The International Rugby Board have announced the five nominees, from whom will be selected the IRB Player of the Year 2002.
They are France's Fabien Galthié, All Black Richard McCaw, Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll, Springbok Joe van Niekerk and England's Jason Robinson.
The French scrum-half enjoyed perhaps his best-ever season as he guided Les Bleus to the Six Nations Grand Slam. The highlight was undoubtedly his starring role in France's victory over England where his vision in setting up a try for Aurélien Rougerie was matched by his defensive leadership in the face of the late English onslaught.
Galthie is also up for the International Rugby Players' Association Player of the Year Award which will be awarded on Wednesday night.
The Canterbury Crusader burst into the international limelight in November 2001 with a man-of-the-match display for the All Blacks in their victory over Ireland in Dublin.
Since then, he has been a key member of John Mitchell's side, rested only for the Test Matches against Italy and Fiji this season before returning for the Tri-nations campaign.
McCaw's pedigree is undoubted. In 1999 he was part of the New Zealand side that won IRB/FIRA-AER U19 World Championship in Wales. He also shone in the 2001 U21 World Championship, now under the auspices of the IRB, before establishing himself as a regular in the Canterbury side later that year.
The Leinster centre found himself a marked man in 2002, following his match-winning performance for Ireland against France in Paris in 2000 and his brilliant try for the Lions in the first Test against Australia in 2001. However, a hat-trick of tries against Scotland proved that O'Driscoll remains one step ahead of opposing defences.
He is also an outstanding presence in defence and has recently added another string to his bow by leading his country against Australia in Keith Wood's absence. Ireland's historic victory suggests that O'Driscoll skills are not limited to the sublime, but stretch to leadership as well.
O'Driscoll is another player in line for the IRPA top honour.
Joe van Niekerk
Van Niekerk is the epitome of South Africa's metamorphosis into a dynamic, expansive side. Yes, he is happy to involve himself in the tackle and the close quarters, but the Cats flanker's main weapon is his pace, as demonstrated by a terrific try against Samoa this year.
Earlier this month 'Big Joe' won the SA Rugby Player of the Year award and he is also nominated for the IRPA Newcomer of the Year Award.
Van Niekerk captained South Africa Schools in 1998 and represented his country the following year in the IRB/FIRA-AER U19 World Championship. As captain of the U21 side he was voted Player of the Tournament in a poll amongst referees.
The 'Player of the Year' will be announced at the IRB Awards ceremony in
January the date to be announced.
Other categories include: Team of the Year, Coach of the Year, U19 Player of the Year, U21 Player of the Year, Sevens Player of the Year, Referee Distinguished Service award, Spirit of Rugby award, Women's Player of the Year, Development award and Chairman awards.
The International Judging Panel:
Gerald Davies (Wales), Paul Ackford (England), David Sole (Scotland), Fergus Slattery (Ireland), Philippe Sella (France) Chester Williams
(South Africa), Simon Poidevin (New Zealand).
Also, the IRB International Rugby Yearbook, the ultimate sourcebook on World Rugby Union was launched today in London.
The 2002/2003 edition contains detailed reviews of the major international competitions, including the Six Nations, Tri Nations, Women's Rugby World Cup, U21 Rugby World Cup and World Sevens Series.
As well as
* IRB World directory of Unions
* Feature articles by the world's leading rugby writers
* Results from the season for all the premier Test playing nations, at international and domestic level
* Commonwealth Games Sevens tournament results
* Review of the season and fixture list for 2002-2003