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Best of the best: The top 10 midfielders in Super Rugby 2021

By Alex McLeod

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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.

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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.

We have already revealed who we believe to be the best wings and top fullbacks throughout Australasia, but now we turn our focus to the midfield.

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Brumbies halfback Ryan Lonergan speaks to media
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Brumbies halfback Ryan Lonergan speaks to media

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) Anton Lienert-Brown (Chiefs)

Anton Lienert-Brown. (Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

The Mr Dependable of the Chiefs and All Blacks backlines, Anton Lienert-Brown takes the top spot in our overall rankings of the midfielders this year.

With 49 tests to his name at the age of just 25, Lienert-Brown has established himself as one of the premier midfielders in New Zealand since bursting onto the scene as a fresh-faced 21-year-old in 2016.

That much is reflected in how each of the RugbyPass writers ranked Lienert-Brown, with the Chiefs veteran taking top spot in four of the five individual lists.

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Given his twinkle-toe footwork, solid defensive game and quality distribution skills, that should come as little surprise, with Lienert-Brown expected to dominate the No. 12 and No. 13 jerseys for the Chiefs and All Blacks in the years to come.

2) Jack Goodhue (Crusaders)

Jack Goodhue with the Super Rugby Aotearoa trophy. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Similarly to Lienert-Brown, Crusaders star Jack Goodhue has become one of the most reliable players at both Super Rugby and test level.

Equipped with a distinguished passing game, the 25-year-old is also as firm as they come defensively. Both attributes made him a key cog in the Crusaders’ four-peat between 2017 and 2020.

Goodhue will once again be at the forefront of the Christchurch franchise’s quest to add a fifth straight title to their name this year, especially with midfield partner and fellow international Braydon Ennor out for the majority of the season.

3) Jordan Petaia (Reds)

Jordan Petaia takes on the Western Force defence for the Queensland Reds. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)
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One of the brightest young talents to emerge out of Australia in quite some time, Jordan Petaia is at the crux of the youthful revolution currently underway at the Reds.

After making his Super Rugby debut as an 18-year-old three years ago, Petaia was still an uncapped teenager when he travelled to Japan for the 2019 World Cup with the Wallabies.

The fact he made his test debut at the tournament while that and inexperienced speaks volumes of his talent and potential.

It’s that talent and potential that will make Petaia a vital member of a powerful Queensland backline – which also features James O’Connor, Filipo Daugunu, Hunter Paisami, Tate McDermott and Suliasi Vunivalu – as they aim to go one place better than last year’s runners-up finish to the Brumbies.

 

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4) Rieko Ioane (Blues)

Rieko Ioane. (Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

The subject of a high-profile move from the left wing to centre last year, Rieko Ioane shone brightly in the No. 13 jersey as part of a resurgent Blues side that dominated Super Rugby Aotearoa.

It was there where Ioane’s attacking ability was on full show, with his top-end speed and large physical frame wreaking havoc for opposition defences as he starred in the position of which he made a name for himself as a schoolboy.

While he is still adjusting to the nuances of the positional switch at test level, the 23-year-old again looms as one of Super Rugby Aotearoa’s top prospects as the Blues look to build on their second-place finish in 2020.

5) Peter Umaga-Jensen (Hurricanes)

Peter Umaga-Jensen in action for the Hurricanes against the Crusaders. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

It took some time to get going in last year’s Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign, but former schoolboy sensation Peter Umaga-Jensen finally came of age for the Hurricanes in 2020.

Utilising his 1.87m and 102kg body to devastating effect, Umaga-Jensen found himself in scintillating form at the backend of last season, with his definitive performance coming in his side’s win over the Crusaders in Christchurch to end the home side’s four-year unbeaten run at Orangetheory Stadium.

Other compelling displays against the Blues in Wellington and Chiefs in Hamilton helped earn him a test debut against the Wallabies at Eden Park last October.

Should he continue those comprehensive performances this season, Umaga-Jensen will be well-placed to further embed himself in the All Blacks set-up later on down the track.

