The six Welsh rugby Player of the Year contenders

As the domestic season heads towards its final knockings, it’s time to consider who has been the best Welsh performers for the region or club and country over the entire campaign.

If we were just considering the final three rounds of the Six Nations, then Taulupe Faletau would be on this list, for he was wondrous in the games against England and France, in particular.

But we are not.

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For Faletau didn’t play for Wales in any other games in an injury-blighted season that’s seen the No. 8 miss huge chunks of action for his club as well.

We are looking beyond overseas imports, too, so, sadly, there’s no room for Sam Lousi and Sione Kalamafoni, who has been to the fore for the Scarlets.

Well, those who make the cut have largely avoided serious injuries and excelled consistently either for the club or country or both over the year.

This is the shortlist we’ve come up with.

Will Rowlands

Rewind to Halloween morn amid a torrent of problems for Wayne Pivac, among them the question of what to do next in Wales had been sliced ​​apart 54-16 by New Zealand the day before. Ross Moriarty had been injected into the match and so had Alun Wyn Jones. If it wasn’t quite the end of the world for Pivac, it must have felt something close to it.

Maybe the biggest concern was how they would fare without Jones, Wales’ leader and man of so many caps, with the news soon confirmed that the great talisman would be out for months on end.

But Rowlands helped cushion the blow as he banged in a series of strong performances.

His effort against France, in particular, was eye-opening, but he was also good against England and in the autumn he proved one of Wales’ top performers against South Africa.

When he was left out of the starting line-up for the final game of the Six Nations, there was criticism of the call, even though it was Jones – he of the many Wales caps and wonderful back catalog with his country – who was the man coming into the side.

It underlined how well Rowlands had played in Jones’ absence.

At the club level, he’s been part of a struggling Dragons side, but his seren-y-gem effort against the Scarlets in Llanelli a week last Saturday reminded all – if anyone needed reminders – of his quality.

Taine Basham

Wales’ player of the autumn Tests? Tick. Included in a world XV of the pre-Christmas Tests by one writer? Tick. Responsible for arguably the best individual display of the season in regional rugby? You know the rest.

For the avoidance of doubt that the final one’s another tick, with Basham’s effort for the Dragons against Connacht in Galway in October off the scale in terms of excellence. The watching former Ireland forward Mike McCarthy summed it up by calling the all-action openside “an absolute beast”.

Basham was Wales’ best player in the Six Nations opener against Ireland as well.

It’s proven tougher thereafter, with the youngster dropped by Wales amid returning players for the final two rounds of the championship. Reintegrating in domestic rugby after an international block isn’t easy, either.

Many highs with the odd dip then.

But, overall, the multi-skilled and tough young Dragon has had a campaign to remember.

Jac Morgan

How good was Jac Morgan for the Ospreys against Cardiff last weekend? Go to the top of the class for anyone who replies ‘very good and then a bit more’.

He was up against Josh Navidi, one of the best back rowers in the business, but Morgan played the house down, making 60 yards from eight carries, achieving turnovers and not missing with any of his 10 tackle attempts.

Rhys Webb won the man-of-the-match award. Let’s say it must have been a ferociously tight call.

Few would have been surprised at the quality of Morgan’s latest offering as we head towards the end of a strong personal campaign for the 22-year-old which has seen him break into the Wales team and perform consistently well elsewhere.

Indeed, that ability to back up one big display after another has been the defining feature of Morgan’s effort, with the youngster rarely letting his standards drop. For region and country, they have been exceptional.

Ryan Elias

As with Will Rowlands, we must turn the clock back to the moments after the Wales v New Zealand game on October 30.

Possibly, fully paid-up members of Ryan Elias’ fan club were considering bailing out after a difficult afternoon for the hooker with his throwing.

Elias could easily have lost all confidence – plenty would have.

But the Scarlet went on to perform strongly over the rest of the autumn series and, aside from another challenging day at the lineouts against Dublin, they had a notable Six Nations, to the fore with his defense and also offering himself as a carrier. Against France, in Wales’ best performance of the championship, they didn’t stop battling and didn’t miss once at the set-piece, while his darts were again one hundred percent in a man-of-the-match performance against Scotland.

The rapidly developing Dewi Lake deserves a nod for his progress this season as well.

But for character alone, Elias makes the cut here.

Dan Biggar

Maligned by some, admired by many, he reached a hundred caps for Wales during the campaign and produced some of his best rugby, with his effort against France being particularly notable for the majesty of his kicking.

Sadly, for him, and for Wales, the game that rang up his century ended in defeat by Italy and Biggar was among those copping flak after a team display that lacked creativity against opponents who hadn’t previously won in 36 Six Nations games.

But don’t expect Wayne Pivac to ditch his captain.

Instead, the search will continue for complementary midfield players.

The coach understands the importance of good game management, a ferocious will-to-win and Biggar’s galvanizing influence on those around him.

Over the campaign, the Northampton Saint has been one of Wales’ key players.


Rhys Webb

Like Elias, Webb makes this shortlist not least because of his mental toughness, with the scrum-half refusing to get the apparent message from Pivac that the national coach simply isn’t into him.

How else to view a situation that’s seen the Ospreys skipper shunned for a Test start since 2020?

But Webb has stayed motivated and kept his standards high almost every time he has taken the field in 2021-22.

He is the only man in Welsh rugby this season to win three official man-of-the-match awards and he has shown leadership and maturity while pointing the way forward for an Ospreys team who have blown hot and cold.

No other Welsh No. 9 has performed as consistently.


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