Pre-season power rankings: Why Jordie Barrett is the top fullback in Super Rugby
In less than a month’s time, Super Rugby will be returning to the South Pacific.
On 19 February, Super Rugby AU kicks off with a doubleheader between the Reds and the Waratahs, and the Force and the Brumbies. Kiwi fans will have to wait an extra week before their sides return to action, with the Highlanders hosting the Crusaders on February 26.
Ahead of the season, a quintet of RugbyPass‘ Southern Hemisphere-based writers have attempted to rank the top players from the two Super Rugby competitions, on a position by position basis.
Some have taken a statistical approach, others have gone for a gut feel – but there’s a little bit of science to every selection, and every selection will be re-assessed throughout the competition.
Kicking off the rankings are the men who are called upon to both be the last line of defence, but also to spark the dazzling counter-attacks that have become synonymous with the phrase ‘Super Rugby’ – the fullbacks.
The writer-by-writer rankings are available on the RugbyPass Instagram account, while the average rankings have been calculated for the following list.
1) Jordie Barrett (Hurricanes)
Still just 23 years of age, Jordie Barrett has become one of the most influential players in Super Rugby – and arguably the player most pivotal to the Hurricanes’ fortunes.
The Wellington-based franchise kicked off last year’s Super Rugby Aotearoa season with losses to both the Blues and the Crusaders – the two sides that eventually finished the competition in the top two spots. Barrett was absent from those two clashes, however, and in the return fixtures, with Barrett calling shots from fullback, the results were reversed. Had Barrett been available for the whole season, the Crusaders may not have finished as top dogs.
Barrett’s all-round game is second to none. He can run, pass, tackle and has a mammoth boot at his disposal (plus is handy with a cricket bat), and is absolutely worthy of starting 2021 as the top-ranked fullback across Australasia.
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2) Will Jordan (Crusaders)
While Will Jordan has been used equally as often on the wing for the Crusaders, it’s in the fullback role that he really shines.
The 22-year-old took over as the first-choice fullback in 2020 following an ankle injury to teammate David Havili and set the competition alight. He finished the season as the top try-scorer (6) and had the most clean breaks (15), defenders beaten (39) and metres carried (724) to his name in the Aotearoa competition.
With Braydon Ennor on the injury list for 2021, the Crusaders may opt to use Havili in a midfield role – which paves the way for Jordan to continue his development into a world-class fullback.
3) Damian McKenzie (Chiefs)
Fantasy rugby draft players know just how valuable Damian McKenzie is, with the diminutive Chiefs fullback rarely playing a below-par game.
While McKenzie wasn’t quite his dangerous self in 2020, only just returning from an ACL injury that prevented him from travelling to the World Cup in 2019, there were signs during the Mitre 10 Cup that his second-to-none agility was back on track.
If McKenzie can re-find the form that made his an automatic selection for the All Blacks in 2018, then he could find himself quickly accelerating up the rankings as he would through a half-gap in an opposition defensive line.
4) David Havili (Crusaders)
The fourth Kiwi in a row on the list, New Zealand are currently blessed with incomparable talent in the No 15 jersey.
David Havili would likely waltz into any other national side around the world, but the sheer depth that the All Blacks possess – combined with some untimely injuries – have restricted Havili to just five international appearances.
Havili has slotted into the midfield for the Crusaders on more than one occasion – and could find himself doing so again in 2021 – while also proving handy at first receiver. It’s at fullback where he has the most time and space, however, and where his cool head is utilised so effectively by the champion Crusaders.
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5) Tom Banks (Brumbies)
Finally, an Australian makes an appearance – and it’s hardly surprising that it’s first-choice Wallabies fullback Tom Banks.
Banks was the busiest fullback on attack in Super Rugby AU, clocking up over 600 metres worth of carries and being responsible for earning his side some crucial territory throughout the competition via his prodigious boot.
While the Brumbies are known for their structured phase-play, the halves had no reservations swinging the ball wide, given the talent that the Super Rugby AU champions at their disposal in the 15 jersey.
6) Rob Kearney (Western Force)
34-year-old Kearney boasts almost a century of international tests for Ireland and well over 200 appearances for Leinster – including three Champions Cup titles. He was also named 2012 European Player of the Year.
That’s all in the past, of course, but Kearney still has plenty to offer the Force – both on and off the field. Expect Kearney to bring up the performances of the men around him and springboard the Force into a more successful season than 2020.
7) Solomon Alaimalo (Highlanders)
When the season is done and dusted, Solomon Alaimalo may well have emerged as the best buy of 2021, with the Highlanders luring the former Chief south on a three-year deal.
Alaimalo burst onto the scene in 2018 with the type of form that almost warranted an All Blacks call up. He’s been plagued with injuries since, however, and hasn’t yet recaptured that same form. A permanent stint at the back for the Highlanders could set that right, however.
Standing at 1.96m tall and just short of 100 kilograms, Alaimalo is the biggest specimens on the rankings but still has plenty of pace to boot. Watch this space.
8) Jack Maddocks (Waratahs)
While 2020 wasn’t the best of years for the Waratahs, with the NSW side finishing second from bottom on the AU rankings, Jack Maddocks was a picture of consistency at the back of the park.
Maddocks, formerly of the Rebels, was the top-rated offloader of the Australian fullbacks on display last year and was narrowly behind Tom Banks in the carry metrics. His form was rewarded with a call-up to the Wallabies, but the 23-year-old found himself fourth-in-line behind Banks, Dane Haylett-Petty and utility Reece Hodge.
With a bit more support from the players around him, Maddocks will be hoping to further push his case for Wallabies selection in 2021.
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9) Jock Campbell (Reds)
Jock Campbell began 2020 as the first-choice right wing for the Reds but by year’s end, has locked down the fullback jersey. With Bryce Hegarty named as a flyhalf for the coming season, expect to see plenty more of the 25-year-old wearing No 15.
Campbell was third overall on the defenders beaten rankings, sitting behind his Reds teammates Filipo Daugunu and Tate McDermott, and was contacted during the season by the Wallabies coaches – suggesting that a national call-up is in reach.
A second-place finish in 2020 coupled with the lure of Wallabies gold should be all the motivation that Campbell needs to elevate his game this year.
10) Dane Haylett-Petty (Rebels)
Dane Haylett-Petty spent the better part of last year’s AU season on the sidelines through injury and managed just one appearance for the Wallabies – in their 43-5 loss to the All Blacks.
Still, the Rebels captain has plenty of experience to his name and shown in the past that on his best days, his ducking and weaving can leave many a defender turning in their tracks.
Haylett-Petty has been one of the best attacking threats in Australia in recent years and will be hoping that with a clean bill of health, a high-flying season is on the cards for 2021.
Up-and-coming stars such as Josh McKay (Crusaders), Vilimoni Koroi (Highlanders), Stephen Perofeta (Blues), Etene Nanai-Seturo (Chiefs), Chase Tiatia (Chiefs) and Jack McGregor (Force) also cropped up, and could find themselves on the power rankings by season’s end.
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