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Power rankings: Our top five Southern Hemisphere back row forwards

Power rankings: Our top five Southern Hemisphere back row forwards

Ardie Savea makes a break

Whether it is the big ball carriers, the relentless tacklers or the immovable jackals, the best back-rowers are able to influence a game from first minute to last. 

Often it is about striking a balance across the trio, but even so, some players are able to stand out above the crowd.

So as we continue our run through of the best the southern hemisphere have to offer per position, now we move onto the back-rowers, with so many different candidates:

1. Ardie Savea (New Zealand) 

There were so many candidates for this list, but number one did not take much working out, such has been Ardie Savea’s form over the past 12 months.

Even in a New Zealand team that has struggled at times, Savea has been a shining light, both in the series defeat to Ireland and then in the Rugby Championship success.

Now firmly settled at No.8, Savea’s carrying ability is crucial to everything New Zealand do, but he still has the skillset of a top-class seven to his game.

An increasingly vocal leader as well, Savea is at the absolute peak of his powers right now and would challenge for a spot in a World XV.

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2. Rob Valetini (Australia) 

Over the past decade, Michael Hooper would have been a strong candidate for this list year-in, year-out. So with the long-time Wallabies skipper taking time away from the sport during the Rugby Championship, Australia needed someone else to step up.

Rob Valetini was that man, providing the focal point to the Australian attack with his carrying. In many ways, he is becoming Australia’s version of Savea, whether at six or more often at No.8.

Rugby Championship

With Hooper set to return in the Autumn Nations Series, it will be fascinating to see how the two can combine to help the Wallabies get back on track after three straight defeats to end the Rugby Championship.

3. Siya Kolisi (South Africa) 

There has never been any question over what Siya Kolisi brings to the Springboks as a leader, those intangible qualities of bringing such a diverse team together.

But over the past 18 months, there is a case that Kolisi has also been playing the best rugby of his life as part of an ever-changing South African back row.

Whether it was alongside experienced campaigners like Duane Vermeulen and Pieter-Steph du Toit, relative newcomers like Jasper Wiese or converted locks in Franco Mostert, Kolisi adapted and thrived.

4. Juan Martin Gonzalez (Argentina) 

Argentina have a host of top-quality back-rowers, but Juan Martin Gonzalez outshone them all in the Rugby Championship.

A remarkable athlete, he gave notice of what he could do with a brilliant solo score against Italy in the 2021 Autumn Nations Series, showing off his footballing skills.

Since then, he has proven something of a try-machine for Los Pumas, with four tries in the Rugby Championship, each more impressive than the last.

There is competition for places in the Argentina back row, but on this form, Gonzalez is one of the first names on the team sheet.

5. Theo McFarland (Samoa) 

We venture outside the Rugby Championship quartet for our final player on the list, such has been the impression made by Theo McFarland over the past two seasons for Saracens.

Recently named Premiership Player of the Month for his performances with the English leaders, the Samoan is as comfortable on the blindside as he is at lock.

A former basketball player, he has incredible hands and is so dynamic for his size. Samoa face Italy first up in the Autumn Nations Series, and McFarland will surely start somewhere in the back five based on his current form.

Honourable mentions 

With just five spots, it was always going to be hard to narrow this down, with contenders from every country missing out.

Springbok pair Jasper Wiese and Kwagga Smith – the latter perhaps the best impact replacement in the Rugby Championship – certainly have a case, as does Pablo Matera for his performances for Argentina.

Sam Cane responded to the criticism over his captaincy by inspiring New Zealand to the Rugby Championship, particularly in the win against South Africa in Johannesburg.

And what over Pete Samu, who went from fringe starter to almost sparking one of the great comebacks in the Bledisloe Cup opener in Melbourne. When you can stay away from Will Jordan, you must be quite the athlete!


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