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 ontot he back row, starting with blindside flankers.
- Loosehead prop
- Tighthead prop
- Blindside flanker
So before I start this one, I just wanted to address a few things. Blindside flanker is probably the position that I found hardest to fill, simply because there are so many different ways you can go tactically at the position. You can be a physical enforcer, a dynamic ball-carrier, a reliable tackler, or an extra lineout option. And as such, there are so many players who can fill the 6 shirt, including some more dynamic locks like Courtney Lawes, Tadhg Beirne and Franco Mostert, though I have avoided selecting any of them here as I feel that they are still better at lock. Similarly, a number of teams may choose to play a second openside at the position, to the point that some 7s have become something of a 6.5, a threat at the breakdown that must be accounted for like a 7, but also playing a role more like a traditional blindside.
In my opinion one of the best back rows in the world. Capable of playing at either 6 or 8, the former Pumas captain carries with strength, but is far from a crash ball, being a real threat if given a little space, and with the handling (and kicking) skills to keep a break going. But he is not just a man for the attack, being a super-reliable tackler and also a threat at the breakdown. One of the few real all-rounders who excels at this position.
Pieter-Steph du Toit
I must be honest, recent performances have not been to the same level I am used to seeing on here, but I will give him one more shot on the strength of his career and past performances. With the size and skills to also play lock, du Toit may wear 7 but that is only due to the South African numbering system that has the 6 and 7 shirts the opposite way around from the rest of the world. A dynamic carrier when given a chance, his main role is to help solidify the set piece and to be a reliable tackler, while he covers the pitch with ease from minute 1 to 80.
Originally a 7, he has spent a lot of his career, especially at Test level, in the number 6 shirt due to the options available in the England back row. Always a danger at the breakdown, Underhill has moulded his game to be reminiscent of Dan Lydiate: a super-tackler who will deliver the big hit if it is on, but will prioritise making sure the tackle is completed, while his ability as a carrier is often underlooked due to England’s style of play under Eddie Jones.
I must admit that the Munster flanker was not on my top 5 when i first created my list, however 2022 has seen O’Mahony in the form of his life, which has catapulted him up this list. An experienced operator at the lineout, O’Mahony is a reliable tackler, but an absolute nuisance (to put it nicely) at the breakdown, and a leader on the pitch.
One of the younger players on this list, Ritchie has become something of an ever-present in the Scottish squad when available. Like Matera, he is somewhat of a jack of all trades, though maybe not with quite the same distribution skills. Able to put in a big hit and take advantage of a gap, he does a great job of shoring up the Scottish defence and can even get over the ball to win turnovers, when he isn’t setting up teammate Hamish Watson for the steal.
Phil’s top 5: Pieter-Steph du Toit, Michael Leitch, Pablo Matera, Peter O’Mahony, Courtney Lawes
Who makes your top 5?