This week’s rankings turn to scrum-half. With some tight calls, it is likely to cause some debate. As ever, let us know your thoughts in the comments section below, or on our Facebook page.
10. Tawera Kerr Barlow
The Kiwi 9 is recovering from serious injury, but is very much in the mix to make it back for the World Cup. He has been included in the extended New Zealand squad, despite playing zero minutes of rugby in 2015, but will line out for the New Zealand Maori side to take on Fiji this weekend. When fit, he is a creative scrum-half, and may push Aaron Smith hard for a starting berth.
9. Danny Care
The time when Care was regarded as the best scrum-half in the Northern Hemisphere is gone, but he is still a classy player. Disregarded by Stuart Lancaster, there were murmurs that he was made a scapegoat following a disappointing Autumn series. However, he has shown for Harlequins that he can still cause defences problems, running from the fringe, and will be itching to get another chance for the Red Rose this summer.
8. Nick Phipps
Phipps has been doing the business time and time again for the Waratahs since arriving from the Rebels in 2014, and won the Wallabies number 9 shirt in the absence of Will Genia. Now that Genia has returned, it remains to be seen if Phipps can hang onto the starting role.
7. Khan Fotuali’i
The Samoan has been a revelation for Northampton Saints in the last two years, and was impressive throughout last week’s test against New Zealand. Fotuali’i, at 33, is not getting any younger, and will view the World Cup as his swansong. The Samoans hold real belief that they can get to the quarter-finals, with a massive tie against Scotland likely to determine who will emerge from the pool with South Africa. They will need Fotuali’i to be at his very best.
6. Ben Youngs
Youngs can find holes in any defence, and is all-round a skillful operator. The Leicester Tigers player was superb throughout the 6 Nations, and is clearly Stuart Lancaster’s choice facing into the World Cup. The 25 year-old is a 9 who can score tries, and defences must always be on alert around the fringes. Two man-of-the-match awards from five games in the 6 Nations suggest he is right up there among Europe’s best.
5. Will Genia
Will he or won’t he start for the Wallabies this season? Genia has put in a solid campaign for the underperforming Reds. Who to select at scrum-half is every bit as difficult as the Hooper/Pocock call for Michael Cheika. Two months out from the World Cup, Australia are rank outsiders. Perhaps the former Leinster coach ought to go for Genia to spice things up.
4. Ruan Pienaar
The 31 year-old World Cup winner is still producing the goods for the Springboks, and has shown his worth time and time again for Ulster in recent seasons. Pienaar is arguably the best kicking scrum-half in the world at present, and can be a real weapon for South Africa in the World Cup.
3. Rhys Webb
Webb is a 9 on an upward curve, and was arguably the Northern Hemisphere’s form scrum-half this season, putting in a fine campaign for both the Ospreys and Wales. His partnership with Dan Biggar has been developing for both club and country, and if they continue in this vein of form, Wales will be a threat at the World Cup.
2. Aaron Smith
Despite not winning many plaudits in his native New Zealand, Smith has one of the stand-out scrum-halves of world rugby in recent seasons. It may not be fully clear who will appear at 10 for the All-Blacks at the World Cup. Be it Beauden Barrett or Dan Carter, they will be paired with Smith.
1. Conor Murray
Murray’s stock has been on a steady rise for the past few seasons. From forcing Tomás O’Leary out of Munster, he took the Irish scrum-half position as his own, and has become one of the World’s best. A more in-depth analysis of Murray’s rise can be found here.
Brian Barry, Pundit Arena.