Ranking the Top 5 New Zealand Rugby Players in Europe

Daniel Rey@@ReyDanielMFeatured ColumnistApril 21, 2016

Ranking the Top 5 New Zealand Rugby Players in Europe

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    Phil Walter/Getty Images

    New Zealand rugby players have gradually begun coming to Europe, and some of the biggest names in the sport joined northern hemisphere clubs after the 2015 World Cup in England.

    Bleacher Report has ranked the top five New Zealand rugby players currently playing in Europe. The list has been determined on the basis of the impact they are having or will have this season for their clubs.

    Four of them are in France, with one in England. Players who didn’t make the final cut include newcomers Ben Franks, Jeremy Thrush and Colin Slade, as well as long-time Harlequin Nick Evans.

5. Chris Masoe

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    David Rogers/Getty Images

    Chris Masoe, the bruising Racing Metro No. 8, makes it into this list after consistently strong performances in Europe—currently with Racing, but also beforehand with Toulon.

    Masoe may be 36, but he hasn’t lost any of the physicality of his youth despite approaching his 37th birthday in May. Masoe is still a big presence the opposition pack are wary of in defence and attack.

    Masoe has spent eight seasons in France’s Top 14, winning the league and the European Cup with Toulon. His big-game experience is as crucial to his standing as his raw skills.

4. Conrad Smith

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    Conrad Smith, the 94-cap All Black centre, has been one of the most intelligent rugby footballers of the past decade.

    Lacking team-mates of the quality he is used to, Smith has not made a massive impact at Pau, but he did make an early impression against his former soulmate in the New Zealand midfield, Ma’a Nonu, when Pau took on Toulon.

    The result: Smith spots misalignment in the Toulon defence and comes across to the blindside at first receiver before dummying past Nonu and beating four other defenders to score (see video above).

    The try was Conrad Smith in a nutshell: Understated class.

3. Ma’a Nonu

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    Over the past five years—at least—there has been nobody better at No. 12 than 103-cap All Black Ma’a Nonu.

    His time in France with Toulon did not begin favourably, though. Along with being sold a dummy by Smith, Nonu threw a pointless long pass on his own five metre line against Toulouse in January, which was easily intercepted by Gael Fickou to touch down (see video above).

    But since then, Nonu has settled in the south of France and has been seeking better form despite playing behind a far less mobile pack than at the Hurricanes or with New Zealand.

2. Charles Piutau

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    Charles Piutau was left out of New Zealand’s 2015 Rugby World Cup squad after he signed a deal to join Irish province Ulster in mid-2016.

    Deciding to fill the time with a stint at Wasps, Piutau has been one of the major reasons for their upturn in form—most notably in the European Champions Cup, where they topped the fiendish Pool 5 that included Toulon, Leinster and Bath.

    Piutau seems to be loving his time in Europe, and despite the conveyor belt of talent New Zealand can call upon in the back three, the 24-year-old is one who definitely got away ahead of his time.

1. Dan Carter

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    At the top of the ranking is Dan Carter. Who else?

    The great news for European audiences is the 2015 World Rugby player of the year, World Cup-winner and man of the match in the final looks like he still has plenty left to give.

    What’s more, Carter is already making a big impact for usual underachievers Racing 92, providing the suburban Parisians with game-management and the creativity to unleash flyers Joe Rokocoko, Juan Imhoff and Brice Dulin.

    Former England fly-half and Sky Sports pundit Stuart Barnes had this tribute and prognosis for Carter’s time with Racing this season and beyond:

    Dan Carter is well placed to maintain the magical mood of his twilight playing days.

    [...]

    As Carter gets more comfortable with the culture and the language he will improve on a regular basis. The power of the Racing pack and the guile of the greatest fly-half of this century make them look a formidable threat to all and sundry.