Our next section of the 100 best players goes from 70 to 61. Compiled at the end of 2017, take a look at who makes the cut
70 Peter O’Mahony
Country Ireland Date of Birth 17.9.89 Position Back-row
Paul O’Connell saw leadership in O’Mahony from the flanker’s first day at Munster. “I could tell by the way he trained, he was hungry. In his carries, he was twisting, turning, kicking, doing everything to get over the gain-line. I don’t think he was even 21 when I had him down as a future Munster captain.”
Fast-forward seven years and O’Mahony has led Ireland and the Lions, Warren Gatland giving him the ultimate honour for last summer’s series opener in New Zealand. In truth, Gatland expected him to be more vocal but O’Mahony is a man of quiet authority.
He’s also a man of the margins, doing the dirty work that is so easy to miss. For example, against the Pumas he was involved in 41 rucks, being first man in nine times on attacking ball.
He’s an astute jackler and masterful at holding opponents up in the tackle to force a maul turnover. But his strongest domain is the lineout, where the power of his standing jump and straight stance enable him to climb prodigious heights.
Jamie George hadn’t lost a lineout in last year’s Six Nations until O’Mahony stole a front-ball throw. His magnificent performance did more than anything to scupper England’s Grand Slam dream.
69 George Ford
Country England Date of Birth 16.3.93 Position Fly-half
Ford has been on the radar since his teens so it’s little wonder his list of accolades is long: BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year nominee (2009), World Rugby Young Player of the Year (2011), England U18 captain, youngest player to appear in a professional match (aged 16 years 237 days for Leicester in the LV= Cup), back-to-back Six Nations titles…
Known for his creativity and ability to play flat to the gain-line in England’s No 10 shirt, he sets up opportunities for others with his distribution and kicking game. He’s formed a brilliant axis with Owen Farrell, while his half-back pairing with Ben Youngs has developed since he returned to Leicester from Bath this season.
“He is an unbelievable footballer,” Youngs says of Ford. “He understands the game unbelievably well. He knows everyone’s role, so he is able to coach while training. He’s a perfectionist in terms of what he wants.”
That knowledge has also seen him take on a leadership role with England.
68 Justin Tipuric
Country Wales Date of Birth 6 August 1989 Position Back-row
When Sam Warburton led Wales at RWC 2011, he was lauded as the long-term successor to Martyn Williams, but many in Ospreylia pointed out that another openside, with contrasting skills, was coming through, one who would keep Warburton from getting too cosy in the No 7 shirt.
Seven years later, Tipuric is a two-time Lion, Pro12 champion and Six Nations winner, and in Wales’ modest 2017 championship campaign, Tipuric dovetailed brilliantly with Warburton. They took turns to clamp onto the ball and fell runners near the ruck.
Ask any player for their most gifted team-mate or opponent and invariably the name ‘Tips’ crops up, with Courtney Lawes and Sean O’Brien recent admirers. Known for his footballing skills – a video of last season’s chip-and-chase from 60m against Newcastle went viral – and work out wide, he boasts handling skills that wouldn’t look out of place in midfield.
While not the biggest of sevens, his defence is far from a weakness, with 107 tackles made on his two Lions tours, without missing one. He follows the pill like a heatseeker and his scrum cap is in the colour of his local club, Trebanos, which he says keeps him humble. Indeed, despite his lavish skills, he does not court attention; he’s more likely to be found playing Xbox with Taulupe Faletau than gracing the red carpet!
67 Jonny May
Country England Date of Birth 1.4.90 Position Wing
The proverbial eyebrow was raised when May swapped Gloucester for Leicester last summer but his impact at Tigers has been seismic, with ten tries in his first nine games. May told RW that Eddie Jones has challenged him to become the fastest wing in the world – few would relish a footrace against him!
66 Owen Franks
Country New Zealand Date of Birth 23.12.87 Position Prop
The ability to adapt is key for elite tightheads, so appreciate Franks’s eccentricities. As a kid, to work on his body position, he used to lean forward until he fell over, and he is famed for doing powerlifting his way. The All Black plows a deep furrow.