The ultimate Super Rugby pack

There’s one round of league action to go before the playoffs and that’s all the reason we need to debate which pack monsters were the greatest in Super Rugby history!

Tank Lanning
The NZ Herald used the Elo rating system – designed to measure the relative merits of chess masters – to name the unbeaten 2002 Crusaders as the greatest Super Rugby team to walk the planet.

Their pack looked like this: 8 Scott Robertson, 7 Richie McCaw, 6 Reuben Thorne (c), 5 Chris Jack, 4 Norm Maxwell, 3 Greg Feek, 2 Mark Hammett, 1 Greg Somerville.

Job done? Perhaps not so fast. A real team may indeed be about making the whole greater than the sum of the parts, but we have the opportunity to just look at the parts, and NOT make it work as a whole!

So my GOAT Super Rugby pack is …

Front row: Beast Mtawarira, Bismarck du Plessis, Carl Hayman

Locks: John Eales, Victor Matfield

Back row: Richie McCaw, Jerry Collins, Kieran Read

Leaving out the Franks brothers seems criminal. They ate scrums (and squat machines) for breakfast for the Saders, but as individuals, Mtawarira and Hayman had more of an impact on the game. And together with Du Plessis, this front row on their own could take on most packs!

Which would be key, given the athletic lock pairing I have gone with. This in honour of their out and out domination come lineout and kick receipt time.

McCaw owns the open side spot as the ideal fetcher. In Collins I have gone with a proper thumper with ball in hand, while Read balances the trio perfectly as a ball carrying link man who offers plenty as a lineout option.

In essence, I went with players who would be used in a rugby dictionary to define the number on their backs.

Close but no cigar: Keven Mealamu, Dane Coles, Wyatt Crockett, Ben Franks, Owen Franks, Olo Brown, Chris Jack, Ali Williams, Bakkies Botha, Michael Jones, George Smith, Liam Messam, Duane Vermeulen, Bob Skinstad, Zinzan Brooke.

Zelím Nel
Measuring the careers of standout players across a 25-year period that saddled the shift from amateur to professional rugby ain’t easy. It’s tough to choose between a starburst talent and another whose impact lasted more than a decade, or to gauge the legacy of a multiple champion against a rival whose team never hoisted the trophy.

Disclaimer: I have failed to stick to one metric and my selections are tainted by subjectivity.

Front row: Wyatt Crockett, Bismarck du Plessis, Ben Alexander 

Locks: Bakkies Botha, Victor Matfield

Back row: Richie McCaw, Owen Finegan, Kieran Read

If you were picking on scrumming ability alone, Crockett and Alexander probably wouldn’t make the cut. Greg Somerville was a master technician, and the likes of Tony Woodcock, Jannie du Plessis and the Franks brothers are more respected scrumhogs.

However, Crockett’s 200 appearances are the most in competition history, while the Brumbies’ most-capped player, Alexander has (incredibly) scored 21 tries in 153 appearances.

Bismarck du Plessis is the marquee option at hooker, dominating all comers by some margin.

Though not quite as peerless, lineout virtuoso Victor Matfield remains the clear choice for the No 5 jersey, and his finesse was (over) compensated for by the nicest ‘bad cop’ you will ever meet, second-row sledgehammer Bakkies Botha.

Many would scribble down Richie McCaw’s name first on a shortlist for the Greatest Super Rugby Player award but there’s a longer queue of brutes vying to pack down on the blindside.

It was an easy choice for me: Owen Finegan. The backbone of the Brumbies pack that won the ball for George Gregan and Stephen Larkham, Finegan scored 31 tries in 90 appearances.

Pierre Spies won three titles, and Duane Vermeulen and Sione Lauaki flattened defenders like playdough, but the No 8 jersey has to go to Kieran Read.

The backs will be unveiled next week – who is the best player not named in either pack?

- Big Debate

Let's chat

  • DK

    You guys misspelled George Smith!

    • Tank Lanning Tank Lanning

      Only space for one fetcher, and Richie is the man … Many many great players miss out, and Smith is one of them

  • Rick

    No Os Du Randt at prop?

    • Tank Lanning Tank Lanning

      Os is the best there has been at 1. Agreed. But the Cheetahs only joined Super Rugby when it became Super14, and Os played one or two seasons. Beast has been monumental for the Sharks, registering over a hundred Super Rugby caps. Hence his selection

      • Johann

        Tank, pairing “Nobody” with Victor at lock means you will never loose a line out but what do you give away in the trenches? A little bit more grunt perhaps?

        • Tank Lanning Tank Lanning

          Yep indeed Johann, but this side never has to play on a rugby field. So I used the opportunity to pick what I think to be the best exponents of the number on their back. But a Bakkies Botha or Ali Williams would make more sense as a real world pairing ….

  • hopeful

    And yes they all played super rugby…some super 10

    1-Os Durant
    2-Uli schmidt
    3-Richard Bands/ Heyman
    4-Bakkies Botha
    5-Victor Matfield
    6-George Smith/ Ruben Kruger
    7-Richie/ Josh Kronfeld
    8-Kieron/ Zinzan Brooke

  • James

    Schalk Burger needed to be included somewhere. Can’t say I had the pleasure of watching Owen Finegan, but Schalk was definitely on par with the rest of the loosies included here.

  • Sharky

    Tank, I think you’re pretty much spot on. I would only sub Os Du Randt in for Beast. Beast is a fantastic player and a real legend, but I think at his best Os was better than Beast ever was.

    • Tank Lanning Tank Lanning

      Os is the best there has been at 1. Agreed. But the Cheetahs only joined Super Rugby when it became Super14, and Os played one or two seasons. Beast has been monumental for the Sharks, registering over a hundred Super Rugby caps. Hence his selection

      • Sharky

        Fair comment. Great site by the way. Keep up the good work.

  • Jay

    I have to jump on the Os-sewa (May have been lost in translation) and say Os would be included in mine. Even if he only played two seasons you are looking at the best of the best which as you have stated he is. Other than that I think Tanks selection is pretty spot on

  • Chris Mouton

    I like Tank’s selection! If I would make one change, it would be swapping Jerry Collins for Schalk Burger. Speaking of, it was always a blast seeing those two square off when they played against each other. Two hard men playing with passion. I would choose Schalk as he has been sublime from his first game and he has overcome so many obstacles to always rise to the top.

  • Barry Smith

    I believe we are a little too struck in awe of everything new Zealand! Their scrum is alway adequate always good, but seldom devistating! By contrast, fir many years SA have dominated in this department- many have said that’s all we can do.
    Springbok front row of Du Plessis brothers and beast, were really unmatched for years. Similarly Matfield and Botha were unparalleled in the line outs years. I think we underestimate how threatened NZ sides were of these two! Also agree with above comment that Burger deserves a spot!

  • Deon Mostert

    If you take current inform players then the Stormers loose-head in Steven Kitshoff has shown a couple of your greats “tight-heads” a photo from the air, du plessis just to mention one.

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