Top 5: Second Rows

Top 5: Second Rows

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 front row now covered, today we are looking at locks.


Top 5


Maro Itoje

I must admit, I’ve not always been the biggest fan of Itoje as he has sometimes gone for too much niggle and it’s been costly. However, he has matured of late, picking his moments, and as such is showing that potential to be the best lock in the world. Capable of playing 6, he is much better suited to lock, where his dynamism and jackaling ability adds an extra dimension to his play, and is a legitimate gamechanger in all areas of the game.

Eben Etzebeth

When he first came on the scene, he looked like the heir apparent to Bakkies Botha as the enforcer in the pack. Well Etzebeth became much more than that. A true leader on the pitch, Etzebeth plays a huge role as one of the South African behemoths to dominate the set piece, while in open play he uses his strength to hold players up and force a turnover through creation of a maul. Also has a good turn of pace when put through a hole. Despite the depth of quality in the Springbok back row, he is fully worthy of his 100+ caps.

Tadhg Beirne

I’ve been a fan of Beirne ever since his Scarlets days, and if possible, he’s just got better since then! Like Itoje, he is capable of playing in the back row, but excels at lock as he can provide that extra dynamism and threat that wouldn’t always be expected from a second row. In defence, he will tackle all day, but is even more of a threat when able to jackal, while he has a good turn of pace and good footwork to cause real issues when put through a hole in attack. Proved himself crucial in Ireland’s historic first ever series win in New Zealand.

Brodie Retallick

World Rugby Player of the Year in 2014, the New Zealand lock is the only player at his position to have won the award to date. So solid in every area of the game, his workrate is phenomenal, and while a lot of what he does probably goes unnoticed, he still finds a few moments to remind the world of his quality.

Courtney Lawes

There were so many ways I could have gone with this final pick, and had I done this list a few years earlier, I’m sure that Alun Wyn Jones would have earned the spot, but I have instead gone for Northampton and England’s Lawes. Started his career as an enforcer who would put in a couple of giant hits each game, but has matured into a real leader and a quality all-round player, so much so that he is spending much of this stage of his career in the 6 shirt. He still has the big hit in his locker, but instead is a hugely reliable defender, while he runs the pack at the set piece and can also make ground with a good carry.

Phil’s top 5: Maro Itoje, Eben Etzebeth, Tadhg Beirne, Alun Wyn Jones, Paul Willemse

Who makes your top 5?

Top 5: Tighthead Props

Top 5: Tighthead Props

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!

Today, we complete our front row by looking at tighthead props.


Top 5


Tadhg Furlong

To put it kindly, Furlong is a freak of nature. A strong scrummager, the Irishman is devastating in the loose, able to crash through a defence like a charging rhinoceros, but also with the footwork to beat a man and a pass that a fly half would be proud of.

Taniela Tupou

If you’re building a fantasy rugby team, you’d be a fool to leave out Tupou. The “Tongan Thor” is an absolute behemoth and very much a physical threat, but what really sets him apart is his pace and his engine. By prop standards, he’s a cheetah, which creates a matchup nightmare, while he has the stamina to keep going long after his fellow props have been replaced. One of the few world class players in the Wallabies team.

Andrew Porter

How lucky are Ireland and Leinster to be able to select both Furlong and Porter! He may not quite have the skillset of his teammate, but he scrummages as well and can also carry effectively and show some impressive handling skills. But what is also impressive is how he has solidified himself as a legitimate Test option at both tight and loosehead, giving extra tactical flexibility.

Frans Malherbe

Let me start by admitting that of the 5 men on my list, Malherbe is arguably the least influential in the loose. However, the first role of a prop is to dominate at the scrum, which is exactly what Malherbe does. The third member of South Africa’s “Bomb Squad” to make this list, Malherbe’s excellence at the set piece is a vital part of the Springboks’ recent success.

Kyle Sinckler

He’s cut out the temper tantrums and this more experienced and mature Kyle Sinckler earns the final spot on this list. A solid scrummager, Sinckler is also a big factor in the loose when used to his full extent (hint hint Eddie). An absolute wrecking ball when carrying, you also certainly wouldn’t want to find yourself running down his channel when he’s in defence.

