There was much debate today when a Welsh media outlet declared Toby Faletau to be a better number eight than Billy Vunipola. Of course, this is simply stirring things in the run-up to the mammoth Six Nations clash in Twickenham in two weeks’ time.
However, there is some merit to this. Despite Vunipola’s amazing performance against Ireland last week, there is a schism here in Pundit Arena HQ on the issue.
This debate got so heated that we’ve decided to get ranking the number eights of the Six Nations.
For the purposes of this list, we’re counting the players who came into this championship as their country’s top number eight, so Louis Picamoles and David Denton are representing France and Scotland respectively, despite injury.
When lined up, the standard of these six men is staggering, but there had to be winners and losers.
6. David Denton
Scotland’s Denton is a strong ball carrier, and gets through an impressive amount of work around the field. The Zimbabwean-born 26 year-old is the engine of this Scotland team at times, and in two week’s time, he will be looking to replicate his man of the match performance against France the last time the two sides met at Murrayfield in 2014.
5. Jamie Heaslip
The Leinster and Ireland number eight is now 32, and this could be his last season in green. He has many virtues as a back-row player, not least his protection of the ball when going into contact. However, he is not the player he was a few seasons back, and with a young back-row emerging in Ireland, he might be under pressure to hold onto the position in a year’s time.
4. Louis Picamoles
It speaks volumes about the standard of the Six Nations Championship that a player as good as Picamoles is not in the best three number eights. The Northampton Saints-bound Toulouse colossus carries with huge impact, and his injury on the opening day against Italy significantly weakened Guy Noves’ hand.
3. Taulupe Faletau
OK, we have got off the fence on the main issue of the day. Faletau is a quality number eight, and everybody reading this knows how good he is. However, up against Billy Vunipola, we think the English international has that bit more impact, and that’s what swung it.
2. Billy Vunipola
The Englishman singe-handedly battered Ireland on Saturday evening, leading an ultra-physical back row of James Haskell and Chris Robshaw. Impact is the name of the game, and Vunipola has it is spades.
1. Sergio Parisse
In truth, the other five are simply fighting for the scraps of Parisse’s table when it comes to these rankings. The Italian number eight is the complete footballer, and is probably the world’s best in the position. OK, he may have been docked a few marks for a wayward dropgoal against France, but nobody’s perfect, right?