It’s a slow news day on the rugby front, with no Super Rugby until tomorrow, and no Rugby World Cup for another excruciating 99 days. So, what better way to tear each others’ heads off in Pundit Arena HQ than to argue as to who is the world’s best full-back? Let the debate commence as we dive for cover…
10. Scott Spedding
Spedding seems to be the man France will select at 15 for the World Cup, and with a solid season for Les Blues behind him, the 29 year-old has become established in the set-up. Spedding impressed throughout his years for Bayonne, and having secured his French citizenship in 2014, was drafted into the national team.
We saw in his debut against Fiji of what he is capable of, and if France are going to surprise people in the World Cup, Spedding will need to show his best form consistently.
9. Nick Abendanon
At 28, Abendanon has put in his finest season to date as a professional rugby player, and is merited to be on this list on form. Having moved from Bath, the South African born Englishman has been a revelation at Clermont, guiding the French giants to the final of the European Champions Cup, before ultimately losing out to Toulon.
His try in that final shows just how dangerous he can be.
8. Mike Brown
Brown has got the all clear on the concussion front, and will be eager to put a disappointing season behind him in the warn-ups games this summer. In order to be serious contenders for this World Cup, England must finish top of the group of death. Beating Australia and Wales is no mean feat, and they will need their best 15 back to his imperious best.
The 2014 Six Nations showed us what a world class 15 Brown can be. If he puts injuries behind him, he can get back to that level once again.
7. Israel Dagg
Dagg may not necessarily be automatically regarded as the top fullback in New Zealand right now, but is nonetheless among the very best in the business. Dagg is behind Ben Smith in the pecking order for the All-Blacks, but have recovered from injury this season, he has shown what he can do with the Crusaders.
As seen in 2011, Dagg is peerless at his best, and the 27 year-old can be a real asset for New Zealand should Steve Hansen select him.
6. Stuart Hogg
Whoever the next Lions coach may be is going to come in for a lot of slack, whoever he selects at 15. Hogg has been central to Vern Cotter’s regime in Scotland, and was majestic throughout the Glasgow Warriors successful Pro12 campaign.
This Scotland team are a lot better than their recent Wooden Spoon suggests, and could have easily won each of their first three games of the Six Nations. While many fancy Samoa to take second place in Pool B, the raw talent of the Scots around the park would beg to differ. Hogg inspired an historic first Scottish Celtic League triumph this season, and they can carry that winning mentality into the World Cup.
5. Willie Le Roux
Le Roux is a potent 15. He is slowly becoming one of the most feared attackers in the southern hemisphere at present, and it is not difficult to see why.
Seven tries in his 25 caps is a number which will sky-rocket during the World Cup, and the 25-year-old is one of South Africa’s hottest properties.
4. Rob Kearney
Rob Kearney has experienced his share of struggles form-wise, but is still recognised as a top class act. Kearney is essentially a footballer. He is unquestionably the best fielder of a ball in the game. With a big left boot, his kicking in the loose is an asset, and he has been known to slot a drop-goal from ridiculous distances.
The Leinster man is an all-round fullback, and with the Irish anticipating a big World Cup, Kearney has the potential to lift Ireland to unprecedented heights.
3. Leigh Halfpenny
Halfpenny is arguably the best place-kicker in world rugby at present. His boot has overseen victories in three Heineken/European Champions Cups, two Six Nations titles, and a Lions tour in recent seasons.
Otherwise, the Toulon player has shown himself to be agile and speedy when attacking the line, and as witnessed against Ireland in the Six Nations, he can mix it with the best in the air.
2. Ben Smith
Smith can play across the wing, centre, and fullback. Utility may be the essence of the man, but he is very much the man who looks likely to don the number 15 jersey for the All-Blacks this season. 16 tries in 38 caps for New Zealand is impressive, and he has backed it all up for the Highlanders this season.
Yes, Dagg will push him all the way for the jersey, but he is right up there amongst the finest fullbacks in the world at present.
1. Israel Folou
Folou comes in at number one, and while Australian rugby may be at arguably its lowest point of the professional era, and there is a real worry that they may not get out of their World Cup pool, Folou is a class act.
A background in Rugby League and Australian Rules Football add to his all-round footballing game. His catching and kicking are up there with the best, but his real weapon is his running game. If Folou enters the line, defenders stand up and take note. His mere presence is a cause for optimism as Australia looks to the big one this Autumn.
Brian Barry, Pundit Arena.