In April, in the shadow of COVID-19’s impact on rugby in the region, NZ Rugby announced it would undertake a strategic review in conjunction with each of its professional franchises.
When rugby gets back to normal, here are ten number tens I can’t wait to see on the international stage.
1. Handre Pollard
He had a stellar World Cup campaign that ended with him as the top scorer by a mile with 69 points, established him as arguably the best in the world, and battled back critics to play a crucial hand in the Boks’ success that stretched further than his metronomic kicking ability.
His flat passing is matched by few and he is the one most capable of executing these deadly, brutally flat and acute passes at top speed on the run. His sublime passing sets others free to finish it with a try. He injects excellent handling into play to ensure continuity in play.
Meanwhile, his high-ball skills match those of world-class fullbacks and he is not bad in the run-back as well, while his physicality is that of a forward’s. His hard carries are excellent, causing him to be renowned for being the most physical ten. His tactical kicking is as accurate as a sniper’s, similar to his sublime passing and deadly accuracy in goal-kicking. He is an astute flyhalf.
2. Richie Mo’unga
He is one of the world’s best. He has a solid boot. Off the tee he is accurate as if he is programmed, while his deadly kicking is a boon to New Zealand since they have long lacked a man who can take those kicks and win the game.
Mo’unga has clever, creative game play. He finds the gaps for players on the outside with over-the-top skip passes and his cross kicks to the wing are simply phenomenal. His chase-down tackle is one of the best in the world while his pace is probably the best on this list.
He is a man who can create something without taking too big a risk. His attacking creativity can match Finn Russell and he can also pull off majestic passes with a mere flick. If not Pollard, this man is the best. Perhaps both are of equal ability.
3. George Ford
Another solid ten. Unlike Dan Biggar, he has an uncanny ability to find the gaps for himself in the defensive line, while phases of Ford are a steady source of territorial gain. Meanwhile, his work off the tee may fall short of Biggar but he is still solid.
George Ford is an intelligent man and his solid passing and tactical kicking play dictated by a ten’s rugby IQ is crucial to England in attack and kicking the clearances. His ability to visualise the back line makes him the only out half in the English team who plays structured rugby instead of grubbering the ball to force errors.
4. Dan Biggar
He has been the anointed heir to the Welsh ten jersey for a long time. He is hailed by some as the mercurial ten, or even by some Biggar-mad fans as the Welsh Wilkinson. His kicking has never gone below 85 per cent for Wales since he is clearly the world’s deadliest and most consistent kicker.
His passing and running game is very robust, but he hardly gets to unleash it due to Wales’ game plan, and his passes are a steady source of territorial gain for Wales. He is a playmaker armed with a prolific skill set. He has an excellent contact game, which can match the gargantuan runners of the opposition. His kicking is brilliant tactically, while he has high-ball skills that can take apart fullbacks. He is a rock-solid ten that Wales can fall back on.
5. Finn Russell
After a series of apocalyptic rows with Gregor Townsend, the Scottish playmaker has seemed to have patched up his relationships with the boss. It is highly possible that this man will gain his 50th cap against the Boks this year, if the coronavirus pandemic can hopefully cease by then.
The Scotsman is highly skilled and creative. He is truly worthy of the title ‘the Blue King’ for he is the king of Scottish rugby. His risk-taking attacking play often puts spectators on the edge, while his passing often is capable of setting a player through a defensive line. The way he envisages the game allows him to find the gaps and execute his moves with phenomenal passes that fly over the top and his gap-finding is matched by few on the world stage.
6. Romain Ntamack
He is an up-and-coming star with several moments of genuine brilliance. The phenomenal flyhalf had pundits saying he was the world’s best ten after some moments of sublime skill. His kicking is astute when on form and the flyhalf will face a true test when or if the Les Bleus play any southern hemisphere teams.
7. Yu Tamura
He has been acute in passing in the Japanese Top League and he is a solid distributor. For Japan, he gives the fast release to Ryoto Nakamura and Timothy Lafaele to work something out and score a try. He is a solid kicker off the tee and an intelligent player in decision-making. He is the commander of the play in Japanese rugby. If he is to play or if there are even going to be any matches at all, he is a man to watch for Japan if there are any matches, having been a crucial part of their quarter-final chronicles.
8. Aaron Cruden
There are two New Zealand players on this list and one of them potentially is not a starter, but Cruden has shown he has the talent to play international rugby. His playmaking for the Chiefs has been solid, while his goal-kicking is not too mediocre. His rate of 68 per cent may not be good to the eyes but you can be an epic kicker but several slip-ups in kicking can lead to the downfall of your statistic.
When on form, he is simply phenomenal and his ability to keep cool under defensive pressure makes him a great playmaker. If he starts for the All Blacks, a return to the ten jersey he vacated in 2016 and a dazzling play style awaits us. He is a brave tackler who puts his body on the line to make the tackle no matter what.
9. Tommaso Allan
He is a ten who has solid kicking that is crucial to Italy getting points. The ten is intelligent in making on-field calls and commanding the plays to take the pressure off the scrumhalf. He is good in tracking his opposite number. He may be capable of competing with some world-class players but not reign supreme over them.
10. Owen Farrell
This is the one flyhalf who we all dislike. His tackles are mainly directed at dislodging the ball and making a big hit but he does it at all costs. He is not near the conversation of the best flyhalves in the world. He is talented, yes, but he has not harnessed that talent and has been squandering English ball lately. There is one thing, however, I compliment him on: deadly accurate kicking.