All Blacks lead race for world's top rugby player of 2011

All Black trio Piri Weepu, Jerome Kaino and Ma’a Nonu made up half of the list of nominees for rugby’s world player of the year award, announced on Wednesday.

The New Zealanders, who up against France in the Rugby World Cup final this weekend, were joined by Australia’s David Pocock and Will Genia on the shortlist for rugby’s most prestigious individual award.

The final nominee was France flanker Thierry Dusautoir, who will captain his country in Sunday’s final at Eden Park.

“This has been one of the closest years to date,” said head of the selection panel John Eales, former Australia captain.

“In fact the result could be influenced significantly by the next two matches and that’s what it should be like in a World Cup year.”

Flanker Kaino has been his country’s form loose forward this season with several standout performances in the World Cup so far.

Impressive Australia
Centre Nonu, who has been among the world’s best backs for several years, has also been in impressive form, but Weepu’s nomination was something of a surprise.

The scrumhalf returned from a long-term injury in April and although he was included in the New Zealand World Cup squad, he only made the starting role his own during the tournament.

Weepu assumed the kicking duties after the loss of New Zealand’s flyhalf Dan Carter to injury, however, and was instrumental in their victories over Argentina and Australia in the quarterfinals and semifinals.

Pocock is nominated for the award for the second season in a row after losing out to fellow openside flanker Richie McCaw when the All Blacks captain won for a third time last year.

Scrumhalf Genia was one of the driving forces behind Australia claiming the Tri-Nations title for the first time in a decade earlier this year.

Australia face Wales in the third-place playoff at Eden Park on Friday and the winner of the award will be announced next Monday, the day after the final.—Reuters

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