Now with the conclusion of the European rugby season and the June internationals we here at Pundit Arena HQ feel that it is time to sick back and reflect on certain aspects of the season just past.
To that end we want to take a look at who we feel currently stand as the top five premier opensides in the game at the moment from right across the rugby playing stratosphere.
The Australian veteran who was recently described as “the best player I’ve ever seen” by England head coach Eddie Jones, put in a season for the Wasps which belied his years. At the age of 35 Smith was instrumental in his sides title chasing season only to come up short in the Aviva Premiership and European Champions Cup semi-finals.
Such was the acknowledgment for his superb season Smith was awarded as the RPA Player’s Player of the Year and will leave a huge void in the Wasps pack what with his return to Super Rugby.
Now with the Chief’s opportunity arriving to finally come out of arguably the greatest ever rugby players shadow, in that of Richie McCaw, Cane’s first true test in life after the rugby great came in the three test Welsh series.
While Can did not lead the way in stats against Wales, his standing as one of the world’s openside elite is unquestionable and this is evident through his form for Super Rugby side Wakiato Chiefs, who currently lie atop of the New Zealand conference as they stride to claim their third franchise title.
Cane has been tipped as a long-term like-for-like replacement for McCaw, however he will have to remain at the top of his game with the likes of Hurricanes Ardie Savea and returning Auckland Blue Blake Gibson hot on his heels.
After coming in for a lot of heated criticism due to his poor form for Waratahs in Super Rugby, in the run-in to the England June series, many critics in Australia were calling into question Hooper’s presence in the Wallabies squad what with his substandard form and the sheer amount of talent within that position in Australian rugby with the likes of Sean McMahon and potentially Liam Gill stating their cases (Gill will become unavailable to Cheika next season as he has completes his move to Toulon).
However, Hooper’s performances over the three tests more than silenced those critics as the Waratah was a leader in the Wallaby pack, serving as a real threat in the breakdown Hooper also displayed his quality in the loose, running in a couple of tries for good measure.
Such is his standing when on his game, Cheika could not leave him out of his starting XV even with the likes of David Pocock seemingly ahead of him. What this has done is provide Australia with a unique and deadly weapon in the Aussie arsenal from both an attack and defensive point of view.
Following on from that dismal England World Cup campaign it seemed that Robshaw couldn’t catch a break. With huge criticism coming from every angle, Robshaw himself has described that period as one of the hardest of his life.
However, since the World Cup Robshaw has shown true resolve and perseverance to bounce back. The appointment of Eddie Jones with the subsequent decision to strip the Harlequins man of the England capataincy turned out to be a true blessing.
Without that weighted pressure on his shoulders Robshaw has returned back to his imperious best while continuing to remain as a leader in Eddie Jones’ squad. His performances in England’s historic whitewash Down Under serve as testament that he is back to his best and will be keen to puch on in England’s conquest of world rugby.
While Pocock missed out on the majority of Australia’s second test and the entirety of the third test with England in their recent series, if anything the injury only provided further confirmation of Pocock’s standing as an one of the world’s elite.
While perhaps a peculiar take on his unfortunate injury, it was more than evident that without Pocock, Australia lose a considerable degree of shrewdness, doggedness, physicality and leadership.
Pocock’s capability at the breakdown and ball-winning ability is unparalleled in the game and if he is available in time for Australia’s Rugby Championship campaign, then their prospects of retaining their title becomes much more genuine.