Best of the best: The top 10 halfbacks in Super Rugby 2021
As the Super Rugby Aotearoa, Super Rugby AU and Super Rugby Trans-Tasman competitions inch closer to kick-off, a panel of RugbyPass writers have taken it upon themselves to rank the best players across New Zealand and Australia in each position.
Some have gone for a statistical approach, while other have trusted their gut, but the end result has yielded a list of the top 10 players per position.
The writer-by-writer rankings will soon be available on Instagram, but here is the overall rankings that have been calculated as an average of the five scribes’ lists.
1) Aaron Smith (Highlanders)
Unanimously voted by all five of our writers as Super Rugby’s premier No. 9, Aaron Smith is again set to take the competition by storm as he enters his 11th season with the Highlanders.
A decade after debuting for the Dunedin franchise as an energetic 22-year-old, Smith has undoubtedly developed into one of the world’s best halfbacks and stands as a genuine candidate to be recognised as one of all-time greats in that position.
The velocity and accuracy of his passing, immense work rate, inch-perfect box kicking, boisterous communication, clear-cut vision, vast experience and strong leadership are all attributes that have made Smith as good as he is, and it’s those skills the Highlanders will lean on as they target an improved effort in 2021.
2) Nic White (Brumbies)
Back in Brumbies colours for a full campaign for the first time since 2015, Nic White looms as a vital figure for the Canberra side as they look to retain their Super Rugby AU crown.
After leaving for spells with Montpellier and Exeter Chiefs in Europe, the 30-year-old has returned to Australia permanently, and even sneaked in a few appearances for the Brumbies in their final four matches of last season.
An experienced operator who has become a valued asset for the Wallabies since pledging his return home, White brings with him a quality kicking game, in-game niggle and good match awareness, making him the perfect candidate to take over from Joe Powell, who has defected to the Melbourne Rebels.
3) Tate McDermott (Reds)
A teenaged debutant for the Reds in 2018, Tate McDermott began to make his presence known as a top-class product the following season, before really establishing himself as a force to be reckoned with in 2020.
Perhaps the best ball-runner of any halfback in Super Rugby, the 22-year-old gives the Queensland side an extra attacking dimension through his sniping runs from the base of the ruck.
That helped propel the youthful but exciting Reds squad to a runners-up finish in Super Rugby AU last year, with McDermott’s efforts recognised by Wallabies coach Dave Rennie, who handed him his maiden two test appearances in last year’s Tri-Nations.
All of that suggests the former Australia U20 and Australian sevens representative has the makings of the next great Queensland star, and that alone should be enough to put opposition teams on notice this season.
4) Brad Weber (Chiefs)
One of the Chiefs’ most loyal servants and impressive performers in recent years, many felt Brad Weber deserved a better crack at the All Blacks than what he got last year.
Suited to New Zealand’s fast-paced style of play, which requires halfbacks of Smith’s and Weber’s ilk, chances were far and few between for the 30-year-old to strut his stuff on the international stage.
What’s even more perplexing is that Weber’s lack of opportunities came after he stood out as one of the best players for the Chiefs in their dismal Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign that saw them win zero games from eight attempts.
Nevertheless, the seven-test All Black has signed on with the Chiefs for another year, something the Hamilton franchise will be grateful for as he will prove to be an integral squad member should their fortunes turn in 2020.
5) Tomas Cubelli (Force)
Part of the Argentine quartet recruited by the Western Force for this season, the acquisition of Tomas Cubelli is arguably the most shrewd piece of business made by the Perth side.
A long-time member of Los Pumas, Cubelli has established himself as a key member of the Argentine national side, having picked up 76 test caps since 2010.
His influence within the national set-up was exemplified when he played a starring role in Argentina’s shock win over the All Blacks last year.
The 31-year-old has also been an important figure in Brumbies and Jaguares squads of the past, and the Force will expect no less of him in 2020 as the Western Australian franchise eye up a first win since returning to Super Rugby.
6) Bryn Hall (Crusaders)
While he is arguably the best halfback in New Zealand to have never played for the All Blacks, Bryn Hall has achieved something few other No. 9s can claim.
Since moving to the Crusaders from the Blues in 2017, the 29-year-0ld has not only won four consecutive Super Rugby titles, but he has been central to each one of the Christchurch franchise’s championships.
Between 2017 and 2019, he started in every Super Rugby final after dominating the No. 9 jersey throughout all of those seasons, and strengthened his iron grip on his starting role during last year’s victorious Super Rugby Aotearoa title tilt.
Equipped with a rapid pass, Hall will again look to work in tandem with star playmaker Richie Mo’unga and help deliver an unprecedented fifth straight crown to Orangetheory Stadium.
7) Jake Gordon (Waratahs)
As another bright halfback talent out of Australia, the Waratahs would do worse than to focus their imminent squad restructure around Jake Gordon.
One of just a handful of capped internationals in the Waratahs roster, the 27-year-old has similar qualities to McDermott, making him a good attacking option for the New South Wales club.
With the 2014 Super Rugby champions stripped bare of their veterans, Gordon will be called on heavily this season as the Sydneysiders target a better finish than their fourth-place ranking in Super Rugby AU last year.
8) Folau Fakatava (Highlanders)
Considered by many to be Smith’s long-term replacement both for the Highlanders and All Blacks, Folau Fakatava is primed for a big 2021 season, where he is expected to pick up plenty more minutes than in previous years.
That’s because Smith is in the final year of his contract with New Zealand Rugby, and if he decides to head abroad at the end of this year, Fakatava needs as much game time as possible to help ease his transition into a probable starting role.
It’s probable that the 21-year-old will instantly earn a position in the starting side because of his mercurial talents, of which make him possibly the best attacking halfback in New Zealand.
Fakatava’s impact with ball in hand helped Hawke’s Bay clinch the Mitre 10 Cup Championship title in 2020, and now the Highlanders will be eager for him to inflict similar damage over the coming months.
9) Mitchell Drummond (Crusaders)
In terms of bench options, the Crusaders have themselves a very handy one in the form of Mitchell Drummond, who has often found himself behind Hall in the franchise’s pecking order in recent years.
Despite this, the 26-year-old has two All Blacks appearances to his name, including a test cap that he earned after coming off the bench against Japan in 2018.
Drummond’s international credentials are a testament to his ability as a halfback who is as good at running the ball as he is at controlling a match, and that will be crucial to enhancing the Crusaders’ title-winning run this season.
10) Finlay Christie (Blues)
After years floating between teams across New Zealand, Finlay Christie has finally found a home for himself at the Blues as one of the rising stars behind the Auckland franchise’s resurgence.
As a result, the Scottish-born product thrust himself into the All Blacks selection discussion in 2020, appearing off the bench for the South Island in the North vs South clash last September.
That is indicative of where Christie stands in the national pecking order, and it will only take an even better year with the Blues – perhaps a season where they end their 18-year title drought – for the 25-year-old to win international honours.
As always, there were a select few players who missed the cut despite being put forward for contention by individual writers.
Spearheading those nominations was new Melbourne Rebels and four-test Wallabies scrumhalf Joe Powell, who has moved to Victoria after six seasons with the Brumbies.
He was joined by a raft of other names, including three-test All Blacks No. 9 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi of the Chiefs, injured Hurricanes star Jamie Booth, young Brumbies prospect Issak Fines and Chiefs rookie Xavier Roe.
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