The backrow are the boys who do the real job. The guys who top the tackle, breakdown, and forward-handling stats. Athletic guys with power to do pretty much all the dirty work.
The backrow is a mix of great tacklers, good jacklers, and mean ruck-players.
So who makes our backrow?
6. Pablo Matera
The moment the Argentinean skipper pointed to the emblem on his jersey and told the All Blacks to respect it was iconic. This was a man who took pride in himself and his team and their rugby.
He played three solid games in the Tri Nations, most notably in his crucial performance against the All Blacks in that historic, first-ever win. He is an excellent tackler and a brilliant breakdown operator.
It has been a horrendous year for Wales. They dropped to ninth in the World Rugby Rankings, claiming only one win before their straight run of losses.
However, if there was one man who stood out, it was Tipuric.
Long one of the best flankers on the planet, Tipuric is an excellent tackler, brilliant in the breakdown, and extremely athletic and fast for a forward.
In the Six Nations, he achieved a 100 per cent tackle completion rate. In attack, he offers more than his 186 cm, 101kg frame of bruising power. He is one of the most skilful flankers of all time, with the distribution skill of centres, and great short passing and offloading off both hands. He typifies handling and speed in attack, with an effective chip-kick as well.
He is extremely all-rounded, and well deserves to be the openside of the year.
8. CJ Stander
Few Irishmen have shone as much as CJ Stander this year. He opened the campaign with a man of the match performance against Scotland, spending the rest of the year tirelessly pilfering every breakdown he was present at.
Tackling and carrying hard, also skilful over-the-ball, he has been in great form and will be key for the Irish in the years to come.
Two men who could have made the list under other conditions and just barely missed out are Sam Cane and Ardie Savea.
Cane was a consistently excellent defender and has an extreme work rate. In attack, he was fast on the ball and was good in support. A good All Black captain.
Savea was brilliant, it’s just that he was fielded out of position. Nonetheless, his tackling is bruising, he is the All Blacks’ most explosive ball-carrier and an excellent jackler. He has pace and agility, combined with leg drive in attack. As Roarer Harry Jones noted, he was not Kieran Read at 8, but simply because he’s not an 8. He would have made this team had the All Blacks fielded him at 7 or even 6.
Another man who came close was France’s captain Charles Ollivon. Hardworking, bruising, and mobile. He is a powerful flanker and his work in defence is crucial to France.
Gregory Aldritt has been playing in the form of his life, powering through defenders and winning turnover upon turnover. The number 8 is a true heir to Louis Picamoles.
Tom Curry was versatile in the 8 jersey and is as dynamic as ever.
Hoskins Sotutu played a blinder against the Wallabies in Bledisloe 3 and is probably the heir to Read. He is extremely effective in defence with his power and tackling. He is a complete attacker. Ball skills, passing and raw physicality go with good hands to get the ball away in the tackle.
Akira Ioanne was was extremely powerful and hardworking, with notably improved fitness that allows him to be there when they defend.
Both Scottish opensides, Jamie Ritchie and Hamish Watson, are excellent in the breakdown and dynamic tacklers and carriers.
All these contenders go to show how brutally competitive the backrow is.