IRB reveal Player of the Year shortlist
Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Frédéric Michalak and Owen Farrell have all been included on the shortlist for the IRB's Player of the Year award.
Farrell's inclusion has come as a major surprise, with several journalists and fans on Twitter questioning how the Saracens fly-half came to be included in the final four.
McCaw is the only player to receive the individual accolade more than once, having won it in 2006, 2009 and 2010, although Carter could join him as a multiple winner, having been named Player of the Year back in 2005.
For the third year in a row the shortlist includes a player to have graduated from the IRB Junior World Championship to the Test arena with Farrell following in the footsteps of Australian trio David Pocock, Will Genia and Kurtley Beale.
The winner of the prestigious Award will be announced at the Rugby World Cup 2015 Pool Allocation Draw in London on December 3, along with the IRB Coach of the Year and IRB Team of the Year Awards.
The IRB Awards panel comprises some of the biggest names in the Game in Will Greenwood, Gavin Hastings, Raphaël Ibanez, Francois Pienaar, Agustín Pichot, Scott Quinnell, Tana Umaga and Paul Wallace.
The panel have deliberated on every major Test played in 2012, starting with the opening RBS 6 Nations match and culminating with the November Internationals. In total they have watched around 100 hours of action, awarding points to the three players they thought stood out in each match.
"This has been one of the closest years to date. In fact the result could be influenced significantly by this weekend's matches, making it a highly contested prize," said John Eales.
Among those players unlucky to miss out on the shortlist are New Zealand number 8 Kieran Read, Australian duo Michael Hooper and Berrick Barnes, Scotland's Ross Rennie, Springbok wing Bryan Habana and Argentina's inspirational captain Juan Martín Fernandez Lobbe.