6) Ngani Laumape (Hurricanes)

Ngani Laumape in action for the Hurricanes against the Blues. (Photo by Masanori Udagawa/Getty Images)

Another Hurricanes midfielder to blossom in last year’s Super Rugby Aotearoa, Ngani Laumape put the world on notice with a barnstorming display in his side’s victory over the Blues at Sky Stadium.

Eager to impress following criticism of being too one-dimensional, Laumape did just that as he showed off an broad array of skills to complement his powerhouse ball-carrying abilities that make him one of the most damaging attacking players in New Zealand.

It’s not as if the 27-year-old hadn’t impressed in years gone by, scoring 44 tries often in emphatic fashion for the Wellington franchise since 2016, but his dynamite impact was reemphasised not only in that Blues clash, but also the following week in the win over the Crusaders in Christchurch.

While he couldn’t replicate that form for the All Blacks, there’s no doubting the quality Laumape possesses, and he will form one half of an outstanding midfield pairing with Umaga-Jensen.

7) Hunter Paisami (Reds)

Hunter Paisami takes on the Sharks defence for the Queensland Reds. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Possibly Australia’s answer to Laumape is Reds starlet Hunter Paisami, who emerged out of nowhere to play a starring role for the Queensland side in their second-place Super Rugby AU finish.

Similarly built to Laumape at 1.72m and 96kg, Paisami packed a punch in his debut Super Rugby campaign, partnering well with Petaia in the Reds’ midfield to earn Wallabies honours in his first season of asking.

The 22-year-old featured all six of Australia’s tests last year to show his worth in Dave Rennie’s camp, which will prove valuable for the Reds in their bid for their first Super Rugby title in a decade.

 

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8) Braydon Ennor (Crusaders)

Braydon Ennor trains with the Crusaders. (Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

Sidelined for the Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign, Crusaders centre Braydon Ennor is still regarded highly enough by the RugbyPass writers to earn a place on this list.

That’s because his size, pace and distribution skills make him one of the most well-rounded midfielders going in New Zealand.

Had it not been for the ruptured ACL he picked up in the North vs South clash last year, Ennor would have added to his sole test cap in 2020 and would have been a key member of the Crusaders’ tilt to retain the Super Rugby Aotearoa crown.

Nevertheless, hopes remain high that the 23-year-old will return to action in time for the inaugural Super Rugby Trans-Tasman competition between May and June.

9) Reece Hodge (Rebels)

Reece Hodge. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

Capable of covering a multitude of positions across the backline, Reece Hodge has found a home for himself in the Rebels’ midfield.

There he brings with him a raft of skills, of which include his raking boot and playmaking qualities that saw him flourish at No. 10 in Australia’s surprise win over the All Blacks in Brisbane last November.

It may be that he’s deployed there for the Rebels, or he could feature at fullback or on the wing, but regardless of where he plays, the Melbourne franchise’s hopes of improving on their third-place finish in Super Rugby AU will be placed on Hodge’s shoulders as one of only five capped Wallabies in the squad.

10) Vince Aso (Hurricanes)

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Vince Aso runs out for his 50th appearance for the Hurricanes. (Photo by Elias Rodriguez/Getty Images)

Now a long-serving member of the Hurricanes, Vince Aso has proven himself to be equally adept in the midfield or on the wing for the Wellington side.

With Laumape and Umaga-Jensen forming a dangerous partnership in the middle of the park, Aso might be better utilised out wide this season, but it shouldn’t matter where he’s played as he is just as dangerous in either position.

Quick, agile and able to finish off a number of tries that few others could, Aso gives the Hurricanes much-needed depth in their backline and stands as an important figure in the franchise’s ranks this season.

Honourable mentions

As is always the case, there were a select few players who missed the cut despite nominations from various writers.

Two of the most popular players to have missed out were Blues regular TJ Faiane and new Western Force recruit Tevita Kuridrani.

Quinn Tupaea (Chiefs), Irae Simone (Brumbies), Sio Tomkinson (Highlanders) and Hamish Stewart (Reds) also featured on at least of of the writers’ rankings.

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Best of the best: The top 10 midfielders in Super Rugby 2021

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