World Rugby has announced the shortlist for the inaugural Breakthrough Player of the Year 2015 award, for players who have played less than one year of senior international rugby. The winner will be revealed at the World Rugby Awards dinner in London on 1 November.
The three nominees for this new award are Scotland centre Mark Bennett, Georgia scrum-half Vasil Lobzhanidze and New Zealand winger Nehe Milner-Skudder.
While there appears to be an obvious winner in that group, World Cup 1999 winner George Gregan has said that all three nominees have been outstanding, and made huge contributions to how their teams have performed this year.
“They are all worthy candidates for this award but unfortunately there can only be one winner. I’m sure all three players have a bright future not only for their teams and the countries they play for but for world rugby in general. I really look forward to watching their careers.”
The nominees were selected by an independent panel, comprising former Wallaby Gregan, former Argentina captain Felipe Contepomi and journalists Stephen Jones, Sarah Mockford and Jim Kayes.
Mark Bennett (SCOTLAND)
The highly-rated centre made his test debut in the win over Argentina last November, having previously represented Scotland at age grade level and sevens.
One of only five players to start every Six Nations match in 2015, Bennett recovered from a shoulder injury to make the RWC 2015 squad and has again proved a danger in the Scottish midfield in the tournament, scoring twice in the win over Japan and once against Australia.
The 22-year-old has started all 13 of his tests in a young Scottish backline.
Vasil Lobzhanidze (GEORGIA)
The diminutive scrum-half made his test debut against Germany in the European Nations Cup on 7 February and has quickly established himself as his country’s number one.
He wrote his name into the Rugby World Cup history books when he started Georgia’s opening win over Tonga, becoming the youngest player in the tournament’s history at 18 years and 340 days.
Lobzhanidze also played against New Zealand and Namibia to help Georgia secure qualification for RWC 2019, all only four months after he inspired his country to a first World Rugby U20 Trophy title.
Nehe Milner-Skudder (NEW ZEALAND)
A stand-out for the Hurricanes in his debut Super Rugby season earlier this year, earning comparisons with his childhood idol Christian Cullen. The full-back cum winger forced himself into the mind of All Blacks selectors as a result and made the most of his chance, scoring twice on his debut against Australia in The Rugby Championship.
The 24-year-old has started five matches at RWC 2015 and continued his penchant for try-scoring doubles, crossing twice against both Namibia and Tonga in Pool C and then once in the quarter-final against France.
The short video below features all three. Is there anyone else you think could have been eligible?