The 50 best rugby players in the world 2009

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The Top 50 list is back for another year with the star performances of 2009 forming the basis for our rankings.

Click here or the image above to launch our guide to the 50 best rugby players in the world.

Once again the IRB's choice doesn't take the No.1 slot in our list. Richie McCaw has had a good year, but not outstanding by his high benchmark. Outstanding is certainly something you can say of the 12 months Brian O'Driscoll has had.

The Irish captain sits in pole position after leading - sometimes dragging - Ireland to their first Grand Slam since 1948, lifting the Heineken Cup at last with Leinster and having an outstanding tour with the luckless 2009 British and Irish Lions. He still had enough in the tank to play a key role in Ireland's impressive Autumn series as well.

There are some who have slipped from view - Shane Williams and John Smit to name just two to miss out this year - who fall foul of a loss of form and the emergence of other shining talents such as Tommy Bowe and Schalk Brits.

There are fewer front rowers in this year's list, a sign of the mess that the scrum has become in 2009 with world class exponents of the dark arts of the coalface spending more time face down in the mud than displaying their wares. And the breakdown debate has also had an influence. There are three back row players in our top ten - McCaw, Heinrich Brussow and Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe - who have exploited the laws as they stand to shine this year.

As with last year, it is never easy to assess the merits of a second row against those of a fly-half when trying to sort these players into some sort of order, and so it comes down to the impact a player has had in the role he is asked to perform. It is on that basis that we give you our best 50 players of the year, and retreat to lay down in a darkened room.

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