Itoje among England trio in running for top award

Maro Itoje is among three England players to have been nominated for World Rugby Men's Player of the Year award just nine months after making his international debut, while New Zealand duo Beauden Barrett and Dane Coles are also on the shortlist.

England made a dream start to a new era under Eddie Jones this year, winning the Six Nations Grand Slam and also securing a first series whitewash in Australia to stun the Wallabies back in June.

So it is no real surprise that a trio of the England squad are in the running to be crowned player of the year, with Itoje also in contention for the World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year gong following his rapid rise.

The 22-year-old forward - currently sidelined with a fractured hand - made his England bow from the bench in the Six Nations win over Italy in Rome and has never looked back, cementing his place in the side and also playing a key role in Saracens' famous Premiership and European Champions Cup double.

Itoje's Saracens and international team-mate Owen Farrell is also among the six players to be shortlisted following his consistently outstanding displays for club and country, while barnstorming number eight Billy Vunipola is another Sarries star who could land the award.

Barrett has been magnificent at fly-half for the All Blacks since Dan Carter's retirement, pulling the strings as Steve Hansen's men won the Rugby Championship at a canter and stretched their record run to 18 consecutive Tests before they lost to Ireland in Chicago on Saturday.

Hooker Dane Coles has also been instrumental in another memorable year for the world champions and is joined on the shortlist by Ireland number eight Jamie Heaslip - also nominated for Try of the Year - two days after the pair locked horns at Soldier Field.

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