Top 5: Scrum Halves

Top 5: Scrum Halves

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!

And so, having finally completed the pack last week, let’s look at the scrum halves.


Top 5


Antoine Dupont

One of the sport’s true superstars. France has a history of special players at scrum half (Galthié, Yachvili, Parra etc) but Dupont takes things to another level. A great passer of the ball and a fantastic tactical kicker, Dupont’s ability to find and exploit a gap means that he needs to be accounted for every second of the game, while his pace and elusiveness is coupled with unexpected strength for his size, and he knows just what line to run to be in the right place to keep any line break going and often take it to the line himself.

Aaron Smith

One of the purest passers of the ball I have ever seen. To have so many caps at scrum half for the All Blacks shows his quality, and it is exacerbated even more when you consider that the vast majority of those caps are starts, and that his career has been at the same time as TJ Perenara, who at his best would walk into most teams. Smith is also a great tactical kicker and uses his experience to ensure the All Blacks are playing in the right areas of the pitch.

Faf de Klerk

Such is the quality available to the Springboks they almost ended up with 2 names on this list, but in the end it was Faf de Klerk who just snuck on. While he may not have the running game of Cobus Reinach, de Klerk’s kicking game from 9 is up there with the very best, and he has made a career of moving the behemoths in the Springbok pack around the pitch, while he also fronts up in defence and proves a real nuisance of himself.

Nic White

White was originally nowhere near this list, but as time went on I saw him climbing his way up my rankings, and deservedly so. The type of player who you love if he’s on your team but otherwise hate due to his inability to shut up and the way he uses his experience to buy penalties. Another expert tactical kicker whose threat around the fringes of the breakdown is underrated, he is another solid defender, so much so that Australia look to use him in the defensive line. Exeter have never come close to replacing him since he returned to Australia.

Josh Cooney

Incredibly, 2 articles in my row I find myself picking a player who appears to be completely overlooked by the national team. While Conor Murray continues to get picked years after he made a positive difference, Cooney’s status as not a Leinster player (surely that’s the only reason) means that he is ignored time and time again, despite being arguably the best all-round scrum half in Ireland. runs great lines, passes and kicks well, and is also a Test-quality goal kicker—who has recently been in contact with a trained sniper to help him continue improving in this area. Eligible to switch international allegiances due to how long it has been since his last cap, will we see him gracing the Test arena for Scotland in the near future?

Phil’s top 5: Antoine Dupont, Faf de Klerk, Aaron Smith, Cobus Reinach, Nic White

Who makes your top 5?


You can find all the details on my announcement.

Visit my JustGiving page for updates or if you would like to donate.

Help me to change the face of men’s health!

Top 5: Number 8s

Top 5: Number 8s

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!

And so, over half a year after starting this series, let’s complete the pack by looking at the number 8s.


Top 5


Ardie Savea

You could easily make an argument that with Hoskins Sotutu available for the All Blacks, Savea could be used to fill the 6 shirt that has been a problem for New Zealand for a long time, but for now he is being kept at 8, having transitioned from being a 7 earlier in his career to fill the spot left by Kieran Read’s retirement. And what a revelation he has been! Has the strength to keep going forward despite 2 or 3 men trying to tackle him and the handling skills to then offload to a teammate who can take advantage of the space he has created, while if he gets the ball in space, he has the pace to cause problems, and his past as a 7 also makes him a danger at the breakdown. One of the few bright sparks during a dark era for the All Blacks.

Taulupe Faletau

Where would Wales have been without Faletau? The Tongan-born number 8 has been a model of consistency over the years for Wales. While maybe not the big carrier like many on this list, he is still willing to put in the hard metres, but his reliability is his key feature, as he always seems to be in the right place offensively or defensively to clean up any loose balls or messy play.

Grégory Alldritt

With players like Dupont and Ntamack in the team, Alldritt appears to sometimes go under the radar, but he is such a key part of France’s success. A strong carrier who helps put the attack on the front foot, he is also a nightmare to deal with at the breakdown. Forget about him at your peril when you face Les Bleus.

Kazuki Himeno

One of the few Japanese players to go move abroad and still excel in recent years. Capable of playing across the back row, Himeno is a strong and dynamic carrier, a reliable tackler but also a major threat at the breakdown. Became a fan favourite in his one season with the Highlanders and was arguably the star of the Japanese pack at the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Zach Mercer

In an ideal world, I would be picking Jake Polledri to complete the top 5. However, after such a serious injury that saw him out of the game or so long, we are still at such an early stage of his return, there is no guarantee that he will be able to reach the heights that he was promising beforehand. So instead I have gone for Zach Mercer, who it would appear will be replacing him at Kingsholm next season. I don’t generally pick players who aren’t playing Test rugby in my top 5 as it means they aren’t proving themselves at the highest level, but Mercer has been a superstar both for Bath and Montpellier. A highly dynamic player with underrated strength and great handling skills, Eddie Jones’ refusal to select him for England was mystifying, but a return to England and the sacking of Eddie Jones could see him just sneak into the World Cup squad.

Phil’s top 5: Duane Vermeulen, Ardie Savea, Taulupe Faletau, Billy Vunipola, Grégory Alldritt

Who makes your top 5?


You can find all the details on my announcement.

Visit my JustGiving page for updates or if you would like to donate.

Help me to change the face of men’s health!

Top 5: Openside Flankers

Top 5: Openside Flankers

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.


Top 5


Siya Kolisi

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.

Michael Hooper

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.

Hamish Watson

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.

Justin Tipuric

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?


You can find all the details on my announcement.

Visit my JustGiving page for updates or if you would like to donate.

Help me to change the face of men’s health!

Top 5: Blindside Flankers

Top 5: Blindside Flankers

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.


Top 5


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.

Pablo Matera

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.

Sam Underhill

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.

Peter O’Mahony

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.

Jamie Ritchie

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?

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 second 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?