British and Irish Lions hero Leigh Halfpenny faces stiff competition from a pair of New Zealanders after the International Rugby Board (IRB) named its shortlist on Friday for this year’s player of the year.
All Blacks No. 8 Kieran Read and winger-turned-center Ben Smith are on the five-man list, alongside South Africa lock Eben Etzebeth and Italy captain Sergio Parisse.
The winner will succeed New Zealand flyhalf Dan Carter as the world’s best player.
The announcement will be made next Saturday, following the last of the November Test matches.
New Zealanders have won three of the last four awards, with their captain Richie McCaw having been honored back-to-back in 2009 and 2010.
However, Wales fullback Halfpenny looks to be the front-runner, having enjoyed a stunning and victorious tour with the Lions in Australia in June and July, scoring 49 points with the boot over the three Tests.
He also scored three tries in non-Test matches and proved unerringly accurate from the tee throughout the five-week tour.
He broke the Lions points record previously held by compatriot Neil Jenkins, broke the record for the most points in a single Test and was named player of the series.
He was also part of Wales’ victorious Six Nations squad, again excelling with the boot and being named player of the tournament.
However, he will face particularly strong competition from two All Blacks who have been instrumental in New Zealand’s 100 percent record this year, ahead of their trip to Dublin to face Ireland today.
Read has been in magnificent form of late and scored tries against both France and England these past couple of weeks.
With 15 tries in 60 internationals, the 28-year-old is the most prolific No. 8 in rugby.
Smith has managed 12 tries already this year, mostly from playing on the wing, including eight in six matches during the successful defense of New Zealand’s Rugby Championship crown.
Etzebeth is already at just 22 one of the best second-rowers in the world and seen as the long-term successor to Bakkies Botha.
No. 8 Parisse, who was also nominated in 2008, is the only player to have previously been shortlisted.
Although Italy have been in indifferent form of late, Parisse has continued to hog the spotlight as probably his country’s greatest-ever player and last weekend reached 100 caps for the Azzurri.
Flanker McCaw has been the most successful player since the IRB launched this award in 2001, winning it three times and being nominated a further five times.
Twice-winner Carter, the only other man to win it more than once, can count two other nominations on top of his two awards.