David Kirk, Nick Farr-Jones, Joost van der Westhuizen, George Gregan, Matt Dawson, Fourie du Preez, Piri Weepu. If you are a rugby aficionado, you will understand what all these names have in common.
If you haven’t quite worked it out yet, they are the names of all the starting halfbacks for winning Rugby World Cup sides.
Of those names, perhaps Piri Weepu’s is the only one that can’t be counted as a great for his respective nation.
Certainly in the instance of Farr-Jones, van der Westhuizen and Gregan you are talking about three of the all time greats of the world game.
The number nine now is arguably the most important position on the field.
It is the player that provides the link between the backs and forwards and the player that controls the tempo of the game.
A good halfback has the ability to put the ball out in front of the attacking player allowing the runner to take the ball at speed or hit a half gap.
A good halfback will threaten the line and will make defensive sides pay if they drift too quickly from the breakdown.
And now with the new five second rule introduced to rucks, giving the number nine less time to think, having a good halfback is more valuable then ever.
I saw two quite contrasting performances this weekend in Super Rugby.
The first, on Friday night, a masterclass from Will Genia where he probed, passed, kicked and marshalled his troops, all with incredible accuracy.
Ultimately Genia was the difference between the two sides and showed just how important he will be to the Wallabies chances in the forthcoming Lions series.
Contrast this with Piri Weepu’s performance on Saturday night. I was at the stadium at Mount Maunganui for the Blues versus Chiefs game where I watched Weepu closely throughout.
I was taken aback by just how poor his pass was, laboured and loopy at best, and by how little he was barking out instructions to his forwards.
I would have thought given the Blues lack of experience, Weepu would have been a key general on the field but I was sadly disappointed.
I have always been a strong advocate of Weepu over the years, but having seen his play first hand over the past two weekends, I don’t think I can defend his selection in the Black jersey any longer.
Of course a good rugby side needs more than just a good number nine, but one that has one will always have an advantage over one that doesn’t given the influence the position exerts over a game.
And the greatest halfback I have ever seen play the game? Well for me, it is simple, no one is close to the great George Gregan.
I am a Kiwi who along with many other Kiwi rugby fans, bayed for Gregan’s blood during Bledisloe fixtures over the years, cursed his name when he made that tackle on Wilson in 1994 and who suffered greatly upon the great mans taunting of “four more years boys” in the 2003 Rugby World Cup semifinal.
Gregan to New Zealand rugby was what Fitzpatrick and McCaw were and are to Australian and South African Rugby.
These players are almost despised outside of their country but ultimately this comes out of complete respect for their ability as well as jealousy that they’re not playing in their teams. It is perhaps the ultimate compliment.
Roarers, who would be your greatest number nine?