Phil’s top 5: Taniela Tupou, Tadhg Furlong, Andrew Porter, Kyle Sinckler, VIncent Koch

Who makes your top 5?

Top 5: Hookers

Top 5: Hookers

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!

Today, we are looking at hookers.


Top 5


Julien Marchand

The conveyor belt of talent at hooker that Les Bleus have been able to field through the professional era must be the envy of most teams, and in current starter Marchand they have their latest superstar. As well as getting his basics right at the set piece, he is a willing runner with the ball with a good blend of pace and power, while also winning more than his fair share of turnovers.

Malcolm Marx

A regular in the South African “Bomb Squad” of late, Marx can occasionally have an off day at the lineout, but more than makes up for it around the park. With the way he carries in attack and jackals in defence, having Marx on the pitch is like playing an extra back row.

Codie Taylor

A close fight between Taylor and fellow Kiwi Dane Coles, but the Crusader just gets the nod here. Like Marx, he can be a little iffy at the lineout on occasion, but he makes the list by being a matchup nightmare in attack, as he will frequently find himself using his pace and power to break in midfield like a centre, making 0-40 metres before he is brought down.

Julián Montoya

The Pumas hooker was stuck behind Agustín Creevy for so long at Test level but has excelled since being given the starting spot and continues to also show his quality with Leicester as one of the best hookers in the Premiership. Exceptional at the set piece, Montoya is a strong carrier whose dynamism when he has space in front of him goes underrated, while in defence he can hit hard and jackal effectively.

Jamie George

Sometimes you can become one of the best just by doing the basics to a really high level. Such is the case with Jamie George. Super reliable at the set piece, George also has a great workrate in defence, while those who only watch him play for boring England probably don’t realise just how dynamic he can be in attack.

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Phil’s top 5: Malcolm Marx, Dane Coles, Folau Fainga’a, Bongi Mbonambi, Jamie George

Who makes your top 5?

Top 5: Loosehead Props

Top 5: Loosehead Props

Welcome to my new series, “Top 5”. 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!

Today, we are looking at loosehead props.


Top 5

  • Loosehead prop

Joe Marler

If you can’t scrummage, you’re not going to make it very far as a prop in rugby. Well Joe Marler has made a career of being an elite scrummager. While he may not be as visible around the park as some other names on the list and should never be throwing into a lineout again, Marler is super-reliable at the set piece and showed his quality in the RWC2019 Final when he came off the bench to shore up the England scrum against the Springboks.

Steven Kitshoff

Speaking of the Springboks, Steven Kitshoff was a part of that dominant pack in 2019. Often found these days as part of the “Bomb Squad”, Kitshoff is an elite scrummager, but what makes the Stormers loosehead stand out is his ability to get over the ball at the breakdown and jackal as well as any back rower.

Trevor Nyakane

As someone who has played both sides of the scrum at the lowest of levels, I know just how different tighthead feels to loosehead. As such, I have a degree of respect for anyone who can play both sides of the scrum to a good enough level for professional rugby. Nyakane is one such player, but his best performances have come in the number 1 jersey, where he dominated the British & Irish Lions at the scrum.

Cyril Baille

If I was having to pick a World XV right now, Baille would be getting my pick at loosehead. An elite scrummager, Baille can jackal almost as well as Kitshoff, but is arguably the most involved of these first 4 props in the attacking game, where he can not just carry hard but has the handling skills to keep the ball moving when contact isn’t the right option. In terms of all-round play, he currently has no match at the position.

Ellis Genge

Probably the most controversial pick on this list and I can already hear calls of English bias, but Genge crept into the top 5 off the back of some strong scrummaging displays. Where he really comes alive though is his dynamic carrying, where he has the power to bash over from close range or the pace to burst through a gap and make some big metres.

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Phil’s top 5: Steven Kitshoff, Ellis Genge, Cian Healy, Joe Marler, Ofa Tu’ungafasi

Who makes your top 5?