World’s ten best opensides

Date published: August 19 2015

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Neil Back created a lively debate on Wednesday when he said that Chris Robshaw does not rank in the top five openside flankers in world rugby.

Speaking to PA Sport, the 2003 Rugby World Cup winner suggested that England are lacking in both quality and focus in the back-row, with the captain and James Haskell put under the spotlight. Back believes Robshaw is trailing the game's best sevens while Haskell needs to focus less on off-field activites.

Back is preaching to the choir with us here at PR HQ as we have witnessed so often how integral the openside is, whether through work at the ruck, dynamism around the field and in several of the best players in this position, outstanding leadership. Unfortunately Robshaw is a long way down the pecking order.

While former Leicester and England great Back believes the tournament host's skipper ranks outside of the top five, we'd go as far as to say that stretches to ten on the list. So, herewith our current standing of openside flankers in the game.

Ten best openside flankers (in no particular order)

Richie McCaw: 142 caps and counting, McCaw is a true leader of men who has so often made the right decisions at the right time in big matches. With 27 tries, he has unrivalled knowledge of the sport and knows how to push to the limits without getting on the wrong side of the officials.

Michael Hooper: What he does with such a small frame is admirable. Hooper doesn't just make countless tackles in matches, he smashes opponents to win the gainline battle. He also possesses searing pace that causes both forwards and backs real problems when he backs himself on a carry.

David Pocock: Arguably the number one openside of 2015 so far as he has shone for both the Brumbies and Wallabies. Pocock combines outstanding work at the breakdown with powerful carries. Expect to see him and Hooper combine in a formidable combination for Australia in this World Cup.

Sam Cane: Made his Super Rugby debut aged 18 and All Black bow two years later. Cane has 24 Tests to his name and if not for McCaw would have plenty more as the Chiefs man boasts real dynamism with ball in hand combined with a steeliness at the ruck. The All Blacks' seven in waiting.

Schalk Burger: What can we say about the player both on and off the field? Highly respected by his rivals and team-mates, he has fought back from bacterial meningitis and enjoyed an outstanding season for the Stormers, adding greater link play and skills to his arsenal. A top flank.

Francois Louw: If not already the South African will surely go on to be rated as one of the best imports to the Premiership. Put simply, Louw has every tool required to be a top back-row forward and it's no coincidence that Bath's rise up England's ranks followed after his arrival.

Thierry Dusautoir: Arguably only McCaw has achieved more than Dusautoir on this list, and the 2011 World Player of the Year remains the benchmark in the northern hemisphere. It's hard to think of any player who has offered more defensively, and if the best players show up on the biggest stage, then Dusautoir's an all-time great.

Sam Warburton: It's amazing to think that Warburton is still only 26 years old, with the Welsh captain bursting onto the scene so young. He has already captained the Lions to a series victory and Wales to two Six Nations titles including a Grand Slam in 2012, while he also has unfinished business at World Cups.

Sean O'Brien: Certainly not what you would call a traditional openside, but O'Brien is probably the best ball-carrier on this list. While injuries have hindered him over the last couple of seasons, he bounced back strongly in the Six Nations, and has shown his ability to win turnover ball at crucial moments as well. He will take some stopping at the World Cup.

Steffon Armitage: England have deemed him surplus to requirements, and they will be hoping that decision doesn't come back to haunt them. Undersized he may be, but Armitage's low centre of gravity makes him nigh on impossible to shift when he clamps down on the ball at the breakdown. The 2014 European Player of the Year will likely end his career with only five caps though.

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