The back three is a place where pace and agility are mixed with the ability to claim the high ball. It is a place which fizzles with electricity, and the speed of players combines with the skill of playmakers around them to score.
So, who were the back three players who shone the brightest in 2020?
11. Caleb Clarke
Caleb Clarke really tears through defenders. He did this multiple times against the Wallabies and the Argentineans made sure to shut him down.
Established as the heir to Jonah Lomu, or whatever cliché is associated with the All Black 11 jersey, Clarke was in great form this year and he was stepping like a madman.
14. Cheslin Kolbe
One of the most iconic moments in rugby history is Cheslin Kolbe’s individual try in the World Cup final, outpacing Joe Marler, stepping Owen Farrell, and running past three English forwards to score the try that had Francois Piennar punching the air.
It only takes one yard for him to create a try-scoring chance. For Toulouse, he has been phenomenal. Simply brilliant.
I cannot get past how he pulled off impossible sidesteps so gloriously, as well as converting almost every opportunity. He is extremely agile, perhaps the best stepper on the planet.
Meanwhile, he has the pace to back it up. Though he is small, he is extremely skilled with passing and kicking to link up the play. His tackling is solid, allowing him to take down many bigger men.
He is so excellent that I have to put him here, even though he has not played any Tests this year.
15. Beauden Barrett
A true footballer and extremely skilled fullback, Barrett is a flyhalf with the positioning and pace of a fullback – a perfect hybrid.
Barret had many forays with the ball in hand this year and was creative in attack, as well as strong in defence.
Sadly, the All Blacks did not really provide him and Richie Mo’unga with good ball to attack as much as he could. All the same, he’s a strong strike runner and a skilful player with a distributing arsenal.
Stuart Hogg had us in doubt after two mediocre games against Ireland and England, but he struck back with brilliance against France and Italy, and a solid Autumn Nations Cup. A highly skilled player who can slice through defences through footwork, he creates many opportunities.
Leigh Halfpenny had maintained his reputation of being a rock in the air and a brave defender. He took down a much heavier Kyle Sinckler to save a try, mind you. A man renowned for defensive positioning, he is a strong distributor with good passing and decent pace.
Damien Penaud is the most intelligent wing in rugby, great at making defensive reads and also a good passer and kicker of the ball. On top of that, he has the vision to open space for those around him.
Kotaro Matsushima lived up to my prophecy and rubber-stamped world-class all over his Clermont jersey. He has strong defence despite his diminutive stature, excellent ball-handling, and possesses brilliant pace and agility.
Nemani Nadolo played classy rugby against Georgia with a hat-trick after his great form for Montpellier this year.
Also, Semi Radradra was the man creating Nadolo’s opportunities. He was simply excellent for Bristol and Fiji as a wide-channel threat and playmaker at 13. He can play anywhere in the midfield and the back three, which puts him in contention.
Aphelele Fassi is a playmaking strike runner who has great hands, impressive passing under pressure, a good grubber kick, and amazing pace and footwork – a natural playmaking 15.
Warrick Gelant is a wide channel threat with the ability to fix more than one player in the wide areas, while Makazole Mapimpi and Sbu Nkosi were both struck down with injury but are world-class wingers.
Anthony Watson is fast, aggressive, powerful and guileful. He was injured at the start of the Six Nations, which was a shame, but is defensively intelligent, able to push things out to the touchline, and use an aggressive drift to cut off overlaps.
Marika Koroibete played with power in this year’s Tri Nations. Pacey and powerful, he is very good in physical confrontations.
Jordan Lamour and Keith Earls served as playmaking 15s, impressive for Ireland on occasions, while James Lowe was excellent in contesting Stockdale for that 11 jersey.