The five nominees for IRB Player of the Year were announced this week, Dan Carter, Shane Williams, Ryan Jones, Sergio Parisse and Mike Blair the players selected by the IRB Awards' independent panel of judges. The panel comprises nine former internationals, including six test captains, with over 500 caps between them: Tana Umaga, Raphaël Ibanez, Will Greenwood, Francois Pienaar, Agustin Pichot, Gavin Hastings, Scott Quinnell, Paul Wallace and convenor John Eales.
The panel has deliberated over every major Test this year, watching over 47 hours of action from 35 matches, awarding points on a three-two-one basis to the trio of players they thought stood out in each.
Total Rugby Radio spoke with Eales this week..
"I think it's the best job in international rugby chairing this panel, but it's not easy. There are often so many good players in a game, sometimes a player performs exceptionally well in a losing team, sometimes a team is comprehensively beaten and will get all three people nominated and then in a World Cup year it's weighted more heavily for the semi finals and final. But to watch games that you'd be watching anyway and then put a few names down, is pretty good.
"The good thing about this top five is that, while it may not have been the most predictable, it's been selected very objectively. We have the panellists around the world voting on a 3-2-1 basis for all the Test matches that are played throughout the year, and that's how we come down to these five finalists. I think it's probably the first time that we've got one from the southern hemisphere and four from the north and in amongst those two from Wales, one from Italy and one from Scotland so a good spread.
On Dan Carter (NZL), nominated for the third time in four years
"There's a good reason he's always on this list - he's such a consistent player, such an important player for the team that has been the most consistently good for the last however many years.
"Dan Carter is a great player, he's got all the skills and he just continues to perform and continues to play a big part in New Zealand's performances week-in week-out. And it's not just his kicking. Some people isolate that and yes he is a great kicker for goal and around the park but he can also tackle, he can attack with the ball and he scored a very important try in the game in the Suncorp Stadium against the Wallabies, which was probably the try that sealed that victory for them."
On Shane Williams (WAL), nominated for the first time
"Wales won the Six Nations this year and it's always good for world rugby to see Wales playing well. Shane Williams is one of the most exciting wingers in the world, he's certainly not among the biggest, but he is among the most dangerous and he's been a very consistent player for the Welsh for a number of years now."
On Ryan Jones (WAL), nominated for the first time
"A powerful number 8. When the Welsh forwards are going well it always gives their backs a chance to execute. The passing amongst their backs is excellent but if their forwards are on top it just gives them so much more time and space and a lot of that this year has, I believe, had to do with Ryan Jones and his ability to get the ball going forward.
"He's also a very strong defender and does that hard work at the ruck, which can make a big difference in a game."
On Sergio Parisse (ITA), nominated for the first time
"Sergio Parisse has been a stand-out for the Italians this year. The Italians haven't had their best season but they've been in there competing and I think that people have noticed Sergio playing the game.
"Sometimes it can be an advantage if you're one of the best players in your team. Dan Carter's got to win points off Richie McCaw, Rodney So'oialo, Mils Muliaina, the list goes on and on, so sometimes it can be an advantage when you don't have all the world's best players in your team.
"Not detracting from Sergio's form. He's been very consistent all year and would fit into many other teams around the world."
Mike Blair (SCO), nominated for the first time
"Scotland are renowned for having half backs that just go at you all day, a great link, not huge men but always that extra forward if they need to be, goading the forwards on and having a go at the other team. Mike's been a stand-out this year as far as the judges are concerned and it's great to see him in the mix as well."