Prop Joe Marler has withdrawn from England’s squad for the entire Six Nations rugby tournament to be with his family during the coronavirus pandemic.
Many borderline magicians with the oval ball take to the rugby pitch donning the No. 10 jersey.
One question persists: who is the best?
There are several crucial factors affecting the answer: temperament, ability and kicking. These make up the formula of the modern day flyhalf on the international stage.
Kicking-wise, there are several candidates. Statistically speaking, Handre Pollard has been the top points scorer in two prestigious competitions. In 2019 his Rugby World Cup most points haul has reflected his point scoring abilities. Despite several ‘banana peels’ in terms of kicking in spite of the lethal abilities of his boot, he remains an icon of a modern day kicking ace.
We also have a second contender: Dan Biggar, probably the most consistent kicker on the planet. His sublime kicking often sees Wales given the heave-ho, though they have simply fallen short in this year’s Six Nations. He remains one of their best players and is arguably the world’s best kicker.
Other great kickers include the All Black Richie Mo’unga and the notorious Owen Farrell along with Romain Ntamack, superb on his day, and the solid George Ford.
In terms of temperament, we take a good look at men who do not fare poorly under pressure. Farrell loses out here Just take a look at his performance when the opposition start to contain him – he starts to chuck the ball randomly and his defensive play, which is hardly anything to shout about, crumbles.
Biggar epitomises it: his kicking and playmaking does not falter under severe pressure from players like the bruising Courtney Lawes.
George Ford and Richie Mo’unga are two natural flyhalves – they know where the gaps are in the defence. Mo’unga effectively unleashes attacking maelstroms and shows his ability more evidently, while this is just a slight advantage to George Ford.
Pollard is very cool under the high ball and does not fumble under defensive pressure. He always finds the designated killer, Willie le Roux, in space to put the winger in untouched even under pressure from colossal defenders. His high ball skills are resultantly solid and his kicking remains metronomic regardless pf the opposition.
In conclusion, he and Mo’unga are two who can control the tempo of the game to evade eccentricity.
The last aspect of the modern flyhalf game is ability. In terms of the position, this can be split into several aspects. The first is defence – the flyhalf is tasked with guarding the first receiver position; his job is to guard the first defensive channel – and the second and third are tactical play and passing respectively.
In terms of defence, there are several points to consider. In contact Pollard is undisputable as the best. His 98-kilogram frame is the heart of his defensive ability, making heavily dominant tackles on the opposition attackers. He is capable of driving the opposition back behind the gainline, and the pairing of taking down and stagnating the first phase with Damian de Allende is heavily effective. His tackling is solid as well.
Meanwhile, Dan Biggar is not to be overlooked for defensive contact play. He may not have the size of Handre Pollard, but his fearless tackling is driven by an indomitable mentality. He is a huge try-saver both for Northampton and Wales, being solid in contact and always willing to put his body on the line to halt anyone.
The man who epitomises the art of the chase-down tackle on this list is the superb Richie Mo’unga. His contact play is not outstanding, since he is merely 86 kilograms, but his low chop tackles often bring the fastest of players to the ground. Whether it is a tap tackle or excellent try-saving dive tackle, Mo’unga chasing in defence is simply phenomenal. The quickest player on this list, his pace aids him attacking-wise and defensively.
Farrell is poor in this area and the only time his tackles have made impact is when his arms hardly go round for the wrap, merely resting on the ball carrier’s hips.
Romain Ntamack is yet to be tested – we will see if he is of the class he seems when France face southern hemisphere teams.
As for Ford, last I checked he was rather decent defensively but not notably so.
In terms of passing, there is great debate. Farrell, when in form, has sometimes done the flat bullet pass to England’s designated killer, Elliot Daly, to put the wing in untouched. However, other than several spectacular moments of pure brilliance, Farrell remains a solid distributor, though he lacks the unlocking flair of Danny Cipriani, and the Wales derby in the current Six Nations shows that Farrell is a dab hand at passing but not mercurial.
