Super Rugby AU is now just days from starting, while Super Rugby Aotearoa is just over a week away. As the competitions edge that little bit closer, five RugbyPass writers have ranked each position across Australia and New Zealand.
Then by going across all five rankings, a list of the top 10 players per position had been finalised.
We have already revealed our thoughts on who are the best fullbacks, wings, midfielders, flyhalves, halfbacks, No. 8s and flankers on each side of the Tasman, with locks being next up.
The writer-by-writer rankings will soon be made available on the RugbyPass Instagram account, while the average rankings have been used to calculate the following list.
1) Sam Whitelock (Crusaders)
Whitelock returned to the Crusaders last year in search of a career revival. Up-and-coming players had put pressure on the now 32-year-old to hold his place in the All Blacks, but since returning to New Zealand, he’s been all class.
Whitelock used his experience, leadership, and rugby IQ to once again to standout at the set-piece; also holding his own around the park. In his 150th Super Rugby match for the Crusaders, he was arguably the man-of-the-match, largely for those reasons.
The seasoned veteran really doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon too, backing it up with an impressive run of tests in the black jersey last year.
2) Patrick Tuipulotu (Blues)
Tuipulotu had arguably his best season in a Blues jersey last year, playing consistently high-level rugby and so nearly leading the Blues to a title.
The Auckland franchise’s skipper appeared in career-best shape, looking fit and fast which led to his dominance on the field. It was revealed by England centre Joe Marchant, who was playing for the Blues at the time, that Tuipulotu was running 9.4 metres per second in Blues training.
Even though he sometimes went quiet while playing for the All Blacks, you can’t question the strides the 28-year-old made in the development of his game.
3) Scott Barrett (Crusaders)
After missing all of Super Rugby Aotearoa with an injury, Barrett is primed and ready to lead the Crusaders this season.
Barrett is held in high regard by pundits, fans and players, showing versatility that not many second rowers embody. He’s very quick, is effective at the set-piece and is a natural leader who could guide the Crusaders to another Super Rugby crown.
He’s not perfect though – there are at times some disciplinary issues with his game, but you can’t say that he’s not world-class. The All Blacks could really benefit from having a fully fit Scott Barrett available in their ranks once test match rugby returns.
4) Tupou Vaa’i (Chiefs)
Vaa’i was one of the breakout stars of Super Rugby Aotearoa last year, earning four All Blacks caps at just 20-years-old on the back of his form.
That’s not to say that this was always the plan though, but he handled the big moments well. On the brink of his first All Blacks camp, playing in the North vs South clash, Vaa’i made the most tackles of any player at the time he was subbed off.
As the test season went on, the All Blacks had a bit of a locking crisis but he really stood out when his name was called. He has plenty of potential so for him to already be ranked this high on this list is a credit to what he achieved last year.
5) Quinten Strange (Crusaders)
After making his Mitre 10 Cup debut at just 19-years-old, Strange’s game has come a long way during his time at the Tasman Mako and the Crusaders.
At 24-years-old, he was named in Ian Foster’s All Blacks squads for last year, and even though he didn’t earn a cap partly due to injury, it wouldn’t surprise many to see him get one this year.
He’s an exciting player who brings plenty to the set-piece, and would add plenty to the All Blacks’ growing list of promising locks.
6) Mitchell Dunshea (Crusaders)
The fourth and final Crusader on this list, Dunshea is another player to watch. His work rate is impressive and he was rewarded for that last year – albeit not immediately.
While not initially involved in Ian Foster’s All Blacks squad, Dunshea was called into the camp as an injury replacement for Quinten Strange.
For the Crusaders, he was consistent, starting often, proving reliable in defence and doing plenty of work around breakdown.
The 25-year-old remains on the cusp on national selection, but might get there this year if he takes his chances when he’s on the park.
7) Lukhan Salakaia-Loto (Reds)
The Wallabies had a bit of a locking crisis of their own after the 2019 World Cup, but found a long-term answer in a familiar face – but it is worth noting that he’s the only Wallaby on this list.
Salakaia-Loto is physical, especially in defence, but he runs hard as well and that makes him a handful for any and all opposition. At the lineout, I thought he stood out in moments, and stepped up as a leader in a young Reds side.
While there was a sour moment late last year which saw him red carded against the Pumas, he’s certainly a player to watch who still has plenty of development left in his game.
8) Pari Pari Parkinson (Highlanders)
Parkinson has proven himself to be a promising up-and-coming talent out of the Highlanders, and it wouldn’t have surprised many if he’d been ranked higher on this list.
He works hard around the field, and is a quality option at the lineout for any team he plays for – standing at 204cm.
The 24-year-old has a big year ahead of him, though, with All Blacks selection well and truly a chance. He may have missed out on North vs South honours last year, but expect him to push on as develops his game, and looks to take it to the next level.
9) Josh Dickson (Highlanders)
Prior to a broken leg sustained while playing the Crusaders in round four of last year’s Super Rugby Aotearoa, Josh Dickson was head and shoulders above every other player in the competition at the lineout.
The 26-year-old had more than double the number of lineout takes (14) every other player across the country, and was handy at pinching the opposition’s ball at the set piece as well.
That illustrates how he has worked his way to becoming one of the brightest uncapped second rowers in New Zealand after breaking out with some eye-catching displays in 2019, so expect Dickson to work well in tandem with Parkinson again this year.
10) James Blackwell (Hurricanes)
After another strong showing for the Hurricanes last year, Blackwell has justifiably been included in this list.
He’s always been a player who has seemingly had an abundance of energy, doing absolutely everything for his team – including putting his head in some dark places around the breakdown.
As one of the hardest-working players in Super Rugby, could international honours be on the horizon for the 25-year-old?
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