Welcome back to my “Top 5” rugby series. This 13-article series has been inspired by countless conversations among friends or other fans over the years and will see me selecting my top 5 men’s rugby players who are currently playing at each position.
With all of these lists, I am picking who I feel are the best 5 at each position, so there may be some surprises in there as I select the players who I feel are most appropriate to the position despite there being multiple ways to play many positions. I try to watch rugby from a broad range of leagues as well as plenty (or too much, depending how you ask) of Test matches, but I appreciate that I still have some blind spots, while a list like this is subjective; so while the majority of each article will be my list, I also set my good friend and occasional collaborator Phil the challenge to select his top 5, which I will include below. I’d also love to hear your picks, so go ahead and post them in the comments!
With the tight five now covered, today we move onto the back row, starting with openside flankers.
What an icon this guy has become! Ever since being given the captaincy, it is as if Kolisi has seen it as a push to become not just a great leader but also one of the best players in the world. Is constantly around the ball cleaning up for his team and causing a nuisance against the opposition, and always seems to up his game to another level in the big matches.
The Australian captain (until his recent hiatus), Hooper is another model of consistency and leadership, always seeming to give at least an 8/10 performance even in his team’s worst performances. One of the best in the world over the ball at the breakdown, Hooper’s pace also allows him to be a real threat when he gets the ball in space, and he always appears to be in the right place at the right time to make a try-saving tackle.
Another absolute nightmare to deal with at the breakdown, the Scottish flanker combines this with hard tackling to make sure that the opposition are going no further. Meanwhile in attack, he is a wrecking ball who always seems to make ground even from a standing start, while if he gets going its like a cannonball rolling through the defence and drawing in tacklers.
A player who has missed significant time recently through injury, Tipuric is arguably Wales’ answer to Michael Hooper. Super-reliable and a nuisance at the breakdown, he has the pace to take full advantage if given too much space by a defence, while he has a good enough range of handing and kicking skills to catch a defence out.
Josh van der Flier
Someone who has benefitted from just how long it is taking me to get this series out, as the extra time has allowed me to see more of his game and bring him onto the list. While even he will admit that he’s not a stand-out at any area of the game compared to many of his teammates, he is instead solid in all areas of the game, which allows the players around him to focus on what they do best. Would that have been enough to get him on this list? Maybe not, but he seems to have become a much better carrier over the last year, and that extra arrow in his quiver gets him into the top 5.
Phil’s top 5: Michael Hooper, Siya Kolisi, Hamish Watson, Tom Curry, Sam Underhill
Who makes your top 5?
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