He found Ford, who in this play was the killer. Ford straightened his run and sent the ball to Manu Tuilagi in space for an easy touchdown. In that match, statistically, Ford was responsible for two of England’s tries, both through passes.
Farrell is thus not really a competent contender as the world’s best in passing, his best area – we see his other outhalve partner outshining him. He was only in the lead-up play to one try, while Ford influenced two. Thus Farrell is clearly out of contention.
Dan Biggar has got a robust running and passing game. To cover his tactical play his role in the Welsh attack is basically to select forward runners to take the crash ball phase. Almost every single of his passes results in gainline successes or linebreaks. His ball handling is acute, and he is no slouch when compared to the cream of the crop in the southern hemisphere. His tactical clearance kicks are equal to territorial gain. His passing is able to be wider than it is in the Welsh gameplay, but his play dictates the Welsh team and the phases crash off him.
George Ford is an intelligent man – as stated earlier, being a natural No. 10 – and his solid passing and tactical kicking play, dictated by a No. 10’s rugby IQ, is crucial to England in attack and kicking the clearances. His ability to visualise the backline makes him the only outhalf in the English team who plays structured rugby instead of grubbering the ball to force errors.
Now we take a look at the heavyweight yet lean backline maestro, Handre Pollard. Unlike most No. 10s, he is rather fond of carrying the ball into contact himself, which is effective in attack. It gives the Boks good territorial gain, while his carries are a strike phase option in the backline instead of merely using De Allende as a sole ball carrier.
This is not Pollard’s sole ability. His passing is deadly flat and parallel to the gainline. He almost always gets the ball out wide to the talent of outside backs like Wille Le Roux in the face of immense defensive pressure. His passing is pinpoint accurate, and this makes him a very complete No. 10. The sheer breadth of his passes are enough to reach any outside back, whether the designated Wille Le Roux or the electrical speedster Cheslin Kolbe.
A perfect example of his playmaking work is during 2019 World Cup 16-16 draw between the All Blacks and the Springboks. They played several phases from the lineout following a strong maul, numerous ones playing short off Pollard and Le Roux. This ploy thins the All Black defensive line, making Kolbe an extra man on the outside. Pollard commands the play from here by charging up onto the ball behind Pieter-Steph du Toit, a dummy runner. He hits the line hard, fixes his man and sends the ball in a flat no-look pass to Le Roux, who comes in from deep behind the play as he has been concealed by the phase play.
Mo’unga, who is behind as one of the two fullbacks, is drawn into Le roux to hit the fullback. Here the same pass follows – no-look – but this time it is a release to Kolbe, who uses a chip kick over Beauden Barrett to put the scrumhalf over the line. He ensures the defence does not get across by running diagonally to fix the widest or second widest defender.
His sublime ball skills are well suited to pinpoint the deadly passes he and Le Roux have as a modus operandi. He is capable of numerous variations of passing, while he has the pace and agility to break lines. He is solid under the high ball and only fumbles in aerial collisions usually, while his chipping and chasing game is rather robust.
While Beauden Barrett employs a chip over the top or his trademark grubber kick, Handre Pollard only ensues grubbers for kicks for other players to collect, while he uses a high ball – the kind that a fullback faces from a kickoff – and uses the hang in the kick to get himself under the ball, leap and win the aerial battle.
This makes him a deadly weapon when attacking at a deep angle or in counterattack. With immense physicality, he is excellent as a support player to clean out the rucks and hold off jacklers. His tactical kicking is high and deep, just right for wingers to chasewhile his clearances to touch are a rival to Beauden Barrett and Mo’unga.
Mo’unga has the tactical kicking and skills portrayed by Pollard, while his cross-kicks to the wing are simply a phenomenon in the modern era – flat, hanging, mercurial. He is capable of stunners. His acute agility at gaps entwined with a good envisagement of the game is a boon to outside backs like Sevu Reece. All of his gifts weaved into play makes him one of the most well-rounded players on the planet.
To conclude, Mo’unga and Pollard are the most well-rounded No. 10s on the planet.