happy to involve himself in the tackle and the close quarters, but the Cats flanker's main weapon is his pace, as demonstrated by a terrific try against Samoa this year. Van Niekerk captained South Africa Schools in 1998 and represented his country the following year in the IRB/FIRA-AER U19 World Championship. As captain of the U21 side he was voted Player of the Tournament in apoll amongst referees.
Jason Robinson. When Jason Robinson has the ball in his hands, the crowd waits ineager anticipation. In contrast, the opposition experiences a sense of panic. Just ask Australia full-back Chris Latham, who was flummoxed by Robinson in the first Test between Australia and the Lions in 2001. Robinson, who moved from rugby league in 2000, made his England debut seven months later in England's rearranged Six Nations game against Ireland and has gone on to score eight tries in 11 internationals.Although his mid-air sidestep has become his trademark it continues to bewilder the opposition. Robinson admits that he is still a novice in Union. One wonders how good he will be when he has mastered it.
The 'Player of the Year' will be announced at the IRB Awards ceremony in January, the date to be announced.
Other categories include: Team of the Year, Coach of the Year, U19 Player of the Year, U21 Player of the Year, Sevens Player of the Year, Referee Distinguished Service award, Spirit of Rugby award, Women's Player of the Year, Development award and Chairman awards.
The International Judging Panel:Gerald Davies (Wales), Paul Ackford (England), David Sole (Scotland), Fergus Slattery (Ireland), Philippe Sella (France) Chester Williams(South Africa), Simon Poidevin (Australia), Sean Fitzpatrick (New Zealand), Hugo Porta (Argentina).
The IRB International Rugby Yearbook, the ultimate sourcebook on World Rugby Union was launched yesterday in London.The 2002/2003 edition contains detailed reviews of the major