Nothing provokes debate like a player of the year list, perhaps except the choice of the man at the top of any such compilation.
Except when that man is Brodie Retallick and when he has had a year like the one just passed.
Unlike the anointment of his coach Steve Hansen as coach of the year, it is just about impossible to quibble with the naming of the young New Zealand second row as the best player on the planet in 2014.
Here’s a breakdown of why he deserves it.
Retallick had a strong campaign in Super Rugby with the Chiefs, playing in 16 matches and averaging over nine tackles per game. He took 42 lineout catches, which doesn’t put him in the top ten for that area of the game, but that is not where the 23-year-old is most valuable.
Retallick’s hunger for carrying the ball is what sets him apart. He did that 116 times during the 16-game season for a total distance of 327 metres, more than any other Test lock playing in the competition.
A first for the second row
In being named World Rugby’s Player of the Year, Retallick is the first lock to be awarded the accolade since it was introduced. When you consider the likes of John Eales, Martin Johnson and Paul O’Connell have never won it, Retallick’s achievement from the engine room of the scrum is a significant one.
New Zealand hosted England for a three-Test series in the summer, and Retallick was outstanding in all three matches.
In the first, he ran for 44 metres with the ball, making him the second furthest ball carrier in the entire team, per ESPNScrum.com. In the third Test, his defence came to the fore with eight tackles.
Those numbers don’t portray the quality of his performances, though. When England attacked close to the ruck, it always seemed to be Retallick in the way, and when New Zealand needed a hard yard or two, it was he who gained that distance for them.
New Zealand won the Rugby Championship title again, and during the course of the competition, Retallick elevated his form to new levels. In the 51-20 drubbing of Australia, he was everywhere, forcing crucial turnovers, initiating attacks, offloading and running to overwhelm the Wallabies at Eden Park.
Retallick’s work rate and influence over the tempo of this New Zealand side was perhaps best illustrated when he wasn’t in it. He was missing for the All Blacks’ trip to South Africa, where they were outgunned in the forward battle and eventually defeated.
Retallick was excellent against England, doing the basics well and forming part of a pack that clawed its way to victory when it had to weather a storm with a man in the sin bin. It wasn’t a day for cutting loose, and Retallick showed his other side.
When New Zealand travelled to Cardiff for what turned out to be a thriller, Retallick led the way in a stout All Black defensive effort with 12 tackles that all but broke Welsh spirits and allowed the world champions to run away with it in the final quarter.