Following the conclusion of last years Rugby World Cup in which the might of the All Blacks once again stamped it’s authority on world rugby as the predominant playing force in the game by securing its second successive William Webb Ellis trophy, a void was somewhat left with the international retirement of some of the games leading stalwarts including the likes of legendary duo Richie McCaw and Dan Carter.
However, with their exit a fresh wave of generational talent has laid its claim atop the throne of the game, to that end we take a look at the ten players who currently stand taller than the rest and who are of the utmost importance to their national sides.
10. Owen Farrell – England
Since that dismal showing at their home world cup Farrell has brought on his game leaps and bounds and has been at the heart of English rugby’s revolution on the world stage.
Since the World Cup Farrell has won a Grand Slam, European Champions Cup, English Premiership and now an unprecedented Series victory in Australia. His record literally speaks for itself.
His sheer doggedness, ability from the boot and champion-like mindset is crucial to the success of both Saracens and England moving forward.
9. Israel Folau – Australia
One of the most athletically gifted players in the game, a person of Folau’s speed, size, strength and stature could apply his arsenal to nearly any sport and still exude all the qualities of a world class talent.
While still prone to the error and frailties in defence, there is arguably no-one more clinical under the high ball or terrifying when in all-out attack mode.
8. Maro Itoje – England
Rarely have we seen such a unique talent as Itoje’s in rugby. A player that not only pertains the mindset and work ethic of a true warrior and leader of men, but also has an athletic build which brings together the complete package of the ideal second row.
Massive, quick and powerful; Itoje is part of the new breed of rugby player which typifies all the desirable traits which are sought after from the modern professional and more. Many fans have likened him as the Lebron James of rugby such is his unprecedented prowess, and at such a tender age one can only wonder as to how far this young man can go in the game.
7. Brodie Retallick – New Zealand
At 6ft 9in Brodie Retallick is an absolute colossus in the All Black second row.
However don’t let his size fool you as the 2014 IRB International Rugby Player of the Year has constantly displayed a quickness and sly skill of hand which leaves many a defender perplexed.
The Chief relishes high tempo and extreme contact and truly belongs atop of the games highest playing pedestal.
6. Toby Faletau – Wales
An assured selection for next summers British and Irish Lions’ tour of New Zealand, Faletau has all but confimred his genuine world class talent over the last number of weeks in what has been extremely challanging times for Warren Gatland’s men.
With size and strength to break almost any gainline and speed to burn, Faletau’s presence in the Welsh squad is of such importance that it is unnerving to ponder how Wales’ fortunes would have fared against the might of the All Blacks without Faletau pulling the strings at the rear of the scrum.
5. Ben Smith – New Zealand
In the wake of the retirement of New Zealand’s greatest leaders in the form of the aforementioned Richie McCaw and Dan Carter, Ben Smith has stood up to the mantle to take on one of the main leadership roles within the Kiwi camp. His appointment as vice-captain serves as testament to this fact.
Smith’s value lies in the fact that while being a versatile player, which provides a sense of assurance and stability; from out-half to full-back Smith adapts to each role so well that he acts as another world class exponent in the All Black backline as if that had been his first and foremost position. The man just doesn’t have a weakness or blemish in his game.
4. Dylan Hartley – England
England’s meteoric rise following their abysmal World Cup campaign can be closely correlated with the presence of captain Dylan Hartley.
He has not only helped to amend a struggling set-piece, he has helped engineer it into a deadly weapon for the English. Also as captain he has excelled under the guidance of Eddie Jones by somewhat tempering and channeling a hot-head. He sets the ideal, ruthless standard and mindset in which England must maintain if they are to prevail in their current conquest of world rugby.
3. David Pocock – Australia
Arguably does no player have such a transparent influence and impact on the success of his team than David Pocock.
Without their captain the Wallabies regress so much in physicality and shrewdness that their prospects become so much bleaker. This has been evident in the current test series with England where in last week’s game the Aussies were unable to even the series despite an overwhelming possession advantage.
Despite their first ever series loss at home to England, if Pocock is fit to return in time for the Rugby Championship then the Wallabies chances of retaining their title will once again become very genuine indeed.
2. Aaron Smith – New Zealand
Such is Smith’s importance to the All Blacks that he has somewhat subsided the authority of back play from the out-half position to number nine.
The speed, range and precision of his passing is key to how New Zealand play in opening defences for no-one exploits space quite like they do. It is well known amongst opposing sides the degree of success you will enjoy against the world champions depends on how well Smith’s input can be tamed.
1. Kieran Read – New Zealand
Arguably no-one in the game of rugby union was more suited to fill the mammoth like boots of Richie McCaw in taking on the All Blacks captaincy.
Week in and week out Read provides a world class standard in both defence and attack. With hard running lines and hits, Read links up both forward and back play that results in the All Black machine being as devastating as it is.
Read fully utilises his shrewd skill set in tying in players and opening up space and is nearly unprecedented in his dominance of the line-out. An early front-runner for the Player of the Year accolade.