The greatest: 50-41

In our January issue we have selected our top 50 players in the world right now, and here they are for the first time on line, starting with 50 to 41.

50 John Smit

Age: 30
Position: Hooker
Franchise: Sharks
Country: South Africa

Before he captained the Springboks to World Cup glory in 2007, it was argued there were better hookers. His coach, Jake White, may even have agreed. But what Smit was undoubtedly the best at, was being captain, and White knew the value of that outweighed anything else. Hugely respected in the Springbok camp, he has demonstrated his versatility this season by moving to tighthead prop at times. A formidable and wily opponent.

49 Euan Murray

Age: 28
Position: Prop
Club: Northampton Saints
Country: Scotland

Murray had a blinding autumn series and by the end of it he was firm favourite to fill the No.3 Lions jersey next summer. If he’s into studying Lions history, he’ll know that the last time the Lions went to South Africa, the favourites to prop the Test scrum ended up as dirt trackers by the time the Tests arrived. But then, the qualified vet doesn’t strike you as a man who counts his chickens. Murray scrummages with a ramrod-straight back and fearsome power and he’s not shy of crossing the try line either. A world class performer.

48 Adam Ashley-Cooper

Age: 24
Position: Full-back/Centre
Franchise: Brumbies
Country: Australia

Australia’s Mr Versatile, Ashley-Cooper has played full-back, centre and wing for his country as well as a stint at fly-half for the Brumbies, which demonstrates his superb all round ability and just how highly regarded he is by Wallaby coach Robbie Deans. He announced himself to fans in the northern hemisphere this autumn with the match-winning try against England and an astonishing tackling display against the Barbarians. He could become a true great.

47 Ali Williams

Age: 27
Position: Second Row
Franchise: Blues
Country: New Zealand

For a man who looks as Maori as a leprechaun, Williams seems to perform the haka with more gusto than most of his other teammates. His commitment extends beyond the pre-match ritual and marks him as one of the finest locks around. There was a time when he was better known for his ability in the loose - a crossfield kick to Doug Howlett for a try during a Tri Nations match, for example – but his running and kicking game is matched now by his lineout and scrummaging work. You don’t hang about in this All Blacks pack if you can’t pull your weight up front and Williams is splendidly abrasive and confrontational.

46 Aurelien Rougerie

Age: 28
Position: Wing
Club: Clermont Auvergne
Country: France

The 6ft 4in French wing has a passion for fast cars, which is a perfect past-time for someone who spends his rugby life in the fast lane. And there are few opponents who relish stepping in front of the giant wing when he is in full flow - Rougerie has the priceless ability of being able to break the gain-line. It is testament to his ability and value to a French side that likes to shoot itself in the foot when it comes to selection that he has amassed 44 caps since his debut against South Africa in 2001.

45 Felipe Contepomi

Age: 31
Position: Centre/fly-half
Province: Leinster
Country: Argentina

Dr.Phil, as the qualified surgeon is known to his team-mates, was the Irish Rugby Writers’ Player of the Year in 2007 and one of the outstanding players of the 2007 World Cup. With the precision with which he wields a scalpel, he seems able to tiptoe along that fine line between control and aggression that makes him such a valuable asset. Together with Juan Martin Hernandez, he creates an axis for the Pumas that few can match.

44 Sitiveni Sivivatu

Age: 26
Position: Wing
Franchise: Chiefs
Country: New Zealand

Quite simply, this man is a try-machine. The Suva-born Sivivatu has rattled up 28 tries in 35 starts for the All Blacks and 31 five-pointers in 60 appearances in Super Rugby. Admittedly, when you play for a rampant All Blacks side against the likes of Fiji, who have lost half their players to your newly adopted nation, your nan would score a hatful. But it’s doubtful she’d display the same sidestepping, slick-handed magic we have been treated to by Sivivatu.

43 Patricio Albacete

Age: 27
Position: Second Row
Club: Toulouse
Country: Argentina

Albacete wouldn’t look out of place wearing a pinstripe suit and carrying a Tommy Gun. He glowers at opponents like a latin Martin Johnson and backs it up with a lung-bursting work rate. His ball carrying and lineout presence make him stand out in a side as littered with talent as Toulouse and he has emerged as a player whom the Pumas will build their new-look side around.

42 Andrew Sheridan

Age: 29
Position: Prop
Club: Sale Sharks
Country: England

There are doubtless many of you who would have the 19st giant much higher up this list. In fact, after the 2007 World Cup, Midi Olympique put Sheridan in their top 10. But since France and his demolition job on the Wallabies in Marseille, who could really say they have seen ‘Big Ted’ maul his opponents into the dust? There is no question opponents hate playing him. He is tall for a loosehead and immensely powerful in the gym, but we didn’t see him at his wrecking ball-best in the autumn. On his game, he should be capable of destroying scrums.

41 Lee Byrne

Age: 28
Position: Full-back
Region: Ospreys
Country: Wales

Relatively unknown outside Britain and Ireland before the autumn, but Byrne’s form in November, confirmed him as the finest Welsh full-back since the great JPR Williams and only New Zealand’s Mils Muliainia stands above him in the current world pecking order of fantastic 15s. Since making his international debut in 2005, coming on as a replacement against New Zealand, Byrne has emerged as an outstanding counter-attacker bursting into the line at a pace and seems to have a total disregard for his own safety under the high ball. A wonderful talent and a nailed on cert for the Lions tour next year.

40 to 31

30 to 21

20 to 11