The 100 Best Players In The World: 10-4
Compiled in 2017, take a look at who has made it into the top ten of our 100 Best Players In The World list
The 100 Best Rugby Players In The World: 10-4
10 Brodie Retallick
Country New Zealand Date of Birth 31.5.91 Position Lock
It’s no coincidence that New Zealand’s defeats by Ireland and Australia in the past 14 months occurred when Retallick was missing from their ranks. The only second-row to be crowned World Rugby Player of the Year, he combines huge physicality and work-rate with a skill-set that defies belief for such a giant man.
RW gushed about his role in an All Blacks try in 2014, the year he won his award. He pounced on a grubber kick, his 6ft 8in, near-20st frame horizontal to the ground, then sprang to his feet, spun out of a tackle and presented the ball perfectly at the breakdown. Such dexterity is now a familiar sight, with Retallick often used as a link man.
The nephew of ex-All Black prop John Ashworth, he attended Christchurch Boys’ High School and looked set for a career as a mechanical engineer. He was too heavy to lift in schoolboy rugby and was rejected by Canterbury.
Their loss was to be Chiefs’ gain and he helped the franchise to back-to-back Super Rugby titles, to go with World Cup wins at U20 (2011) and senior level (2015).
Will Greenwood called him the world’s best player in 2017, when the lock played every minute of New Zealand’s first eight Tests. His try against the Boks in Albany highlighted his mobility and staying power, but he missed the tour to Europe on compassionate grounds after he and wife Niki lost their baby boy prematurely.
9 Tadhg Furlong
Country Ireland Date of Birth 14.11.92 Position Prop
What a 2017 Furlong had. He started all five of Ireland’s Six Nations games and was first-choice No 3 for the British & Irish Lions as they earned a famous draw in the Test series against New Zealand. On top of all that, he helped Leinster reach the semi-finals of both the European Champions Cup and the Guinness Pro12.
Furlong is known for his soft hands as a ball-carrier, yet he also does all the grunt work you would expect of a prop. While we observers savour watching his all-round skills in the loose, Furlong enjoys his role in the tighter exchanges more. “I particularly like defending,” he says. “There’s the physical element of it and how the system works. I also enjoy rucking. And if the scrum’s going well it’s a lovely place to be; when it’s not going well and you’re trying to problem-solve on the pitch it’s not so great!
“I think my work-rate is fairly good and a big part of any player coming through is footwork. People think footwork means sidestepping but I don’t mean it that way. It’s just being able to control your body and make small movements with your feet to help your positioning with tackle entry and at the ruck area.
“It’s the nuts and bolts of being a prop that I enjoy. I try to concentrate on doing the boring stuff very, very well.”
At 25, he could have another decade ahead of him in the front row – and there is the promise of more to come. “I think there’s a lot of growth in my game, in defence especially – finding a good time to go in for a poach and when to get up and add width. As a tighthead you grow in the scrum, too, and I want to try to take more ownership of that. I need to keep working hard.”
8 Michael Hooper
Country Australia Date of Birth 29.10.91 Position Back-row
It takes a special player to lead a nation at 22, as Hooper did when first being handed the Wallaby captaincy against France in 2014. The flanker has now done the job 26 times whilst racking up 79 caps in less than five years – proof of his consistency and durability.
Hooper is much more than a classic scavenging seven, he’s a thunderous carrier and does anyone in world rugby cover more ground? Against Wales last autumn, he made ten carries, 14 tackles and three turnovers, and his energy has helped prop up a Wallaby team that has carried a few passengers of late.
A two-time John Eales Medallist and a Matt Burke Cup holder five times in a row, he’s a wonderful role model. When appointing him captain, Michael Cheika said: “All players in Australian rugby, right down through club and juniors, respect the way he plays the game and the way he stands up for his colours and values.”
Last year’s top tackler in the Rugby Championship, he could have played for England because of his English-born dad. Instead, he’s been their tormentor, not least at the 2015 World Cup when David Pocock was forced to change position because no one was shifting Hooper from the No 7 shirt.
7 Jonathan Davies
Country Wales Date of Birth 5.4.88 Position Centre
Sport can be cruel. That maxim certainly applied to Jonathan Davies against Australia in November. An ankle injury in the final seconds resulted in him going under the knife and being ruled out for six months.
Such had been his impact in the preceding months that Beauden Barrett name-checked him as being the player he most admired outside the All Blacks. Why? Well, Davies has proved himself a Lions great, starting each of the last six Tests. His crowning as the Lions’ Lion of the Series in New Zealand must have been especially sweet for ‘Foxy’ due to the opprobrium that rained down in 2013, when he was picked ahead of Brian O’Driscoll for the final Test against the Wallabies.
He played exquisitely against the All Blacks, tackling the dangerous Jordie Barrett, chasing down Ngani Laumape over 50 metres, kicking intelligently and playing his part in Sean O’Brien’s jaw-dropping try in the first Test.
Davies had gone into the tour on the back of the Scarlets’ Pro14 title and the twin accolades saw him named BBC Wales Sports Personality of the Year.
6 Stuart Hogg
Country Scotland Date of Birth 24.6.92 Position Full-back
Scotland’s very own Billy Whizz, Hogg has searing pace, vision and classic ‘draw and give’ execution. He can welly the ball a mile or put in a deft grubber behind the line. Player of the Six Nations for the past two years, his 17 Test tries attest to his attacking brio.
Related: Downtime with Stuart Hogg
5 Israel Folau
Country Australia Date of Birth 3.4.89 Position Full-back
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Well, it ain’t Superman but Folau jumps just as high. The former Aussie Rules and league star can run too. The full-back began a short hiatus from rugby recently, having been in high demand since his arrival in union in 2013, but his form last year was electric. Twelve tries in ten Tests = wow.
4 Maro Itoje
Country England Date of Birth 28.10.94 Position Lock
Itoje has been a colossal figure behind a Six Nations Grand Slam, a Champions Cup double and a salvaged Lions series in New Zealand, the Londoner starting the two unbeaten Tests after a bench role for the defeat in Auckland.
His greatest asset is his physicality in a sport that demands it in bucketloads, while his energy and work-rate have been labelled “absolutely phenomenal” by Warren Gatland. The Lions coach added: “I love his energy at training; his chatting and enthusiasm.”
When George Kruis was dropped for the second Lions Test, Itoje called the lineouts for the first time on tour. He’s one of the best stealers in world rugby, whether in the lineout or at the breakdown – he made the most turnovers in last year’s Six Nations.
He is also a scrummaging beast, often packing down behind England’s tighthead even when playing at six.
There are crinkles in his game, not least conceding too many penalties, but the 2015-16 European Player of the Year has the world at his feet.