Following last week’s list of the top ten number 8s in world rugby, we continue the rankings with the best openside flankers in the world.
10. Francois Louw
Injury is the reason why the South African is so far down this list. Since moving to Bath, the 30 year-old has been a revelation. When fit and on top form, few are better than Louw.
9. Sam Cane
Were it not for a certain Mr McCaw, Sam Cane would be recognised as a top class openside. In the interim however, Cane will have to wait for the Kiwi captain’s retirement before getting consistent game-time for the All-Blacks.
8. Chris Robshaw
Robshaw is first and foremost a leader. The Harlequins openside has come in for criticism, but has shown time and time again that he is a top flanker, for both club and country.
7. Seán O’Brien
For ball-carrying ability, the ‘Tullow Tank’ is the very best amongst any back-row forward in world rugby right now. Earlier in his career, O’Brien was perhaps better recognised as a 6 or an 8, but under the guidance of Joe Schmidt, the Leinster man has moulded into a top seven, with his work on the ground improving season by season.
6. David Pocock
Pocock’s career has been seriously hampered by injury in recent seasons, but we have seen signs for the Brumbies that the 27 year-old is putting his troubles behind him and getting back to his imperious best. When he is on form, there is no better ball-winner in the world.
5. Sam Warburton
The Wales captain has been the standout openside in the 6 Nations in recent seasons. However, Warburton will be haunted by THAT red card in the last World Cup, and will be eager to make amends this time around.
4. Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe
The Argentinian is one of the most feared back-row forwards in the game right now, and it is little wonder that he consistently starts for the best club side in the world. The World Cup may be the 33 year-old’s international swan-song, and he will be eager to go out on a high.
3. Steffon Armitage
If Armitage were playing for England this Autumn, a lot more people would fancy the Red Rose to go all the way in the World Cup. The 29 year-old has been the key to Toulon’s success in recent years, and it is not difficult to see why. When the French giants have been in a corner throughout their Heineken/Eurpopean Champions Cup triumphs, Armitage is the one who has fought them out.
2. Michael Hooper
Australia coach Michael Cheika has an unfortunate headache as arguably his two best players are competing for the one jersey. Hooper has capitalised on David Pocock’s troubles with injury to make the Australia number 7 shirt very much his own. The Waratahs man can run hard and backs it up with world class rucking.
1. Richie McCaw
The best ever openside flanker? The Kiwi captain is certainly up there. McCaw is coming towards the end of a phenomenal career, but nonetheless remains the best around.
Brian Barry, Pundit Arena.